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Educational excursion: ASU faculty members seeking insights, research partners in Israel

group of people touring a kibbutz

Tours of some of Israel’s kibbutzim, rural communal settlements, have been on the itineraries of the Faculty Fellowship trips, which seek to give visitors from the U.S. perspectives on daily life in Israeli society. The photo shows a tour group at the Kibbutz Ketura. Photo by René Reinhard/Jewish National Fund

December 22, 2017

Israel offers as intriguing a panorama of cultural, historical, religious and political significance as just about any place in the world.

An opportunity to meet some of the people and see some of the prominent places at the center of such a pulsating environment draws interest from hundreds of faculty members at colleges and universities in the United States in joining the two excursions each year to Israel organized by the Jewish National Fund.

Additional motivation comes from the prospects of establishing relationships with Israeli scholars and researchers who could become valuable professional collaborators.

From among more than 150 applicants for the inaugural Winter Faculty Fellowship Program in Israel, the selected group of 23 participants includes seven Arizona State University faculty members — more than from any other educational institution.

From Dec. 27 to Jan. 9, the U.S. contingent will meet with professors from at least 28 Israeli colleges and universities who have similar academic and research interests, as well as with Israeli government, industry, news media and higher education leaders.

Associate Professor Adam Carberry, one of the five faculty members in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering making the trip, has visited Saudi Arabia, Australia, China, Malaysia, Ireland, Spain, Mexico and Colombia in connection with his work. But he expects the sojourn to Israel to be a unique and especially enriching experience.

Besides getting a look at “a place you hear a lot about in the news,” Carberry — who teaches engineering — said he is looking forward to learning about Israel’s highly regarded education system.

“I’m interested in seeing how students there make their way into engineering degree programs, and then how each institution approaches teaching engineering,” he said. “I plan to share with them how we go about it here at ASU. The focus on education systems and pedagogy will be beneficial for my own teaching and research.”

A broader view of life in Israel

For Assistant Professor Jeremi London, whose expertise is in engineering education research, Israel “is a region of the world that has fascinated me for many years.”

She is embarking on the trip already prepared to “trade ideas” with professional counterparts at Israeli universities for joint research ventures.

Upon her return, London said she will share with ASU colleagues and students what she learns in Israel, hoping to provide “a more holistic view” of the country than the impressions people draw solely from stark headlines about international political conflicts.

Opening a wider lens on the world’s view of Israeli society is also a key mission of the Jewish National Fund, which began the Faculty Fellowship in Israel program a decade ago as part of broader efforts to build positive relationships and foster constructive dialogue between Israel and other countries throughout the world. That mission includes increasing awareness of the Israel’s social diversity and its political and cultural pluralism.

Part of the goal is also to help Israel fulfill aspirations to expand its role as a “startup nation” — as a place with the intellectual and creative resources to aid development of innovative solutions to global challenges, said René Reinhard, chief of staff for the Jewish National Fund and executive director of the Faculty Fellowship Program in Israel. 

The Faculty Fellowship in Israel Program takes participants to major historic and cultural sites such as Masada, where there are remains of an ancient fortress overlooking the Dead Sea in the Judean Desert. Dating to about 30 B.C., the site includes the ruins of King Herod's palace. Recreations of historical scenes and archaeological exhibits are on display in the Masada Museum. Photo by René Reinhard/Jewish National Fund

Fulton Schools Assistant Professor Francois Perreault hopes to team up with Israeli researchers to make progress on new technologies for water treatment and desalination.

“These are critical issues in Israel, as in Arizona and the rest of the United States, and Israel has been a leader in many aspects of desalination and water reuse,” Perreault said. “I think that the relevance of my research to Israel is what got me selected for the fellowship program.”

Expectations of establishing productive relationships

Fulton Schools Assistant Professor Abdel-Ra’ouf Mayyas and Clinical Assistant Professor Jeffrey Wishart are taking the trip to see some of the technological advancements that professors in Israel are working on in areas of automotive engineering.

Between them, Mayyas and Wishart are doing research in autonomous and connected vehicles, automotive systems integration and control, shared mobility, “Intelligent Transportation,” connected power-trains control, vehicle dynamics, electrification, automation and emissions.

Both say they see definite possibilities to find skilled collaborators for potential research endeavors with faculty members at Israeli universities.

So does Clinical Assistant Professor Karen Guerrero in ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. She teaches in the Bilingual Education program and does research on eLearning (learning via electronic media, typically the internet) in an emerging field called STEMSS education, which concentrates on the teaching of science, technology, engineering, math and social sciences. Within that field, Guerrero is focusing on geography education.

Her primary goal as an educator is to provide the vast array of information and knowledge that future teachers will need to work in increasingly global educational environments.

Guerrero said she is confident about making connections in Israel with educators from whom she can gain new insights.

“Getting personal experience in such an extremely diverse community will help me better educate my students at ASU in learning how to be culturally responsive in their future classrooms,” she said.

On-the-ground exploration offers valuable perspective

Assistant Professor Blair Braden in the Department of Speech and Hearing Science in ASU’s College of Health Solutions is a behavioral neuroscientist. She studies cognitive and brain aging in adults with autism spectrum disorders, and teaches neuroscience-based courses and courses on autism.

Braden is also expecting to find Israeli professors with whom to seek research funding and co-author articles for research journals in her field.

More than that, she anticipates gaining valuable knowledge by visiting historical sights, eating local cuisine and observing people’s everyday routines in the country.

Those kinds of experiences are also what the travel fellowship program’s sponsors want to provide.

Beyond conferring with officials at the forefront of Israel’s educational, technological and scientific enterprises — as well as joining in debates on current academic, political and economic issues — U.S. faculty members will also spend time in locales where they can mix in with and meet “people from all walks of life” in Israel, said Reinhard, the fellowship executive director.

“It’s exciting to see so many faculty from ASU involved in this,” Carberry said. “It is going to be not only a great professional opportunity but a firsthand exploration that gives us real-life perspectives on Israel. On trips like this, you gain an understanding of things on the ground that you might not be able to learn in any other way. This is a true opportunity of a lifetime.”

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