Campus Life

Penn State Hillel making the most of transformational grant

Penn State Hillel has been selected to participate in Hillel International’s new Comprehensive Excellence Pilot initiative. The goal of this initiative is to build the capacity of Penn State Hillel through a matching grant so that it can meaningfully engage the vast majority of the Jewish students on campus over three years. In order to achieve comprehensive excellence, Penn State Hillel is evaluated using Hillel International’s metrics for excellence: student engagement numbers, the quality of student impact and the evaluation of critical operational and fiscal measures.

“The Comprehensive Excellence Initiative has been transformative for our Hillel, providing Penn State Hillel the resources necessary to enrich the lives of thousands of Jewish students at Penn State,” said Aaron Kaufman, executive director of Penn State Hillel.

Heading into the grant’s second year, Penn State Hillel has implemented a number of strategies to achieve excellence and create vibrant Jewish life. With last year’s student engagement number reaching 1,300, Penn State Hillel launched the Campus Engagement Internship (CEI) Program, a year-long, transformative experience that builds a personal foundation for students’ Jewish identities through peer-to-peer engagement. Ten interns will participate in weekly workshops highlighting Hillel’s engagement methodology, Jewish learning and leadership development, inviting students to join in their own Jewish exploration.

“The CEI program allows students to connect to Judaism on their own terms. Students leave with the confidence to articulate their Jewish identities and with the tools to continue to lead a Jewish life,” said Leah Chakoff, director of engagement and CEI supervisor with Penn State Hillel.

The Comprehensive Excellence Pilot has allowed Penn State Hillel to hire an additional engagement associate to drive student initiatives including the LINK mentorship program, Penn State Hillel’s Challah for Hunger chapter and more. Additionally, since an increased reach on campus necessitates greater presence in the community of parents, alumni, friends and supporters, Penn State Hillel has also created a community engagement associate position — the first of its kind in the Hillel world — to bridge campus and the Jewish communities in the region.

Through this effort, not only will Penn State Hillel cement its place as one of the top performing Hillels in the United States, it will aid Hillel International in developing a scalable model for supporting individual Hillels to achieve comprehensive excellence.

For more information, contact Hannah Gitermam, community engagement associate, at or visit

Last Updated October 23, 2015