CJP’s Israel Advocacy is spending the week in Israel, visiting some of the success stories that make up the Start-Up Nation with academics from Harvard Business School. Nancy Katz, director of CJP’s Israel Advocacy and herself an alum of Harvard and a former professor at Harvard Kennedy School, will be blogging about the group’s experiences and impressions.

created at: 2012-01-11An incredibly busy first day of our week-long trip to Israel started at the Technion, known locally as the “MIT of Israel.” We met with Peretz Lavie, Technion’s president. He pointed out that Technion was the first university established in Israel.  It beat Hebrew University by a full eight months.

It was established in response to the question, is there a need for a Jewish university?  It wasn’t motivated by Zionist ideology at all.  They thought they might build it in London. When they ultimately located it in Ottoman Palestine, the professors wanted to teach in German. 

The students rebelled, insisting that instruction be in Hebrew. The first school opened was in aeronautical engineering. It’s pretty amazing that they were thinking that big in 1924!

The group heard some surprising and impressive statistics from President Lavie.

  • Technion played major role in the successful absorption of the Russians.  In one decade, Israel absorbed one million Russians – amazing numbers.
  • Technion has the two largest faculties in the Western world in computer science and electrical engineering. It was amazing to hear that 25 percent of alumni have at least one patent.
  • A study of Technion’s impact showed their alumni have generated more than 3,000 high-tech companies.

The university sees it as its national mission to bridge social and economic gaps. Twenty percent of Technion students are Arabs – exactly the same percentage of Arab-Israeli citizens.

For these students and others, the school has an intense 18-month university prep program for Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews. 

“We do not have affirmative action,” Lavie said.  “Instead, we provide people with the means to compete.” 

Of the 700 students per year enrolled in the mechina pre program (“preacademic center) – 70 percent ultimately get accepted into Technion.

Before we left the university, we had the honor of meeting Professor Dan Schechtman, Israel’s most recent Nobel Prize winner. Professor Schechtman pioneered research into quasi-crystals, a type of formation that led the science world to re-think the idea of atomic structure – but only after jeering and mocking Schechtman’s findings.

Professor Schechtman told us about his class that teaches entrepreneurship. More than 10,000 students have taken it.

Tomorrow, the second half of day 1, Professor Manuel Trajtenberg, head of Israel’s higher education system, talks about Israel’s summer of protests and answers the question: What did “Occupy Tel Aviv” tell us about modern Israel?

Photo: “Israeli Nobel Prize winner Professor Dan Shechtman speaks to CJP Israel Advocacy leaders and visiting academics at Technion.” Photo credit – Moshe Barazni

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