[This post is part of a series updating the award recipient projects of the Jewish New Media Innovation Fund.]

by Matt Braman

Hillel has served Jewish college students for almost 90 years. Our success is the result of constantly innovating the way we engage students, and we continue that trend with the development of Hillel Connect, a mobile application aimed at the student campus community that provides an interactive and lively means for Jewish students to stay connected to Jewish life. Because Hillel serves the most technologically advanced audience on the planet – college students – Hillel Connect strives to take advantage of existing social media channels and offer students something familiar, useful and attractive as they seek to engage with Jewish life on campus.

Making Connections

Hillel Connect brings much of the utility from our website and the very popular Guide to Jewish Life on Campus (JLOC) to a mobile platform and significantly expands on them. Specifically Hillel Connect introduces a feature that allows students to learn about and participate in Jewish life on their campus by giving students the ability to make personal connections, see what events are happening around them and engage in dialogue with other members of the Jewish campus community.We also enhanced our online college guide (JLOC) for the mobile platform by making it interactive.

Hillel Connect will now contain conversations by students, list local events and provide information about Hillel programs and services. The mobile app will provide a real view of the vibrant Jewish life actively going on at a particular campus, offering an instant connection to the local Hillel and Jewish campus community. It will, in effect, become an extension of the local Hillel and its ability to engage, communicate and build relationships with students.

Events

In many ways, Hillel, campus and other Jewish community events will be the heart of this new communications tool. Hillel Connect will promote events and provide information to make it easy for students and others to participate. The system will integrate with several popular social media tools such as Facebook and Google Calendar. As many local Hillels use Facebook already, Hillel Connect will pull their event information from there and present it on the app, allowing users to directly interact with them. Similarly, if a Hillel uses Google Calendar, Hillel Connect will pull and present the Google Calendar event information. Either way, the local campus Hillel keeps doing what it has always done, and Hillel Connect smartly leverages that content and makes it accessible to students wherever they are and whenever they want it. In addition, students can post and share events with each other. This makes the application a self-service tool for building peer-to-peer relationships between Jewish students.

Community Feed

One of the important findings that emerged from Hillel’s focus group research with students and professionals was users’ strongly expressed desire for interactivity. Students and others in the Hillel community do not just want to consume information; they want to be able to participate in the conversation. The Community Feed section of the mobile app will allow individuals to submit messages via this platform.

Profiles

The app allows user to create profiles and participate in the conversation. While not required, profiles will enable students to connect directly with each other through one-to-one messages and Facebook.

While Hillel Connect makes participation in Jewish life on campus easily accessible and widely available, it also ties it all back to the local Hillel. The local Hillel can feed news and events directly into Hillel Connect, which makes it simpler to connect students to opportunities to expand their Jewish experiences and share those experiences with each other. Hillel Connect puts Hillel firmly at the center of Jewish life on campus.

Matt Braman is Hillel’s Vice President for Information Technology and Administration.

Hillel Connect is a 2011-2012 recipient of the Jewish New Media Innovation Fund, a pilot collaboration of the Jim Joseph FoundationRighteous Persons Foundation, and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation that supported projects offering innovative ways of using new media to encourage the next generation of Jews to engage in life and community Jewishly.

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