IMPACT

Hoos First Look students

It can be hard to measure impact that a grant project has on its intended audience, the broader University, or even the projects directors. However, two projects funded by the Jefferson Trust in the past year are already starting to make waves across the University.

Hoos First Look, a 2019 grant recipient, provides 20 low-income, first generation prospective high school juniors with an immersive weekend orientation visit to Grounds, where they learn about the college application and financial aid processes, while getting a glimpse into the University Community and fostering relationships. The program is run by current UVA students, most of whom are first-gen themselves, automatically creating a unique bond among the visiting high-schoolers and UVA students. One participant from the program’s fall 2019 cohort shared, “Hoos First Look allowed me to feel one step closer to reaching my goal of attending the University… this campus visit made me more excited to apply to the University of Virginia. The University remains my No. 1 choice and now, more than ever, I’m going to continue to meet every goal I have for myself and continue to prepare for the application process come senior year.” The impact that it has had on the current UVA students helping to run the program is also great, as current co-chair Joanne Lee shares: “It was so amazing to see how we touched these high schoolers’ lives. I know that I can serve as a mentor for them and help them find these resources.”

Classroom chalkboard with Flux's "7 Slam Commandments"Another program enhancing the UVA student experience is Flux, the University’s only slam poetry group. In fall 2019 they held multiple poetry slams as qualifiers to determine which poets will represent UVA at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI) in April 2020. Two important dynamics of Flux are audience engagement and creating a safe space; attendees are encouraged to snap, clap, and cheer throughout the poet’s readings, while cultivating an environment where everyone in the room feels respected and heard. A first-year student and participant in the slam commented, “The atmosphere is just incredible…it’s one thing to write a poem … but it’s another thing to perform it for people that are like an incredible community … snapping and cheering.” Another poet shared, “I thought it was really cool that a lot of people brought really personal poems, and I thought it was really cool how open everyone was about their stories.”

For more updates on funded projects and their impact on the University and beyond, visit our Facebook page.

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, or attend one of our upcoming Flash Funding info. sessions in Clemons Library:

  • Thursday 11/21 @ 5pm
  • Sunday 11/24 @ 3pm
  • Tuesday 12/3 @5pm
  • Thursday 12/5 @5pm

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.”

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.”

Community Resilience & Global Engagement: Disaster Preparedness in Nursing

The program aims to prepare the next generation of nursing students to participate in global health and citizenship in an equitable, respectful and meaningful way. Within a global context of increasing need for community resilience post disaster, this innovative project wraps student educational and research experiences around sustained UVA faculty research with long-term community partners in Bluefields, Nicaragua. Groups of UVA students and faculty and groups of partner students and faculty from Nicaragua will participate in bidirectional exchange throughout the year in order to actively participate in ongoing research and community health projects related to community resilience post disaster. This mutual engagement, underpinned with a spirit of cultural humility will be transformative for all student and faculty participants.

The Human Library

The Human Library, Charlottesville developed from an initiative out of Copenhagen, striving to tackle stereotypes and prejudice through conversation. It represents a safe space for expression of the innermost, genuine parts of ourselves, a place where vastly different lives can intersect and ignite challenging yet much-needed conversations. We all have a unique story embedded in the threads of our lives, and The Human Library aims to find people to share those incredible stories so that we as a society can work to dismantle stereotypes and prejudices. In this way, The Human Library serves as a place of solace for individuals who feel isolated, overlooked, or unimportant; they can be comforted by others’ stories, and share their own. The Human Library bridges the gap between the University of Virginia and the Charlottesville community, allowing each to benefit from interactions with the other. Ultimately, The Human Library desires to foster learning, growth, and long-term social change.

The Ridley Scholars Outreach Video

The Ridley Scholarship Fund is an organization that contributes to a superior learning environment at the University by providing scholarships to African-American students of high academic caliber and addressing issues of importance to African-American students and alumni. In response to the recent violent, racially-motivated protests at the University and in Charlottesville, the Ridley Scholars will produce an outreach video during the 2018 calendar year to be released in November 2018. The video will target prospective African-American students and is estimated to impact 20,000 prospective students and their families. A hired videographer will record footage of several student-planned events as well as testimonials from University students, faculty, and alumni for the video.