Imagine two scientists. 

They have worked together daily, for years, on the same research project. 

Think about the trust and respect built between them—the ideas shared! 

Imagine the opportunities for conversation—both about the future of science and the future of our world! 

Now, if you will, imagine that one of the scientists is Israeli, while the other is Palestinian.

What could have brought them together? 

The answer? Science Training Encouraging Peace.

Science Training Encouraging Peace, or STEP for short, is a not-for-profit organization that is leading the field of science diplomacy, meaning the use of science as a catalyst to build bridges—and relationships—between people from diverse backgrounds and experiences. 

Founded in 2013 at Tufts University, STEP builds careers and fosters enduring relationships between Israelis and Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza by funding stipends for pairs of science students for the full length of their Ph.D., MD or MS degrees at Israeli universities (approximately two to four years).

My name is Kobi Russell and I am STEP’s outreach coordinator. As a Reform Jew growing up in the Greater Boston area, I was fortunate enough to receive a rich Jewish education that instilled in me both a deep love and appreciation for the State of Israel—and a complex understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from many perspectives. Hopeful, I applied to Brandeis University’s International and Global Studies program with the goal of studying conflict resolution and finding a way to make a difference for Israelis, Palestinians and the future of the region.

However, when the time came to walk across the stage and receive my diploma, I was so overwhelmed with the sheer number of injustices and conflicts in our world that I was ready to devote myself to an entirely different career path. 

And then, Oct. 7—and every horrific day since. My heart was broken but in my mind, I knew I had to find a way to help. So I found STEP.

STEP gives me hope! Right now, we have nine pairs enrolled—18 students—who are still working together daily on a wide variety of projects such as water desalination and cancer research. The most meaningful thing we hear from our fellows is also the thing we hear most often; STEP is a light in the darkness. When they need a distraction from the outside world, they can focus on the next scientific challenge in front of them. When they need a friend, their partner is right there, someone who understands their pain on the most personal level. 

What makes STEP unique? It’s a win-win-win program! There are no losers.

Firstly, because our fellows conduct research in partnership with one another for a minimum of two years, but in most cases four years, they get to know each other on a deeply personal level and quickly begin to see each other as human beings, colleagues and friends. Many go on to take leadership positions in Israel and Palestine, becoming doctors, professors, peace advocates and more.

Each STEP pair also receives mentorship from one or more faculty members who work and teach in their university’s lab. The professors who partner with STEP also represent a mix of Israeli and Palestinian scientists. They, too, benefit from STEP’s long-term training approach, as supporting an Israeli-Palestinian pair reshapes their preconceived views of the conflict and gives them genuine hope for the future.

Finally, for the third win, STEP strengthens Israeli and Palestinian society as a whole. Each pair is required to design and execute a community outreach project that shares their love for science and appreciation of one another with local Israeli and Palestinian communities.

In summary, I am proud to say that STEP is laying the groundwork for peaceful, cooperative and productive coexistence by training Israelis and Palestinians who respect one another and can work cooperatively.

Learn more about STEP here.

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