Last fall, a delegation of Drexel University faculty and staff members traveled to Israel to meet with several partner, and potential partner, institutions and universities in the country. Now, several months later, there are developments in the works that came out of that trip to create opportunities for research and academic collaboration for Drexel Dragons.
Historically, the University has enjoyed extensive ties to higher education and technology developers in Israel. For years, Drexel has enjoyed partnerships with Israeli universities through study abroad programs; international co-op and research opportunities; a dual-PhD program with Ben Gurion University of the Negev (BGU); and the University’s Louis and Bessie Stein Family Fellowship for Drexel faculty and students to travel to Israel, or vice versa, for research or academic purposes. In 2011, President John Fry traveled to the country to meet with leaders in higher education, government and other fields. Several Israeli technology companies have licensed technology from Drexel. And that’s not even including the faculty with their own research and academic connections with counterparts abroad.
The 2018 trip to Israel was built on those relationships, in some way or another, and was planned to create even more opportunities with current and future partners in the country. The eight-day, five-person Drexel delegation visited four Israeli institutions of higher education: Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Tel Aviv University and BGU. The universities visited on the trip, especially BGU, shared certain areas of interest in common with Drexel, such as civic engagement, entrepreneurship and innovation, as well as concentrated research opportunities in areas like healthy aging, peace engineering, public health, global health, autism and water quality.
“After visiting each university, it was clear that our joint engagements were of the utmost highest quality,” said Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Nina Henderson Provost M. Brian Blake, PhD. “There were just so many synergistic partnerships where we have been and will be able to leverage each other’s strengths.”
“It’s important for us to visit and maintain productive relationships that have been established over the years with Israeli institutions as well as other international universities that Drexel faculty and students engage with,” said Vice Provost for Academic Programs and Strategic Initiatives Koren A. Bedeau, PhD, who was part of the delegation.
Bedeau was one of the Dragons on the trip who had never visited the country, along with Blake and Senior Vice Provost for Research Aleister Saunders, PhD. Others, like College of Engineering Dean Sharon Walker, PhD, and the Dornsife School of Public Health’s Department of Community Health and Prevention Chair and Associate Professor Michael Yudell, PhD, have conducted research in the country and collaborated with Israeli colleagues for years.
“There are a lot of Drexel faculty members that already have organic relationships with Israeli universities and researchers,’” said Saunders. “We want to support and try to enliven those existing relationships and also provide administrative efficiency to help spur further innovations.”
For example, Walker received a Fulbright Fellowship in 2009 to spend a year researching water quality research with colleagues at BGU. She was offered a second Fulbright Fellowship, also in Israel and with BGU, for this academic year that she turned down to start as the College of Engineering dean this past fall. She is still publishing research with Israeli colleagues at Ben Gurion, and even met with some them as part of the delegation this past fall.
“I have a rewarding relationship with Ben Gurion, which does research that really matters to its community. The faculty are deeply engaged there and its scholars are top-notch,” said Walker. “I’m very excited to see some matchmaking in collaboration between Drexel faculty and researchers at Ben Gurion University. There’s definitely opportunity to engage with the institution.”
As a direct result of the trip (her first international event as dean), Walker teamed up with the Provost’s office to host a symposium in May for BGU faculty and staff (fresh from a conference in Pittsburgh) to visit Drexel and discuss water management as it relates to engineering, health, ecology and technology. College of Engineering researchers will participate, as well as faculty and staff from the Academy of Natural Sciences, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Dornsife School of Public Health and the College of Nursing and Health Professions. Walker hopes the conference will promote synergies for academic programs and research, especially within the College of Engineering.
“Israel as a whole is a startup nation that is technologically rich. It has a creative culture and space for an engineering school like ours to connect in a meaningful way,” said Walker. “It’s a land of great opportunity. It would be a beneficial for us to be able to pursue more academic, research and collegial partnerships with its scientists.”
Yudell, the other faculty member on the trip with experience working in Israel, received Drexel’s Louis and Bessie Stein Family Fellowship in 2013. That summer, he spent a few weeks at BGU, where he connected with a researcher he had meet as a doctoral student, to research the history of autism in the region. He’s been back every summer since.
As a result, he has developed a course on global health ethics that has been taught at BGU since 2014, given talks at Israeli universities and associations and recently submitted a grant to the Israel Binational Science Foundation for a project with Israeli collaborators. Yudell is also involved with growing Drexel’s joint PhD program with BGU and will travel to Israel this summer to continue his research and advise a joint doctoral student.
“On this trip with the Drexel delegation, we had the opportunity to travel and meet lots of different people in different parts of Israeli academia,” said Yudell. “All of us on the trip appreciated the University’s efforts to build relationships between Drexel and Israeli universities. For me, another important part of the trip was our visit to East Jerusalem’s Augusta Victoria Hospital, a cancer hospital serving Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Our incredible team got to see and experience Israel in multiple dimensions.”
In addition to meeting academic partners, the delegation hosted a special event to meet with about 30 or so industry partners, academic colleagues, friends of Drexel and alumni ranging from relatively recent graduates to an alumnus who had graduated from Hahnemann Medical College (a predecessor institution of the College of Medicine) in the ’60s. The delegation also toured some historic sights, like the Old City of Jerusalem, and sampled local fare, with Yudell taking the group to his favorite falafel spot in Tel Aviv.
“This trip gave us context and a fuller appreciation for the significance of being in other spaces that we’re seeking learning and research collaboration,” said Bedeau. “For example, going to Israel for the first time, I saw how the rhythm of the country’s week is different, with Shabbat, and experienced related nuances that influence the way you might approach work or study there. Also, each campus has different areas of mutual interest that we can discuss in a more informed way after interacting with our colleagues overseas.”