Diversity is the Lifeblood of the Technion

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.

An Unprecedented Gift Heralds a New Era for the Technion

Unprecedented. This was the word that seemed to echo throughout the Technion’s Board of Governors meeting this month. We heard Technion President Peretz Lavie describe the university’s rapid rise in international standing and the exciting growth of its global partnerships. We listened to faculty and students offer insight into the school’s development of extraordinary solutions to pressing global problems. And we witnessed Dr. Andrew Viterbi announce a $50 million gift to the Faculty of Electrical Engineering – the largest contribution ever directed to the Technion’s Haifa campus from an American donor.

Receiving such a major investment from Dr. Viterbi – the co-founder of Qualcomm Corporation and a visionary leader in the field of digital communications – speaks volumes about the Technion’s tremendous potential at this moment. An Honorary Doctorate Holder and Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Technion, Dr. Viterbi understands deeply why his historic gift will leave an extraordinary mark. His roots at the university date back almost 50 years.

Let me share three observations about what his major investment represents for the Technion, Israel, and the world.

First, the Technion’s elite Electrical Engineering Department will rise to new heights of excellence. For years, the department has ranked among the top 10 programs in the world. Yet, its student-faculty ratio is presently more than three times higher than America’s top private universities. Now the department will be able to bridge this gap. The funds will be used to retain and attract world-renowned faculty members, recruit the brightest students, and upgrade the school’s research and teaching infrastructure.

Over the course of many visits, I’ve seen firsthand that the members of Technion’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering are too passionate to rest on their laurels. They are too curious to stop seeking answers to the most difficult questions. And they are too talented to put the future of the Startup Nation in anyone else’s hands. With this great infusion of resources, they will be able to venture into totally unexplored areas of research, which promise to do nothing less than profoundly change the world.

Second, a gift of this size signals that the Technion is entering a new era of global importance. It’s become very easy to make the case that Israel’s universities – and the Technion in particular – warrant international investment on the same scale as the most prestigious institutions in any other corner of the planet.

A 2009 Evaluation Report by an International Review Committee found that both the students and faculty in Electrical Engineering at the Technion are “among the best that can be found in a top-ranked educational institution anywhere in the world.” According to a recent international survey, Israel ranks second in the world in computer science research, fourth in space science research, and sixth in life sciences research, despite being a tiny nation with only 8 million people and a fraction of the research budget of other nations.

The list of accolades goes on, but the pattern is clear: Israeli universities, and the Technion specifically, are trailblazing across all fields of science and technology. They have proven to be uniquely adept at maximizing the impact of each research dollar. Gifts like Dr. Viterbi’s indicate that the world has started paying close attention.

Third, this historic gift illuminates the truly transformative power of philanthropy in the field of higher education. Each dollar invested in the Technion’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering will generate countless more in the form of life-changing technologies and knowledge, new companies and jobs, and a much healthier human family. By partnering with the Technion, our organization continues to empower the greatest minds of our generation to address the greatest challenges of our time. It’s clear to me that there are few investments more critical for our future.

I am proud to be a part of the organization that helped make this gift possible, and look forward to guiding the ATS during these unprecedented times.

75th Anniversary of American Technion Society Begins

75th screengrab with button

Click above to watch the video

This month, we begin our celebration of the 75th anniversary year of the American Technion Society. In honor of the occasion, we hope you will watch this special video message for our friends and supporters.

It is an exciting time for the Technion and the ATS. Please take a moment to view the video, and thank you again for your support.

To watch the video, please click here.

This Passover, Celebrating the Technion’s Freedom to Think Differently

There are few places that can capture the joys of Passover – a festival of freedom – quite like the Technion. In the University’s latest video that has gone viral, a team of Mechanical Engineering and Architecture students prepares for their upcoming Seder by exercising a freedom that goes to the heart of the Technion’s mission: to think way outside the box. Their Rube Goldberg machine – powered by dominoes, matzo stacks, a broom, a cell phone, and a range of other items – offers an entirely new take on the Ten Plagues and a good laugh to go along with it.

Of course, the premium that the Technion places on the freedom to imagine has produced much more than clever videos and creative contraptions. This ethos – the University’s supreme confidence that people can accomplish extraordinary things if given the skills, knowledge, and opportunity to think differently – has advanced a steady stream of life-saving innovations.

By joining with the Technion to make big bets on its people, our organization has helped to build the University into a world-class institution – and change the world in the process. On every visit, I see firsthand the remarkable return on our investments in these great minds. I find myself asking, over and over: how did they even think to come up with that?

Take the work of Professor Avi Schroeder – a brilliant, young scientist who came to the Technion in 2012 through the Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation Leaders in Science and Technology Faculty Recruitment program. This new video illustrates the method that Prof. Schroeder’s research team is pioneering to test drugs inside a tumor using nanoparticles. In effect, his team is turning a patient’s body into a treatment laboratory. This could eventually enable physicians to tailor specific drugs for each and every person, eliminating the many harsh side effects of treatments for diseases like cancer.

