Zuckerman STEM Leadership Symposium

Prof. Eugene Kandel, former Chairman of the National Economic Council, spoke at the Zuckerman STEM Leadership Symposium.

Vice President Prof. Boaz Golany (right) and Prof. Eugene Kandel (left)

Vice President Prof. Boaz Golany (right) and Prof. Eugene Kandel (left)

“Israel is a technological success story, but in order to maintain a standing of relevance, we need to grow,” said Prof. Eugene Kandel, former Head of the National Economic Council in the Office of the Prime Minister, at the Technion on November 7th.  His lecture was delivered at the annual Zuckerman STEM Leadership Program Symposium, an academic program that aims to enhance the mobility and collaboration of postdoctoral students and research scholars in Israel and in the USA.

Professor Kandel, CEO of Start-up Nation Central, an organization that empowers Israel’s technological influence across the globe, said, “Israel has 2 coexisting economies that require different human capital. The local and less productive economy (down economy) and the Zeppelin economy which accounts for a staggering 50% of Israel’s GDP. Furthermore, the salaries differ significantly (2.5 % higher in the Zeppelin economy), and this gap contributes to inequality. The aim is to assist these two economies in growing independently but at the same time maintaining one society. To do this we, we must change the distribution of jobs in the Israeli market, and promote the influx of certain sectors”

The Zuckerman STEM Leadership Program, established through a generous $100 million donation by businessman and philanthropist Mortimer Zuckerman, enables American and Israeli researchers to collaborate. This program was established in 2016, following an agreement between the Zuckerman Institute and the four founding Israeli academic institutions: Technion, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University and Weizmann Institute of Science. Recently the program was extended to include 3 additional universities: Bar Ilan, Haifa and Ben Gurion.  

Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, Chair of the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education, said, “We share the Zuckerman Institutes’ agenda of strengthening the state of Israel via its academia. A core aim is to bring the USA to Israel and not only Israelis to the USA, and that scholars from abroad will see the capacity that we have in our institutions.” Prof. Zilbershats added that, “All research universities in Israel already have international collaboration, but our challenge today is to position Israel as the best place for research. The percentage of foreign students in Israel is still low as compared to OECD countries, and we want to change this.”

The symposium titled “What’s Next in STEM“, was chaired by Prof. Ayelet Baram-Tsabari from the Faculty of Education in Science and Technology at Technion. “I was born in Israel but spent one year as a visiting scholar at Cornell University which greatly enhanced my education and expertise in my specific field. Therefore, I am very happy that the Zuckerman Institute has decided to focus on research collaborations.”

Prof. Boaz Golany, VP for External Relations and Resource Development at  Technion, said, “The academic bridge that Mortimer Zuckerman built between Israel and the USA, will be remembered as one of his most important projects. The program provides mobility to post-docs and Israeli researchers and an opportunity for Israeli researchers to return to Israel after their post-doc.” Prof. Golany added, “We are definitely concerned about the anti-Israel voices on USA campuses and I hear Israel being called an ‘apartheid nation’. To prove that these claims are baseless, I invite the symposium participants to meet Technion students from all ethnic groups to speak to them and to see with your own eyes whether this claim holds any truth. In addition, the strong ties among all ethnic groups are shared across all universities participating in the Zuckerman Program.”

The Zuckerman Institute directorate was represented by Mortimer’s nephews, Eric Gertler, and James Gertler, trustees of the Institute, who thanked Lina Deshilton, Director of the Zuckerman Institute in Israel for her work vital to the program’s success.  Eric Gertler announced that MIT joined the program and added that the addition of three Israeli universities to the program is an important step toward realizing Mr. Zuckerman’s vision. “You were all chosen because you are geniuses, that is clear,” Mr. Gertler said to the program fellows, “But also because you are future leaders. I encourage you to think not only about your research but also about being the leaders you want to become.”

“As we enter our 3rd year, our program includes 87 researchers, 58 of whom are in Israel,” said James Gertler. “We collaborate with 7 Israeli universities and have extended our collaboration in the USA from 23 to 45 American universities. I have a degree from Harvard, but meeting you, the program fellows humbles me. Some of you may become future Nobel laureates and if your good work also helps to diffuse BDS, so be it.”

Prof. Shie Mannor of the Viterbi Faculty of Electrical Engineering summarized the current status of artificial intelligence research and Dr. Omry Koren of Bar Ilan University talked about discoveries in the world of microbiome research, bacterial populations that inhabit the human body. Several Zuckerman program fellows spoke about their research including Dr. Joseph Lefkowitz from the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at Technion, Dr. Tiffany R. Lewis from Haifa University, Dr. Daniel Kagan from Bar Ilan University, Dr. Omri Wurtzel from Tel Aviv University, Dr. Dahlia Perez from the Weizmann Institute of Science, and Dr. Laurel Stephenson Haskins from the Hebrew University.

“It has been an inspiring day,” said Prof Rivka Carmi, President of Ben Gurion University, in her closing remarks. “All universities represented here are excellent and stand at the forefront of global research. Zuckerman Program fellows represent the future of Israel and of the world at large. I turn to the Zuckerman Institute and request to promote women in the fields of Science and Technology, areas in which there is unjustifiable under-representation  At the universities, we all act to promote women, but you can accelerate their introduction into academia and into science and engineering disciplines in particular.”