Technion students, professor visit St. Louis

BY VICTORIA SIEGEL, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

As goes the Technion, so goes Israel.

On Wednesday, Mar. 21, the St. Louis area was treated to a visit by two exceptional students and one distinguished professor from the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology who stressed the importance of the university’s role in Israel’s survival. As part of a whirlwind tour of the United States to highlight the accomplishments of the “M.I.T. of Israel” the group in St. Louis was one of three other teams stopping in critical cities to raise awareness of the university’s position and accomplishments.

“The students and professor are here to tell people about the importance of higher education to Israel,” Joy Leff, assistant director of the American Society for Technion (AST) — Israel Institute of Technology, said. “In order to make Israel an independent economy, the country has to be self-sufficient. Technion is the backbone of technology and keeps Israel on the world map of the world economy.” Albert Einstein, who was president of the first Technion Society once echoed this sentiment when he said “Israel can win the battle for survival only by developing expert knowledge in technology.”

Technion is fulfilling that goal as evidenced by these facts, from its Web site:

* Israel is now home to the greatest concentration of high-tech start up companies anywhere outside of the Silicon Valley

* high-tech industry now accounts for more than 54 percent of Israel’s industrial exports, and over 26 percent of the country’s exports

* nine out of every 1,000 workers are engaged in research and development, nearly double the rate of the USA and Japan.

During their visit, the students and professor let people know how their support of the Technion has made their successes, and thus Israel’s continuity, possible.

Professor Nathan Karin and students Lora Yagudin and Shye Stankowski met with AST supporters Wednesday evening at the home of the St. Louis chapter president, June Wolff.

The visitors described to the group their work at the Technion and how scholarships and endowments allow them to continue their efforts. Yagudin, a 25-year-old candidate for a master’s degree in Architecture and Urban Planning, volunteers for the Jewish Agency for Israel while working on her thesis. She expressed her gratitude for the graduate fellowship which has allowed her to complete her studies. Even though this extensive trip to the United States is putting her behind in her school work, she felt it was important to say thank you to the supporters who have made her studies possible.

Stankowski is a decorated officer in the Israel Defense Forces and a second-year student in aerospace engineering. His pride in the university is evident as he lists the Technion’s many contributions to society. “Eighty percent of Israel’s engineers are Technion graduates,” Stankowski said. “Israel is number one in the world in high-tech companies per capita. And the electrical engineering school at the Technion ranks number one in the world.” Stankowski believes that without security, there will be no Israel. And without the Technion, there will be neither economic security nor Israel.

He adds that Israel’s major income is selling defense systems which is where the expertise of the Technion and its graduates comes into play.

Professor Karin, associate professor of medicine and a world leader in researching autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis stressed the importance of independent support.

“We need donations in order to maintain our high level of research,” Karin said. “We operate with a budget that is 10 percent of the average leading lab in the USA.” In spite of these restrictions, Karin has been able to make significant contributions to the field. One of his discoveries has been turned into a drug for MS patients and he currently is doing research on determining which proteins play a major role in autoimmune diseases.

However, he warns that reduced funding will affect the outcome of his work.

“We don’t want to take money from companies because academics should work without influence. If we take money from industry then we are restricted in our research because we’re too obligated to the corporations.”

He hopes that things don’t reach that stage so he and his fellow researchers can maintain the science of their labs.

The St. Louis Chapter has pledged $750,000 to the Technion for three professor endowments. It has received $334,000 in gifts and is looking for more donations.

“People may have a tough time understanding that when they give a gift to the Technion, they won’t see the results of it everyday,” Wolff explained. “But as these students and the professor have demonstrated, they are contributing to breakthroughs and Israel’s security.”

For more information about the American Technion Society contact chapter director Jack Cohen at 314-725-7330.

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