Ten Gifts from the Jefferson Trust and their Impact at UVA and Beyond


From the spark inspiring the Data Science Institute to the creation of Flash Seminars, the Jefferson Trust has had an incredible impact on Grounds and beyond, making possible a range of initiatives that hundreds of students and faculty members have envisioned.

Established in 2006, the Jefferson Trust is an unrestricted endowment administered through the University of Virginia Alumni Association that distributes funds annually in a Grounds-wide grant program. Its mission is to pursue excellence across the University by supporting initiatives and programs that enhance teaching, scholarship and research; enable faculty and students to work together closely, while engaging in hands-on learning; and allow the UVA community to make an impact on other communities – locally, nationally and globally.

Including the 2016 grants that will be announced Friday, the Jefferson Trust has awarded more than  $5.5 million to 141 projects, spanning a broad range of schools, departments, student groups and academic centers.

Take a look at some of the most impactful awards of the trust’s first decade.

1. Data Science Institute

In 2013, a $100,000 grant to support fellowships in “big data” helped kickstart the University’s Data Science Institute, led by Don Brown, William Stansfield Calcott Professor of Systems and Information Engineering in UVA’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. In its first year, the institute graduated 44 students with the University’s first master’s degrees in data science, capping a year in which it also obtained powerful new computing capabilities for the University, partnered with companies on its student capstone projects, expanded its staff, played a key role in attracting “big data” research faculty, organized a distinguished lecture series, completed an executive education series and watched students flourish in the viable and growing field of data science.

2. Social Entrepreneurship @ UVA

Thanks to a $90,000 grant to the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, UVA was able to build groundwork for one of its largest interdisciplinary degree programs to date before the fall 2015 semester. The recently created entrepreneurship minor is open to all undergraduate students and represents a strategic collaboration between multiple schools. Offering a pan-University approach, the program allows any undergraduate student to minor in entrepreneurship, rather than requiring them to pursue a curriculum hosted solely through a business school. (Learn more about the program here.)

3. Pavilion Seminars and College Advising (COLA) Courses

Offered through the College of Arts & Sciences, the Pavilion Seminars program extends Thomas Jefferson’s original vision for his Academical Village to the present day. Funded in part by the Jefferson Trust, the Pavilion Seminars seek to replicate the University founder’s plan for interdisciplinary learning and close faculty-student interactions through small classes held in the pavilions on the Lawn.

College Advising Seminars, or COLAs, were launched and supported by the trust in 2006 after College of Arts & Sciences faculty recognized a need to offer students an opportunity to develop stronger connections with their advisers before selecting majors. Faculty members who teach COLAs – small-enrollment, in-depth courses on academic topics ­– also serve as academic advisers for the students in their courses, which are designed for first-year students.

4. Flash Seminars

Flash Seminars are student-organized small, informal mini-classes that seek to bring members of the University and local communities together for one-time conversations on a certain topic. The seminars – first funded by the trust in 2011 – are announced one to two weeks ahead of time, taught by various professors, and are open to students, faculty and community members.

5. Rare Book School Fellowship

In 2011, the Rare Book School received a $40,000 Jefferson Trust grant that helped create a fellowship program to encourage undergraduate and graduate students to participate in hands-on research through the program. The fellowship met with great success and received two additional grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Now called the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in Critical Bibliography program, it supplies 40 three-year fellowships for junior faculty, postdoctoral fellows or doctoral students in the humanities interested in bibliographical studies.

6. Ignite Teaching Program

“Ignite,” a pilot program of UVA’s Center for Teaching Excellence, gives new UVA instructors the support and resources they need to be effective in their classrooms from the start. With the support of a Jefferson Trust grant, and in collaboration with and under the leadership of the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, the Center for Teaching Excellence has created a comprehensive, year-long program to prepare incoming faculty members for the type of effective and innovative teaching needed to sustain and strengthen UVA’s outstanding residential education. (Learn more about the program here.)

7. “Émilie Charmy and the Feminine in Modern French Art” Exhibit

With help from the Jefferson Trust, the Fralin Museum of Art showcased images of femininity in the exhibit, which was on display at UVA in the summer of 2012. Charmy, who lived from 1878 to 1974, was a highly original figure in modern art in Paris during the first half of the 20th century. She developed her artistic personality by engaging with impressionism, post-impressionism and fauvism in the years leading to World War I. She became known for her expressive depictions of the female form.

8. Arctic Design Initiative

Awarded to Professors Matthew Jull and Leena Cho in the Department of Landscape Architecture, this grant supported a first-of-its-kind-in-the-U.S. initiative to create a multidisciplinary Arctic research platform, combining design with research in science, social science and humanities aimed at developing strategies and proposals for the future of this northern territory. The initiative’s focus is unique in that it is not only design-based, but also considers the impact of environmental, political, economic and cultural trajectories that remain disconnected by most designers. The initiative has since hosted a symposium, bringing 44 experts and emerging scholars from six countries and 21 institutions to UVA, and sent 14 undergraduate and graduate students to the Arctic for 10 days last semester. (Learn more about their research here.)

9. Arts Mentors Program

The Arts Mentors Program pairs undergraduate mentors with disadvantaged youth to expose both groups to different styles of fine and performing arts. UVA students receive an intense arts curriculum along with ethnographic and cultural competency training. With help from the Jefferson Trust, the program added science and technology elements, making it an exercise in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. Since it launched about four years ago, the program has provided arts experiences to dozens of children ranging from building giant creatures in the Drama Department to drumming and jazz workshops in the Department of Music. (Learn more about the program here.)

10. Water and Health in Limpopo Initiative

UVA’s Center for Global Health received $50,000 in 2008 to engage students in developing sustainable water treatment for South African families. The initiative continues to build on years of existing relationships between the University of Venda in South Africa and several schools at the University to improve access to clean water and sanitation in Limpopo Province. Students and faculty members monitor the impact of their work on the health of the community, where water-borne diseases are rampant and contribute to the highest incidence of childhood diarrhea in South Africa. Since its creation, the initiative has engaged 115 UVA students, produced 65 research papers and attracted $6.5 million in additional outside investments.

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Dan Heuchert

Assistant Director of University News and Chief Copy Editor, UVA Today Office of University Communications