The Technion is far more than a university. It’s an institution on a mission to make Israel – and the world – a better place for all. Whether it’s pioneering desalinization technology to turn droughts into water surpluses, or using stem cell research to treat cancer – the university has a remarkable knack for finding creative solutions to great challenges.
However, this visionary leadership extends well beyond the classroom or the laboratory – and into the diverse society that makes up the State of Israel. Where there are social gaps in Israel, the Technion seeks to create ladders of educational opportunity, equipping all members of Israeli society to thrive and lead. Where there is division, the Technion seeks to bring together Israelis, who might never otherwise interact, in the joint pursuit of knowledge and progress. I’ve seen firsthand – at the highest levels of the university – a profound belief that the Technion is an important vehicle for promoting tolerance and social mobility within Israel.
Take, for example, the university’s growing number of Arab students. In the 1990s, Arabs made up just 5% of the Technion’s student body. Today, they are 21% of Technion students, which corresponds to the percentage of Arabs living in Israel. The university is not only enrolling more Arab students than ever before, it’s also retaining them in unprecedented numbers; the dropout rate of Arab students has been reduced from 73% eight years ago to 12% today. This is the result of a number of bold outreach and empowerment programs, including “Generous Hands” – the first of its kind in Israel – which supports outstanding Arab undergraduates in pursuing graduate degrees, and helps them transition into the Israeli job market.
Arab women have found especially spectacular success at the Technion. At this year’s medical school graduation, where more than half of the newly minted doctors were female, one in three of those women were Arab. As they go out into the workforce, these Arab doctors will fill a critical need for their communities. Last February, the Technion launched a project that successfully assisted Arab female entrepreneurs in developing their own companies. Some participants in this program will join other Arab Technion grads – both male and female – who are building a vibrant start-up scene in Nazareth, which holds great promise to provide new economic opportunities for Jews and Arab Israelis alike.
Yet, this work extends far beyond the Arab community. During my visit last month, I couldn’t help but notice the wonderful microcosm of Israel’s diverse and dynamic society represented in all corners of the campus. I met religious and secular students working together as Engineers Without Borders to bring life-changing solutions to communities in need. In research labs, faculty lounges, and pickup soccer games, I saw Jews and Arabs, Christians and Muslims, women and men, new immigrants and fifth-generation Sabras – all learning from each other and dreaming together of new possibilities for expanding human knowledge.
Philanthropic support – particularly from the American Technion Society – has played an essential role in making the university the center for diversity that it is today. Our members are a vital source of funding for the William and Cynthia Marcus Family/New England Region Center for Pre-university Studies, which prepares young Israelis from developing, poor and immigrant communities for the rigors of the country’s preeminent university. We have also supported the Leaders of the Future program, which offers Israelis with Ethiopian origins a leg up in attending college.
Most recently, the ATS has committed to raise funds for the construction of new undergraduate dorms – a project that will play an important role in the Technion’s continued efforts to foster campus diversity, providing housing options for those who can’t afford to rent an apartment in the surrounding area, where prices are rising rapidly. As you can imagine, this additional housing stock will create new opportunities for Israelis from a range of ethnic, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds to come together and live, quite literally, under one roof.
As the Technion rises in the global ranks of research universities, it will continue to lead Israel upward on a path of inclusion, equality and opportunity. It will continue to draw incredible strength from, and give incredible strength to, all of the communities that make up the rich tapestry of Israeli life. Together, the brightest minds of all of these communities will join with the Technion to shape the future of Israel – and, I’m quite confident, change the world in which we live.