Hackathon Flash Grant leads to Seven Society Recognition

Students participating in hackathon

Women in Computing Sciences (WiCS) is a student-led organization that supports, celebrates, and encourages the growing community of women in computing and technology fields. Through this organization, two of its current student leaders found their place and majors at UVA, which has motivated them to grow and give back to an organization that has meant so much to them. Emily admits, “going to an early hackathon made me realize there is more to computer science than tests, assignments, and theories. The field is vast, practical, and exciting! I wanted to pass on what I had learned to others as a hackathon co-chair, helping create WiCS very own hackathon.”

It was this motivation that led WiCS to apply to the Jefferson Trust in the inaugural round of Flash Funding in spring 2019. Gabby admitted, “We realized we didn’t have enough funds for our spring hackathon…It was our first time planning an event for nearly 60 attendees. In order to build a spectacular event, we needed another source of funding. Luckily, Jefferson Trust’s mission to improve the UVA student experience aligned with our own, so we took the opportunity to apply.” Upon applying for their grant (and receiving funding), the primary goal for WiCS was to “create a positive space where students could make mistakes and not be afraid to try something new.” They wanted to host a hackathon that inspired students, specifically minorities and underrepresented groups to pursue computer science and related tech fields.

Post-event, Gabby and Emily see their “Hack to the Future Hackathon” as a great success! It was the third hackathon WiCS has done as an organization, and the group had nearly 60 participants; 60% that were female and over 70% of registrants of a minority ethnicity. The team was also impressed with how successful the event was, considering how young their team of planners were. Gabby and Emily shared, “Our hackathon committee was made up of primarily first-years and women who were unfamiliar with how hackathons worked. No one from our team had ever been tasked to create a hackathon before…In general, we learned that a group of hardworking people with big tasks to accomplish can achieve whatever they put their minds to, and this was surprising given how young and new our team was.”

Participants posing with the WICS Hack to the Future event sign

Impact like this—immediate use funds focused on student projects, enhancing the student experience—is what led the Jefferson Trust to create the Flash Funding Cycle. Funding from the Trust allowed WiCS’s event to happen, and it also “allowed the event to be successful in that many of the women who helped plan the event or attend the event, got funneled into higher leadership roles in the WiCS community afterwards.” The event was also acknowledged with a letter from the Seven Society recognizing the organization’s contributions to minorities and underrepresented groups in the technology space.

The Jefferson Trust looks forward to supporting other student-focused projects through Flash Funding in the spring of 2020. Visit https://jeffersontrust.org/apply/ for more information.

Best laid plans…

What do you do when things don’t go according to plan? How do you make the best of a less-than-ideal situation? As two recent grant recipients have learned, sometimes you have to scramble and start over. The Jefferson Trust can help.

In 2017, Neeral Shah received grant funds to create a Visiting Scholars Program for Underrepresented Minorities in the Gastroenterology (GI) Program. His original vision was to bring residents to UVA to shadow physicians and gain exposure to the fantastic program here, with the ultimate goal of attracting competitive residents to UVA.

His idea hit roadblocks early on. Because of restrictions due to credentialing regulations, the visiting residents could observe only. This resulted in less interest than anticipated. In addition, applications for the program opened in August of 2017 – the events that occurred on August 12th that year “changed the landscape” in Charlottesville, and made it much more difficult to entice minorities to the area. “This is when I approached the Trust about changing my goals and finding a way to still highlight the great work we are doing here and finding a way to get underrepresented minority residents to visit.  Attending our annual conference with their expenses paid for seemed to be an opportunity that interested residents,” said Shah.

“Since changing the opportunity to attend our conference and meet our faculty and fellows in training, it has been very popular.  We were able to select 3 scholars last year who gave very positive feedback about the program. Two were applying for GI fellowship this year.  Both of these scholars applied to our program.”  Shah reported that they “would have never known about UVA if it had not been for the Jefferson Trust program that allowed them to attend our annual conference.”

A 2018 grant to the School of Nursing also faced some challenges. The program goal of expanding an existing relationship with the Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University School of Nursing (BICU SON) to focus on the health impacts of climate change and the public health nursing role in community preparedness remains the same. However, due to political unrest in the region that ramped up just as funding was awarded, it was no longer safe to take UVA nursing students to Nicaragua.

After reaching out to the Trust and receiving encouragement to adapt the program, project leader Emma Mitchell decided to flip the model. Rather than take a small group of UVA nurses to Nicaragua, they brought their partners to UVA! “Our biggest success to date has been flipping our model to being about bringing expertise to UVA, and amplifying the impact of our project to more UVa students,” Mitchell said. “In Fall 2018 when we invited the two partners from Bluefields, they were able to meet with, present to, or guest lecture for over 200 UVA undergraduate and graduate students during their week-long trip to UVA.”

