In Tel Aviv, a Better World Gathering Highlights the MIT Student Experience

The city of Tel Aviv was the fifth stop on the Better World tour, celebrating MIT’s historic Campaign for a Better World. On January 22, more than 175 guests and current students in Israel for MIT’s Independent Activities Program joined MIT President L. Rafael Reif and other MIT guest speakers at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Tel Aviv. It was the largest alumni gathering in Israel to date, following record-setting attendance at Better World events in New York, San Francisco, Hong Kong, and London.

Guests were welcomed by Amnon Shashua PhD ’93, the Sachs Chair in computer science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and cofounder, CTO, and chair of Mobileye, an industry leader in vision-safety technology recently acquired by Intel in the largest-ever acquisition of an Israeli tech company. It was at MIT, Shashua said, that he “caught the virus of entrepreneurism” and forged many of the relationships that led to his success in academia and business. Shashua introduced President Reif, who told the audience about the high energy and excitement he has seen during the Better World tour, particularly in MIT’s growing international community.

Reif described MIT programs like the Independent Activities Period (IAP) and MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) as “creative adventures,” in which students have a chance to put curiosity and knowledge to work in solving real-world problems. The MIT Campaign for a Better World, he said, will steward this tradition of hands-on education, and advance MIT’s mission of serving the world with new knowledge and bold ideas.

The focus of the evening’s program was a panel of MIT students—undergraduates Kelsey Chan and Zachary Hulcher and graduate students Eva Breitenbach and Carlos A. Sainz Caccia—all in Israel to participate in work and study opportunities through MIT and its partner institutions. Moderating the panel was Eran Ben-Joseph, MIT professor and head of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. Ben-Joseph’s honors include a Wade Award and the Milka Bliznakov Prize, and he is currently engaged in a collaboration between MIT and Tel Aviv University that aims to bring new ways of thinking to the planning of industrial areas, where the city can coexist with manufacturing through an industrial remix.

Eva Breitenbach made the switch from Google employee to MIT Sloan School of Management student, hoping to develop business concepts robust enough for the competitive innovation economy. The “action learning” model of MIT Sloan has given Breitenbach the skills and confidence she sought as an aspiring entrepreneur. Over IAP she and her team worked at a brain-imaging startup as part of the Israel Lab, an initiative of MIT Sloan in collaboration with MISTI MIT-Israel.

Through the MISTI program, Zachary Hulcher is sharing his love for particle physics with high school students. Next year, Hulcher begins graduate work at Cambridge University as a Marshall Scholar. IAP MISTI-MEET participant Kelsey Chan is also working with young people through the Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow (MEET) program, which brings together young Israeli and Palestinian leaders to create positive change through technology and entrepreneurship.

Carlos A. Sainz Caccia, who came to MIT from Guadalajara, Mexico, said that the MIT campus is itself an “international experience” because of the great diversity of students and faculty. Sainz is working on the integration of manufacturing infrastructure into the urban landscape in Ashdod, Israel. He describes MIT as “an open-door institution” where ambitious and creative people from around the world come together to share ideas and inspire one another.

President Reif concluded the program with thanks to both guests and panelists. These four students, he said, are a small sampling of the potential that MIT will nurture through the Campaign for a Better World. Reif was pleased to announce that more than $3 billion of the Campaign’s $5 billion goal has already been raised and urged attendees to join him in seeing the Campaign to a successful conclusion. “The only way we’ll cross that finish line,” he said, “is together.”

This article originally appeared on MIT News on April 3, 2017.