Making an ‘impACT’ for Jewish college students at Pitt

A recently launched program at the University of Pittsburgh should help new students get the most out of their freshman year.

The program, a six-week slate of meetings and learning sessions titled impACT, teaches Pitt freshmen about the ins and outs of the city and region. It also helps them understand myriad housing options in the city, instructs them in the nuanced ways of health and wellness, and ushers them into the local Jewish community and the orbit of Hillel Jewish University Center, according to Sarah Chalmin, Hillel JUC’s Springboard Innovation fellow for Pitt.

Chalmin, who started working in her Hillel JUC role this summer, said she took part in the impACT program during her undergraduate years at the University of Delaware. It clearly left a lasting impression.

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The program aims to give students “information their first semester seminar doesn’t give them,” said Chalmin, a Maryland native who is new to Pittsburgh.

Connecting the students to the people and rituals of Jewish Pittsburgh is “one of the top priorities” for the program, in large part because the pandemic has kept everyone living a largely virtual lifestyle for the past 18 months, Chalmin told the Chronicle.

“It is critical to build that Jewish community now,” she said. “Last year, they couldn’t hang out at Hillel JUC, they couldn’t have Shabbat dinner.”

Dan Marcus, executive director and CEO of Hillel JUC, said the new program Chalmin also gels with the organization’s overall ethos, “to engage every Jewish student with meaningful Jewish life by providing these first years with a community of peers, and an opportunity to learn together at the beginning of their time on campus,” he told the Chronicle.

The impACT sessions started last week, with about a dozen University of Pittsburgh freshmen attending the opening sessions, Chalmin said. The plan, she added, is to launch “impACT 2.0” in the spring.

Chalmin has found that most members of the University of Pittsburgh freshman class she’s interacted with are anxious to emerge on the other end of the pandemic in a kind of new normal. But she said the pandemic’s fingerprints remain.
“They are extremely excited to be on campus, to be with other students,” Chalmin said. “On the other hand, transitions to in-person [activities] have been hard for them … A lot of people are overwhelmed because they went from zero to 100.”

For information on impACT, email Chalmin at, or message her on Instagram, @sarah_fromhillel. PJC

Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.

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