While both Shah and Mitchell admit they were disappointed when each realized their original plans were not going to work out, both are pleased with the revisions they were able to work out with the Trust, and the successes they’ve seen so far. Mitchell shares, “We continue to appreciate the support of our mentors and of the Trust in adapting our activities to ultimately meet our goals.”

Multiple Grant Projects help form Symposium Foundation

The University of Virginia is the home of a multidisciplinary design research group focused on the arctic region—the first in the US to tackle complicated issues in the region—thanks in part to Jefferson Trust funding.

A 2014 grant to launch the Arctic Design Initiative, led by Architecture faculty Matthew Jull and Leena Cho, included seed funds to allow students to carry out research, participate in design studios and new course development, and attend the inaugural Arctic States Symposium. Grant funding also helped launch the 2015 symposium. The initiative, now known as the Arctic Design Group, has flourished—securing more than eight additional grants to continue and expand their work.

Recently, in partnership with faculty members Howard Epstein from the Department of Environmental Sciences and Arsalan Heydarian from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the group was awarded an Environmental Resilience Institute CoLab. Promoting Resilience in Arctic Cities & Landscapes will develop an integrated approach to Arctic research, and provide insights that can be used to develop strategies for promoting and ensuring the long-term resilience in the Arctic. Out of this CoLab, the team launched a 3 day symposium “Bridging Science, Art, and Community in the New Arctic” with a large grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The Environmental Resilience Institute is another Jefferson Trust success story.  In 2015, the Trust provided a grant to launch a fellowship program “Developing Future Leaders in Sustainability and Resilience.” The successful research collaborations spawned through this award were demonstrative of the potential and rationale for a pan-university research institute devoted to environmental resilience. With Professor Karen McGlathery’s leadership, this institute came into being in May 2017 through a competitive proposal process that featured the interdisciplinary fellowship model developed through the grant project.

Why UVA alumni and friends decide to become Trustees?

Alex Arriaga (left) and Jon Clark (right)

There are not many forms of philanthropy where the donor gives money to an organization, then the organization turns around and puts the donor to work—but that’s exactly what the Jefferson Trust does.  Beyond the initial gifts that support the work of the Trust, the Jefferson Trust is donor-driven –  where the donors-turned-trustees play an active role in managing the organization and charting its future.

This work is carried out primarily through five committees: grants, oversight, communications, development, and finance.

Below is a snapshot of why our committee chairs are committed to the Trust’s work, and why their perspectives are so valuable.

For Alex Arriaga, (Col ’87) a two-term trustee and chair of the Communications Committee, being a trustee is about “using our strengths to support ideas and innovations at UVA.”  In Alex’s case, those strengths include the phenomenal management skills she honed as special assistant to the President and Chief of Staff in the White House, managing director of Amnesty International, and through her current role as founder and managing director of Strategy for Humanity.

Jonathan Clark (Col ’81) is the former CFO of Sallie Mae, and current CFO of Encore Capital Group, an 8,000 employee-strong firm dedicated to helping people get out of debt.  Jon and his wife, Terri, joined the board last year, and Jon began his first term as Finance Committee chair this year. In the Trust, Jon is inspired by the “constructive diversity of opinion [from] wonderful people who work hard and care about what they do.”

“My inspiration for joining the Jefferson Trust really comes from that fact that in a world of increasingly complexity and political challenges it is incredibly important to provide access to those truly creative individuals who have really unique ideas,” says Hanson Slaughter (Com ’94), trustee and chair of the Development Committee.  Hanson brings decades of financial management, non-profit management, and philanthropic development experience to the Trust.

2019–20 Grant Opportunities

Have a great idea? We fund those.

The Jefferson Trust is excited to announce two funding opportunities for the 2019–20 academic year. In addition to our long-standing annual cycle, Flash Funds will return in the spring semester.

We will be holding information sessions this fall! Please join us:

  • Tuesday, 9/3, 5:00 p.m.—Clemons Library
  • Thursday, 9/5, 3:30 p.m.—Manning Pavilion, Alumni Hall
  • Sunday, 9/8, 12:00 p.m.—Clemons Library
  • Thursday, 9/12, 3:00 p.m.—Clemons Library
  • Monday, 9/16, 5:30 p.m.—Clemons Library
  • Thursday, 9/19, 3:00 p.m.—Clemons Library
  • Monday, 9/23, 5:30 p.m.—Clemons Library
  • Thursday, 9/26, 3:00 p.m.—Clemons Library

The 2019–20 annual cycle proposal form is available now. To get started, review our grant guidelines, tips, and FAQ’s, then log in to the proposal system.