Or look at Assaf Glazer – a Technion alum and post-doc in the Runway Program at the Jacob-Technion Cornell Institute. His new company – Nannit – is developing a smart baby monitor that can alert parents if a child is in danger, benchmark a child’s development and screen for potential abnormalities. I can only imagine how many more restful nights I would have enjoyed as a parent, if I’d had access to this product when my three children were infants.

Or examine one of the thousands of game-changing startups founded by Technion alumni – companies like Sesame Enable, which has created mobile technology that allows the disabled to use ordinary smartphones. This transformative advancement recently won them a $1 million Powerful Answers prize from Verizon.

Whether we are providing support for labs or buildings, scholarships or fellowships, research or faculty chairs – our organization is driven by a belief that the Technion’s essential ingredient is the ability to attract, retain, and create extraordinarily gifted thinkers.

This Passover, as we reflect on what it means to be free, I’ll be contemplating the central role that the ATS can play in empowering the Technion’s extraordinary people with the complete freedom to fully pursue their life’s work, alongside the most talented colleagues, in the best facilities, and with the most ambitious goals in their sights. By continuing to cultivate Israel’s great reservoir of human capital, we can stretch our philanthropic dollars in remarkable ways – and advance solutions that build a much better world.

Wishing you and your family a very happy Passover.



A Magnet for Solution Seekers

What’s driving the increasing global interest in the Technion?

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal profiled Technion President Peretz Lavie. The article highlighted his leadership in increasing the Technion’s global partnerships – and profile – to unprecedented heights.

By any measure, the past few years have been nothing short of extraordinary for the Technion. They have brought about the birth of a far-reaching collaboration with Cornell University to create the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute in the heart of Manhattan. They have given rise to the Guangdong-Technion Institute of Technology – funded by a grant from Chinese philanthropist Li Ka-shing – which will soon kick off a new era of Israeli-Chinese collaboration in research, education, and business.

Just this month, the Technion and New York University announced a groundbreaking step forward in the fight against cancer – in the form of two major joint research endeavors, including the establishment of a state-of-the-art facility on the Technion campus. The partnership – supported by a gift from philanthropists Laura and Isaac Perlmutter – is just one of many now being incubated with leading institutions spanning across Europe, Canada, and other countries around the world.

In unprecedented ways, the world is looking to the Technion to help solve its greatest challenges. You can see this truth in the long lists of distinguished visitors who are traveling to the Haifa campus. They come from every corner of the planet: mayors and legislators; presidents and prime ministers; the CEOs of multinational corporations and the presidents of universities. Each of them is looking for opportunities to partner with Israel’s greatest university.

Many ask me: what’s driving this surge in global interest?

Is it the extraordinary success of Technion faculty and alumni, who represent a quarter of Israel’s Nobel Prize Laureates, a third of its most important business leaders, and two-thirds of the CEOs of its NASDAQ -listed companies? Most graduates will talk about the unique mindset and skill set that they acquired during their education at the Technion, that allows them to solve problems and face challenges.

Is it the university’s cutting-edge, multidisciplinary approach to research, which brings together thinkers from across different fields to address major challenges – from fighting cancer to making our cities more sustainable?

Or is it the Technion’s central role in making Israel the Start-Up Nation? There is a running joke in Israel about the imaginary slide that runs from the Technion to the industrial parks housing Yahoo, Google, Microsoft – and other high-tech powerhouses that are situated within 10 minutes of the Haifa campus.

This record of success has turned the Technion into a magnet for those seeking solutions to problems – and looking for a glimpse into a new model for 21st century education.

At the American Technion Society, we take special pride in the Technion’s extraordinary success. This month we marked a major milestone as an organization, surpassing $2 billion in total funds raised for the Technion since our inception in 1940. By providing this support, the ATS has served as a critical bridge in turning big ideas at the Technion into impact across Israel – and around the world.

As the Technion continues to rise in the ranks of world-class universities, we will remain its integral partner. With pride in this past, we look forward to an even more successful future. I’m confident that, as Frank Sinatra once sang, “The best is yet to come.”

Building Bridges from Haifa to New York

Last month, I accompanied Technion President Peretz Lavie on his first trip to Roosevelt Island. Construction will begin soon to transform the land we stood on into the first graduate school of its kind – a global educational hub focused exclusively on developing pioneering leaders, entrepreneurs and technologies for the digital age. The Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion— Cornell Institute will be the key anchor of activity on the Cornell Tech campus.

Many ask me: Why is this major collaboration between Cornell University and the Technion on Roosevelt Island such a big deal?

(l to r) Jeff Richard with Technion President Peretz Lavie and Andrew Winters, Cornell Tech Director of Capital Projects

(l to r) Jeff Richard with Technion President Peretz Lavie and Andrew Winters, Cornell Tech Director of Capital Projects

For Israel, this collaboration represents a major milestone in the export of the country’s greatest resource: innovation. For years, Israelis have been exporting the products of their innovation – from drip irrigation to the Pentium computer processor to the Waze traffic navigation app. Yet, rooting an Israeli university on American soil for the first time will export the process of Israeli innovation. The Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute will equip American and international students with the unique mindset and skillset that only comes with a Technion education.

