Israeli engineers are highly sought-after in Israel and abroad. The hi-tech capabilities within the country are renowned globally, and major corporations are opening research and development operations throughout Israel. Engineers of every type are succeeding in almost every part of the globe and yet, the country is not producing enough engineers. An elite academic program in Israel aims to change the status quo.

Amit Avidov imagines herself as an aeronautical engineer who flies airplanes. This dream is one she plans to achieve in Israel through the Anières Elite Academy program, a special program launched by three educational institutions – Naale Elite Academy, World ORT and the Center for Pre-University Education at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.

The Israeli-born 14-year-old who grew up in Skokie, Illinois, is one of about 60 international and Israeli students who was awarded a science and technology scholarship to attend high school and university in Israel. The program continues until the students successfully complete university level engineering studies. Choices include aeronautical engineering, robotics, computer science, mechanical and chemical engineering, among others.

 “It’s kind of scary because everything is planned out for the next eight years, but I have no doubt I want to be here,” says Avidov. “My parents are Israeli and we were here every summer, and every summer, I told them I’m not going back, that I’m going to school here, and now I’m exactly where I want to be. I’m debating between robotics and aeronautics, but I’ve just started and have a long way to go before I have to decide.

 “I am more interested in aeronautics though, probably because I’ve wanted to be a pilot in the Israeli Air Force since I was a kid. But I’m a girl, so I probably have a smaller chance than the boys to become a pilot. You have to be really high up there for that, which is one of the other reasons why I’m at Anières – it’s a great quality education. Besides, aeronautics is cool and I really love planes.”

Amit Avidov wants to be an aeronautical engineer who flies airplanes. Photo: Darryl Egnal 

First steps to advanced degrees

The Anières Elite Academy program addresses the need for a long-term approach to help teenagers achieve an advanced academic degree in engineering. During the first stage of the program, students will live and study at the WIZO Nahalal Youth Village in northern Israel, the foreign students through Naale, a well-established program that enables young Jews from the Diaspora to complete high school in Israel.

Part of their high school curriculum will include enrichment classes in physics, biotechnology, aeronautics and robotics at the Technion.

The Naale scholarship will cover all costs relating to the regular high school program (tuition, food, accommodation and other expenses) while the World ORT scholarship will cover any Technion courses the students have to complete during high school and thereafter, as well as educational field trips. The academic staff of Nahalal school and World ORT provide students with extra tutoring sessions.

 “This is the second year of the Anières program,” says Ira Lotman, Anières Elite Academy project manager. “We launched it in September 2013 with the first group of 20 students from the FSU. They have now joined the Israeli students in 10th grade, bringing the number up to 55 this year. In 9th grade, we have 33 students from the FSU and the West, who have taken their first steps to becoming engineers.

 “The 10th grade students have all integrated very well on the program. Their Hebrew is improving daily and, while some have difficulties in some subjects because of all the terms in high level Hebrew, they’re all managing well,” she says.

Amit Avidov plays the flute at a Kabbalat Shabbat event for 9th grade students
on the Naale-Anieres Elite Academy program. Photo: Darryl Egnal

The program

This semester, the second-year students started the Technion enrichment program, which includes 12 enrichment classes each year. Each visit is about four hours – two hours of Physics or Biotechnology and two hours of Aeronautics or Robotics. Students choose two subjects from these options depending on their personal interests.

The 9th grade students have activities once a month (October to December) at the Technion to introduce them to the university, the campus and the different faculties. In January, they will start their enrichment program at the Technion, which includes 10 workshops of Physics, Biotechnology, Robotics and Chemistry. During the first year, the students study Hebrew for 22 hours a week, Math for six hours a week, English for four hours a week, and a host of other subjects and activities including computers and design, sports and other after-school activities like horse riding, Zumba and fencing.

“In the beginning, it is important for the 9th graders to acclimatize to their new lives, learn as much Hebrew as possible and get to grips with their studies because, when they get to 10th grade, all of their subjects, except English, of course, will be in Hebrew,” Lotman says.

Some of the international students who started the year on the Naale Elite Academy part of the Anières program: (L-R): Mersedes Voscoboinik, Argentina; Ezequiel Glocer, Argentina; Ira Lotman, Anières Elite Academy project manager; Amit Avidov, USA; Luis Wainstein, Brazil; Yuliana Mosheeva, Germany and Marta Piperno, Italy (front center). Photo: Darryl Egnal 

High caliber of students

The selection process for the Anières program is extremely stringent and the academic and intellectual level of the students is very high. Naale Elite Academy handled the first stage of recruiting the students, interviewing and screening them.

 “Naale Elite Academy has a comprehensive testing process to ensure that only students who will be able to cope with all aspects of being away from their parents are accepted. The tests determine academic ability, maturity, independence levels and psychological aptitude, to name a few,” says Yeshayahu Yechieli, director and co-founder of Naale Elite Academy.

 “Students who plan to attend the Anières program go through even more rigorous testing once they’ve been approved by Naale. This testing is conducted by the Technion”s Pre-University Education Center and ensures that these students will be the best of the best,” he says.

Amit Avidov is one of these students. She applied for the regular Naale Elite Academy program not knowing about Anières and when the panel members saw her test results, they suggested she apply for the special Anières program. She sailed through those too.

 “I chose Anières because I really wanted to learn at the Technion,” says Avidov. “It interested me because of the science and I’m good with science. And I wanted a new start. This school seemed like exactly what I wanted. They really care about the students, the classes are great, there are so many good students, and I wanted a top quality place to learn.

 “The first few weeks were hard for everyone, especially for those of us who don’t speak Russian. There are only a few who speak English so we were like two separate groups. But during our first camping trip, we all got to know each other on a different level. Some of the English-speakers also speak Russian, so they helped with translating. We got really comfortable with each other and by the end of the trip, we were all like a family. Now we are a family. There’s no way around it. I love it here,” she says.