Flash funds will be available starting in January 2020. Look for the forms to go live in December.

The Growth of Big Data

Phil Bourne, director of the UVA Data Science Institute

In 2013 “Big Data” at UVA included a $100,000 Jefferson Trust grant that helped:

  • support the creation of fellowship opportunities for graduate students from different departments to work together on important problems requiring data science for their solution
  • provide opportunities for cross disciplinary collaborations
  • provide greater visibility to the innovative and important data science work occurring at UVA

“In 2012 there were no pan-university institutes, and not as many interdisciplinary collaborations happening. The idea to put graduate students at the center of this was key because we intended to “use” them as gluons of sorts that would also facilitate exchanges and collaboration between their faculty advisors/mentors, and undergraduates working on the project” shares Phil Trella, Director of the Office of Graduate & Postdoctoral Affairs, and co-signer on the original grant.

Fast forward to spring 2019, and the University announced that the School of Data Science will be the institution’s next school. This is something neither Trella nor Don Brown, Founding Director of the Data Science Institute (DSI), ever envisioned in the early days of “big data”. “We did hope to grow DSI to be “the” major research institute at UVA” Brown admitted. Trella believes “…a lot has happened (quickly!) with convergence toward common methodologies, practices, philosophy, etc. that has moved data science from a loose set of tools and problems toward a new and burgeoning discipline.” Both Trella and Brown, along with Phil Bourne, current Director of the Data Science Institute, attribute DSI’s success to positively fostering collaborations between disciplines, support from senior leadership at UVA, and collaboration of faculty members in schools across the University. “A vision of a School without walls which supports interdisciplinary research and education at a time of extreme demand for data science expertise across all sectors” shares Bourne.

“The Jefferson Trust’s early investment in novel (high risk!) research I think allowed us to demonstrate that data science really touches upon all fields.  We’ve had fellows in our program now from virtually every school and across divisions including humanities, life sciences, social sciences, etc. It was a challenge at first getting students to think of data science as something that could not just inform, but be integrated into, their work but these days we have far less convincing and explaining to do on that front” explains Trella. Bourne says that the Trust’s recent grant to the Data Science Institute to support collaboration with the local community is a further example of support which cross-cuts both UVA’s mission at large and that of the School of Data Science.

As the School of Data Science looks to the future, Bourne admits the difficult part will be deciding what not to do at a time of enormous demand. “We will share a strategic plan which addresses this challenge with clear goals and deliverables over the next 5 years.” Brown also shares some challenges will include hiring world class faculty to create the research and educational programs that will make us international leaders, creating new Ph.D. and undergraduate programs that will enable us to educate the next generation of leaders in data science, addressing and prioritizing new and emerging research challenges in data science, machine learning, artificial intelligence and their applications, and responding to the needs of UVA, Virginia, and our local community for data science services.

A Virtual Exploration of Grounds

Example of an interactive map showing the Academical Village

When Guoping Huang, Assistant Professor and Graduate Program Director of Urban & Environmental Planning, received funding for a Jefferson Trust grant in 2018, his plan for his project, “A Virtual Exploration of Central Grounds Through Time and Space” was to digitize and geo-reference various existing data collections such as building footprints, trails, vegetation, historic photos, and notable persons and trees. Using the latest Geographic Information Systems (GIS), digital visualization, and Virtual Reality (VR), he wanted to present the data collections online as 2D and 3D maps with a time slider, so any user could explore the history of UVA’s central grounds through time and space. The grant allowed Huang to hire students to complete challenging geo-referencing and digitization tasks, while giving student assistants opportunities to learn some of the latest technologies and techniques from Huang himself, fostering a collaborative environment.

Over a year into the project, his team’s biggest success has been the bringing together of large collections of historic photos, maps, documents, GIS data sets, and 3D models into one spatial database. “Originally, these collections are scattered around in different offices and archives in the University. But now, you can query these collections by time and space in our new centralized system.” Huang shares.

After the team started to assemble pieces of historic evidences, they noticed many gaps in their research. “…we know there used to be a winter gymnasium standing right in the middle of the south end of the Lawn from 1858 to 1893, but its three-dimensional shape has not been documented. We have to dig into the Proctor’s Papers for the expenses in order to determine if it had a tin roof, or if had a stepped roof with clerestory lights at each level. The detail of the payments might give us a clue when we make 3D model of the gymnasium.” Due to these gaps, Huang and team feel that we still have much to learn about the history of the University.

