The Outstanding Teacher – Understood but Not Taken for Granted

Technion President: “During the seven years in which the Yanai Prize for Excellence in Academic Education has been awarded, there has been a marked improvement in the quality of teaching at Technion”

Chairperson of the Technion Students Association Omer Amit: “Yanai Prize recipients provide students with something that they can’t learn from a computer – independent and creative thinking and a recognition of the beauty of the study material”

Group picture (from right to left): Professor Dan Geiger, Assistant Professor Ram Band, Associate Professor Gil Alexandrowicz, Associate Professor Josue Sznitman, Assistant Professor Mahmood Jabareen, Professor Hagit Attiya, Professor Adam Shwartz, Dr. Lina Lavie, Moshe and Rachel Yanai, Omer Amit and Oded Rabinovitch

The Yanai Prize for Excellence in Academic Education was awarded for the seventh consecutive year to five outstanding Technion professors and to the Technion Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering. In addition to the prizes for excellence, an Educational Initiatives Scholarship and the Yanai Honorable Mention in Education were also awarded.

The ceremony was attended by Moshe and Rachel Yanai, Executive Senior Vice President Prof. Adam Shwartz, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Prof. Hagit Attiya, representatives of Technion’s management, the prize winners and their families, professors and students. The prestigious prize was awarded for the seventh year in a row “in honor of and appreciation for members of the academic faculty who set an example through their continuous contribution to teaching and learning and their efforts to strengthen Technion students’ involvement and sense of belonging.” The ceremony was hosted by Prof. Alon Wolf from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, who received the Yanai Prize in 2014.The 2017 Yanai Prize recipients are:

  • Professor Michael Elad – Faculty of Computer Science
  • Associate Professor Gil Alexandrowicz – Schulich Faculty of Chemistry
  • Associate Professor Josue Sznitman – Faculty of Biomedical Engineering
  • Assistant Professor Ram Band – Faculty of Mathematics
  • Assistant Professor Mahmood Jabareen – Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Technion President Professor Peretz Lavie’s speech was read by his wife, Dr. Lina Lavie, as he was unable to attend due to the funeral of Ruth Rappaport, a great friend of Technion. The president noted that the Yanai Prize has already become a success story. “During the seven years in which the prize has been awarded, there has been a marked improvement in the quality of teaching at Technion. This change is reflected in the student feedback questionnaires, which, in the past few years, have shown a steady rise in the average score given to professors and in the percentage of professors rated at the high end of the scale. In addition, Technion’s ranking has risen in annual nation-wide student surveys measuring satisfaction with teaching quality. The Yanai Prize, which has become well-known and highly esteemed even outside of Technion, has contributed significantly to these changes.

Last November, the British weekly Times Higher Education published a survey that ranked Technion as the leading institution in the world for imparting digital skills to its students and training them for the digital revolution. At the heart of the matter lies the universities’ existential need to adapt to the digital era and to modify timeworn teaching and learning methods in order to remain relevant.”

“With such professors and educators,” continued President Lavie, “I am confident that the next generation of Technion graduates will be top-notch researchers, engineers, doctors and architects, each in his or her own discipline, and just as importantly – moral, compassionate, tolerant and humane people, values they absorbed from their teachers during the years they spent here.”

Prof. Hagit Attiya, Vice President for Academic Affairs, chaired the Prize Committee. She remarked that, “the Yanai Prize is the most important prize awarded at Technion for excellence in teaching. All recipients carry the teaching torch and exemplify the precept that a teacher must be understood but not taken for granted.”

At the ceremony, Technion alumnus Moshe Yanai, who, together with his wife Rachel, donated 12 million dollars to establish the Prize seven years ago, said that, “turning human capital from a catchword to practice is a huge challenge, since personal motivation is driven by self-promotion. We all yearn to progress, to support our families, to advance our career and to publish articles. Faculty members who invest in teaching do not get credit for doing so, and therefore they must be appreciated and recognized.”

Omer Amit, Chairperson of the Technion Students Association, said that, “while in the past, professors gained power through obedience to authority and privileged access to information, nowadays all human data is accessible to every student on his smartphone. Apart from delivering information, good professors provide their students with true leverage for the future: creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. This is what distinguishes Yanai Prize winners: they can provide the student with something that they can’t learn from a computer – independent and creative thinking and a recognition of the beauty of the study material. These are people who don’t view research and teaching as two opposing worlds, but, rather, as two means of reaching the same goal.”

When we teach, each student must feel that we are talking to him or her,” said Assistant Professor Ram Band of the Faculty of Mathematics, who spoke on behalf of the prizewinners. “It’s all a matter of wording, speech, interaction and manner of leading a discussion, which can all be done without compromising the Technion standard of excellence. Love of education, a passion to understand and aspiration for clarity accompany me from the home in which I grew up. These are the foundations that have led me to a career in education and teaching. In the name of the prize winners – we thank you for selecting us.”

Additional prizes were awarded this year as part of the Yanai Prizes: Associate Professor Yossi Gil from the Faculty of Computer Science won a Yanai Educational Initiatives Scholarship for developing a Q&A database for exams, and the Yanai Honorable Mention in Education went to Associate Professor Omri Barak from the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine.

The Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering was awarded the Outstanding Faculty Award. The faculty’s dean, Prof. Oded Rabinovitch, a past Yanai Prize recipient himself, said that “the ceremony is a cause for celebration, not only because of the award, the honor and the attention, but also because it forces us to be introspective. Our activity is founded on three values: variety, which includes international students, students from the periphery and students from all sectors of Israeli society; connection to the community and society, and involvement in environmental, social and other issues; and the understanding that students are not our clients, but, rather, strategic partners working with us toward common goals – improving society and mankind.”

About the Yanai Prize

Moshe Yanai, a global pioneer in the field of information storage, sought, via his donation, to give back to Technion, as a way of thanking and showing appreciation for the tools the institution provided him during his studies 40 years ago. Since he recalls his years at Technion as being difficult, and at times even traumatic, he decided, together with Technion President Professor Peretz Lavie, create a prize to be awarded to professors who have demonstrated teaching excellence, and thereby also contribute to Technion students. The prize money of 100,000 shekels is awarded to each recipient, and will be given over a period of 20 years.