Hoos Connected: from Pilot to Full-scale Program

Hoos Connected

Hoos Connected is a University-wide campaign created to help UVA students build cohesive and supportive peer connections. The relationship-building is fostered by students meeting in small groups over the course of 12 weeks. It includes discussing and evaluating barriers to connection, establishing trust, and recognizing shared human experiences. Hoos Connected encourages creativity by asking students to step outside their comfort zone and engage honestly with others who are different from themselves. The program extends beyond the concept of “safe spaces” and creates brave spaces where students can learn to negotiate difference and more candidly share experiences of challenge and hope.

Dr. Nicole Ruzek and Dr. Joseph Allen received funding from the Trust in 2018 to help launch the program, which included bringing guest speakers to Grounds, aiding in marketing outreach efforts, and bringing on graduate assistants and student workers to help in the program launch and accompanying research. In its first semester, the program started as a cohort of 35 first-year students participating in 4 small groups. Impact was felt immediately and continues to grow each semester. The program’s success has also established the need to offer the program to transfer students and in the residential colleges.

With its proof of concept and early successes, Hoos Connected received additional funding from the Office of Student Affairs in early 2020 to expand staffing and capacity and a grant from the President &x Provost’s fund to further the program. “Both of these grants were leveraged based on the existing work funded by the Jefferson Trust; hence the Trust was instrumental in bringing in this higher level of funding and in dramatically expanding the scope of work being performed,” shared Ruzek. This funding will help scale the low-cost, high-impact program to the wider student body, reducing the issues students face surrounding mental health and social pressures.

Hoos Connected is just one of several projects funded by the Trust that have gone on to receive additional and sustaining grants from the President’s or Provost’s Offices. Ignite, USOAR and the Arts Mentors Program are other initiatives that have continued to grow and expand due to additional funding sources on Grounds, becoming an integral part of the UVA student experience and enhancing the University community.

The trustees eagerly await the next great idea.