This invitation to join an Ivy League institution in the United States – and subsequent expansion to other markets, including China – represents the first Israeli manifestation of the growing globalization of higher education. The Technion has now entered the ranks of other world-class institutions that serve students residing in all corners of the planet.

Building this global presence yields enormous benefits for the Technion. The introduction to new markets will allow the university to attract top faculty who were previously inaccessible – and facilitate synergies in international research projects. More than ever before, talented students from around the globe are expected to study abroad at the Technion’s Haifa campus.

These global partnerships will create particularly important opportunities for young Israeli academics. In fields like the life sciences, Israeli academia produces an excess of graduates that it cannot immediately reabsorb back into its system. The Technion’s international campuses will create a pathway for recent PhDs to gain experience and remain on track to pursue academic careers back in Israel.

For my hometown of New York City, partnering with the Technion is an integral part of its plan to jumpstart a new high-tech and startup economy. Cornell Tech and the Jacobs Institute will attract the next generation of great companies, entrepreneurs and technologists to the heart of Manhattan, spurring economic growth across New York City – and well beyond it.

Of course, it’s not just New York and Israel that will benefit from the Technion’s exciting expansion to the United States. The Jacobs Institute will create unique laboratories of ideas that harness technology to address some of the world’s most complex challenges.

The Institute’s three areas of focus, called “hubs,” are Connective Media, Built Environment, and Healthier Life. Each of these centers holds extraordinary possibilities for changing lives all over the world. The development of artificial intelligence could reshape human knowledge. Deploying cutting-edge information processing could fundamentally alter the way we build buildings and plan cities. Harnessing health-care technology systems and mobile applications can make us all healthier.

As I stood on a now empty plot of land alongside President Lavie, it was powerfully moving to imagine what this big, bold idea for Roosevelt Island will mean for my hometown, my homeland, and the university that I proudly work to support. As a permanent piece of the Technion takes root in New York City, our organization will take an active role and watch with excitement, knowing the extraordinary opportunities for advancing the university’s mission – to strengthen Israel and improve the world.

The Technion’s light shines bright this Hanukkah – from Haifa to New York

The end of 2014 is fast approaching. As we begin to think about New Year’s resolutions – and prepare to gather with friends and family around the glow of the Hanukkah menorah – we look to those sources of light in our lives that bring knowledge and inspiration. For so many across Israel – and around the world – that source of light is the Technion.

During my first seven months as the Executive Vice President of the American Technion Society, it’s been my joy and privilege to witness this impact up close. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to regularly share what I see with you – our friends and supporters – through this blog, which we have termed “American Technion Today.” On this new platform, I will provide updates on the latest developments in our organization – and offer a glimpse into some of the Technion’s many extraordinary achievements, innovations, and people that I come across.

Each visit to the Technion yields new insights and inspiration. So it was last month, as I led a group of new staff members on their first visit to the Haifa campus. We were shown around by a young man, who came to Israel at the age of 3 from the former Soviet Union with his parents. Even though they were engineers, they faced many challenges.

Today, he is a student at the Technion in the Faculty of Electrical Engineering. With great pride and excitement, he spoke to us about his work in the University’s cutting-edge computer labs – and his many opportunities to learn from world-class experts. With a characteristically Israeli sense of optimism and determination, he promised that he would soon add his own successful start-up to Israel’s thriving high-tech economy.

I’m confident that he will realize his dreams, joining the 70 percent of Technion graduates who enter Israel’s high-tech work force – and the 25 percent who have founded their own startup. So will the many other students who shared with us the lights of inspiration and motivation that they find at the Technion – from the ultra-Orthodox medical student who wants to improve health care in his neighborhood, to the Arab and Ethiopian undergraduates that spoke about why their campus is a uniquely safe space for people, who would not interact anywhere else in Israel to work together, live together and build bridges.

The opportunity to take part in the Technion’s vibrant learning environment and laboratory of innovation profoundly changes individual lives – which in turn transforms Israel and the world. When I hear stories from our gifted students, I think about the Technion alumni who once stood in their shoes. I think of high-tech pioneers like Yossi Vardi, who built Israel into a Start-up Nation. I think of the engineering force of Rafael Defense Systems, which developed the Iron Dome. Interacting with students across campus, you can’t help but wonder: Who will be the next Nobel Prize winner? Who will develop the next life-changing medical breakthrough? Who will found the next company, with a multibillion-dollar IPO?

With the university’s new partnerships in China and New York, the unique opportunity to receive a Technion education is no longer limited to those living in Haifa. Just this month, the Jacobs Technion–Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech in New York announced a new two-year Healthier Life degree program designed to catalyze synergy between health-care professionals and technologists. The graduates of this program will be armed with the powerful tools of a Technion education to tackle America’s greatest heath-care challenges – and help us all live healthier lives.

Whether in Haifa or New York, the Technion’s education of each student creates a ripple effect across communities and continents. As the university’s global footprint continues to grow, it’s exciting to imagine how the Technion will spark change in the decades to come. This year, I invite you to join us as we ask that the lights of Hanukkah usher in a better world for all humankind, with the pride and knowledge that our investment in Israel’s greatest institution of science and technology is a powerful source of light that continues to burn brighter with each passing year.