UConn goes to Israel to expand academic partnerships
By Cindy Mindell
STORRS – A delegation of UConn’s top administrators visited Israel for 10 days in late October and early November, to explore ways to expand partnerships and collaborations with the country’s leading academic institutions.
The trip is especially timely as the state launches Next Generation Connecticut and Bioscience Connecticut, two collaborative initiatives with UConn aimed at building the state’s economy through educational opportunities, research, and innovation in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and bioscience.
“Any top-tier university must be a globally connected university, and UConn engages in many regions of the world, including the Middle East, to build its research and educational expertise,” says UConn Vice Provost for Global Affairs Daniel Weiner. “Developing international partnerships is a critical obligation of any top U.S. universities and their presidents if they aspire for their researchers, students, and states to fully compete in the global economy.”
Weiner was part of the UConn delegation led by university president Susan Herbst, which also included UConn Vice President for Research Jeff Seemann and, at the request of the Israeli Consulate in New York, retired head UConn basketball coach Jim Calhoun, now UConn special assistant to the director of athletics.
Herbst, Seemann, and Weiner met with administrators and researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Weizmann Institute of Science, the University of Haifa, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, and the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC), and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Calhoun, who recruited several players from Israel for the UConn team during his coaching tenure, met with the coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv Basketball Club and ran several basketball clinics for national coaches and youth.
The trip comes at a time when UConn already has long-standing relationships with Israeli universities, via study-abroad programs and collaborations in research and teaching. Herbst says that UConn saw tremendous potential for expanding the number of partner institutions in Israel, especially given the extraordinary international achievements of the Israeli academy.
“Israel may be a small nation geographically, but it is dense with brainpower, innovation and talent,” she says, noting the 12 Israeli Nobel Laureates. In addition, Herbst says, Connecticut boasts many Jewish community leaders with strong connections to Israel, who can help UConn boost its academic and economic-development goals for the university and the state.
UConn already had an existing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Technion, and signed MOUs with the other institutions during the trip.
Specifically, Weiner says, UConn hopes to benefit from Israeli expertise in the areas of anthropology, archaeology, Judaic studies, political science, among other disciplines already at the center of academic engagement between UConn researchers and Israeli counterparts. “The visit built on UConn’s advancing global engagement mission – a necessity at any major research university – and provides an opportunity to strengthen existing relationships and foster new links with Israeli universities and UConn alumni,” he says. The trip also opened doors to learn from and interact with the very successful technology transfer offices at the Technion, Weizmann Institute, and Hebrew University.”
Seemann’s role on the trip was to identify and discuss shared research opportunities and potential collaborations with his counterparts at Israeli research institutions, as a foundation for bringing together the scientists who will plan and develop those alliances. “It was a highly productive trip in this regard,” Seemann says. “I believe that we will see important new research activities as a result of this trip that will create many positive benefits for UConn and Connecticut research innovation.”
The delegation also visited several cultural and historic sites; academic centers for interdisciplinary studies; and The Abraham Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing coexistence, equality and cooperation between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens.
“I was impressed by the evidence we have from archeology — particularly, what the ancient world can teach us about the 21st century,” says Herbst. “We learned that so many cultures, particularly Jews and Muslims, lived peaceably for lengthy periods in Israel. I felt inspired that this sort of multi-ethnic community might be possible again, even in what seems a much more complex and dangerous world.”
Weiner says that it was a privilege to learn first-hand from those involved directly in the innovation taking place in Israeli higher education. “It’s also impressive to see how Coach Calhoun is known and admired in Israel and, in a broader sense, how global links between institutions can benefit from these kinds of connections,” he says. “His popularity and that of UConn basketball, build good will and opens doors for us. We are developing a strategic plan for global engagement to complement the University’s academic plan, and the connections forged during this trip will be reflected in that.”
Weiner says that the group also met with dozens of UConn graduates and will strengthen alumni relations through the establishment of a new alumni chapter in Israel. The university plans to create more study opportunities for its students in Israel and for Israeli students at UConn.
From a research perspective, Seemann says that UConn will continue to build on the areas identified for collaboration and engage faculty from both UConn and the Israeli institutions in planning discussions that will lead to active research partnerships and shared programs.
“The success of Israeli research universities in turning research discoveries into high-value products and services that drive their economy is really remarkable,” he says. “We spent time meeting with technology-transfer officers, and hope to take some of their ‘best practices’ and install them at UConn to accelerate our already successful activities in this area and make UConn an even greater force in Connecticut’s economic development and job creation.”
The university will also work to identify funding sources and opportunities to catalyze the start of these collaborations, including outreach to potential donors who see such shared investments with UConn and Israel as important, Seemann says.
“Israeli institutions like the Weizmann Institute for Science, the Technion, and Hebrew University are absolutely world class, and UConn research partnerships with them have the potential to create capacities for new discoveries in areas such as energy and personalized medicine,” he says. “From these collaborative activities and discoveries will likely come the potential for new technologies, new companies, and job creation in both Israel and Connecticut.”
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