View of the interactive map that identifies the trees around the Academical Village, including the Pratt Ginkgo

Huang is excited for the future, and the possibilities that users could experience in a virtual reality environment. “Imagine you visit Central Grounds for the first time in the future and you could load a web map onto your cellphone. As you walk around, the web map would not only tell you the history of the buildings and gardens you see, but also show you what this place used to look like. You could see historic photos taken at the same place where you’re standing, facing the same direction. If you want, you could also put your cellphone in a Google Cardboard to see the history unfold in an immersive Virtual Reality environment!” This funding has allowed the group to build something that can be used by teachers, students, and visitors in the years to come. Huang admits, “If the project turns out to be successful, some additional funding might allow us to extend the scope to more historic places that our alumni and visitors want to see!”

Developing Tools to Transform Student Experiences

Screenshot of a web-based teaching observation tool to document what actually happens in college classrooms at UVA

How do today’s professors teach? This is a question a 2019 grant recipient group is trying to evaluate and answer. Karen Inkelas, with colleagues Lindsay Wheeler, Michael Redwine, and Alison Levine are “Developing Tools to Transform Student Experiences”—creating a web-based teaching observation tool to document what actually happens in college classrooms at UVA. These observations will not only shed light on how faculty teach, but also use the data to work with instructors and the broader university to improve teaching at UVA.  The program was created in response to numerous calls to improve college teaching. Says Michael Redwine, “It seemed somewhat presumptuous to tell professors that they need to change how they teach when we don’t really know how they actually teach. So, we set out to create a classroom teaching observation online tool to document what actually happens in college classrooms at UVA.”

After receiving small start-up research funds from the Curry School of Education and the 3 Cavaliers Fund, Inkelas and her team knew they needed a larger set of funds. “The Jefferson Trust was the ideal source, because we knew that the [Trust] was keenly interested in projects designed to enhance and improve the UVA student experience, and what could be more central to that mission than better understanding and improving teaching!” she shared. They are planning to use Jefferson Trust funding for hiring a large number of undergraduates to help build the observation tools (computer science majors) and to test and refine it in classrooms. Funding will also help with the expenses of the required large server data space needed for collecting and storing the observation data.

The team plans to build a broad suite of digital tools to integrate with the observation tool, so that they can understand how teaching and instruction relate to students’ performance, students’ course evaluations and involvement, and faculty use of technology. Observation tools will document classroom teaching and learning, visualization tools transform the observation data into visual graphics, and analysis tools will use the observation data for research purposes. The Center for Teaching Excellence also plans to use the suite of tools as part of their teaching consultation program for research initiatives. Inkelas conveys “We truly are excited to see all of the ways we can use the teaching observation data to improve both instruction and the student experience.”

Announcing our 2019 Flash Funding Grants

This spring the Jefferson Trust launched a new funding opportunity – Flash Funds. Awarded on a monthly basis as long as funds last, Flash Funds seek to meet more immediate needs of the University community.

Eight awards totaling just over $50,000 were funded in March and April. These flash grants include:

Virginia Quarterly Review Podcast Initiative: $8,000
The goal is to launch a radio storytelling series that brings the magazine’s artful style and civic relevance to a globally syndicated podcast—modeled after The New Yorker Radio Hour and The Daily from The New York Times. VQR, one of the country’s most prestigious literary journals, won a National Magazine Award for general excellence this year.

Lightbulb: $10,000
Lightbulb is a unique web platform for college campuses that connects people with ideas to people who have the skill to implement them—helping overcome the most fundamental problem that aspiring entrepreneurs face. Users can approach the platform with an idea (while looking for the right talent to execute it) or as someone with valuable skills to help others with their ideas.

WICS Hack for the Future: $1,400
Women in Computing Sciences (WiCS) supports and celebrates the growing community of women in computing. Every year, WiCS hosts a hackathon at UVA to inspire coders (specifically targeting minorities in the CS industry) to create innovative projects and build their confidence through various workshops. Funding will expand this hackathon in its second year.

Coding for Kids: $2,400
This program supplements the technology and computer science curricula at Charlottesville City Schools—helping combat the pipeline problem in STEM fields through face-to-face, interactive, small-group lessons led by students and faculty from UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce.

Solar Education Community Outreach Program: $2,850
The program teaches Charlottesville middle school students about the logistics and benefits of solar technology, providing a greater understanding of our society’s options with respect to energy sources.

Community Engagement Training Video: $7,940
The Office of the Vice Provost for Academic Outreach will create a set of short training videos for UVA students seeking community service opportunities.

Echols Scholars Symposium: $10,000
Echols Scholars, while in their final year as undergraduates, will present what they have learned from their coursework in individual fields of study and at the intersection of various disciplines.

Ripple Fellowship: $10,000
This summer intensive is dedicated to training students in venture development, that they might eventually serve as entrepreneurial mentors for their peers—transforming UVA’s entrepreneurial culture as well as pioneering a national model.