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Pushing boundaries Sustainability

Turning silkworms into biomedical solutions

Turning silkworms into biomedical solutions

How did you come to work at the Weizmann Institute of Science?
I obtained my PhD in chemistry from Bar-Ilan University, focusing on the effect of mechanical fields — covering the entire sound energy range, including ultrasounds — on protein structure. I then moved to the University of Cambridge and studied the protein self- assembly phenomenon, which is associated with neurodegenerative disorders. I also cooperated with a group from Oxford University working on spider silk. We discovered that, in terms of supramolecular organization, certain types of silks are to some extent similar to those protein structures associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
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Years later, when I got an offer to set up my lab at the Weizmann Institute of Science, I decided to focus most of my research on the material aspects of protein constructs. We’re harnessing all the knowledge and techniques I learned and developed during my studies to understand how we can control and possibly change the protein self-assembly path — and, in turn, how these changes may affect the functionality of protein constructs and biomaterial properties.
Could you give us examples of the work you do at the Shimanovich Research Group?
As I mentioned, we’re looking at the protein self-assembly phenomenon. For example, using silkworms, we’re imposing genetic modifications on silk proteins and letting them self- assemble. Our aim is to understand how these mutations change the self assembly pathway and whether they affect various biological functions, functionalities or properties — like mechanical characteristics, the rate of biodegradability and biocompatibility.
We’re not limited to materials that are made purely from proteins — we’re also looking at different types of natural building blocks. We’ve recently explored the capabilities of polysaccharides from food-industry waste; they have an excellent thermal responsivity that can be converted into electrical currents, but the problem with utilizing them is their mechanical instability. We discovered that if we combine a conductive polysaccharide with silk — known for its mechanical stability — we can construct a multifunctional material that’s mechanically strong, biodegradable and thermo-responsive.
What are some real-life implications of these experiments?
The ability to control protein self-assembly, especially the one that’s associated with material performance, opens up endless possibilities for the synthesis of materials with programmable multifunctional characteristics. For example, the technology developed in our lab allows us to create both highly stiff material and very extensible biomaterial, all assembled from the same building blocks: silk proteins.
The range of biomedical applications vary from controlling cellular growth and differentiation to tissue replacement, where programmable mechanical performance, biocompatibility and slow biodegradability are essential.
Weizmann Institute of Science
How does all this relate to the topic of sustainability?
We’re using materials that are either considered waste products or available in large quantities. Silk protein, for example, is cheap and known for its broad utilization in the textile industry. Our aim is to create technology that’s as green and as cost-effective as possible.
Do students get to contribute to this work?
I work with many different people — postdocs, a research associate, a consultant, PhD students, master’s students, rotational students, visitors from different countries. I collaborate with other professors that come either for a sabbatical from other universities or as part of the visiting professorship program. We also work closely with high school students. The lab is also part of a program that lets high school students spend about a month or two in the summer on a specific project of their choosing.
You’re also a teacher. How do you try to impart a love of physical and chemical materials to your students?
I teach a course in soft biomaterials and self-assembly at the Institute’s Feinberg Graduate School. The aim of the class is to provide students with knowledge about basic physical or chemical concepts related to the processing of natural building blocks, such as sugars, lipids and proteins. I try to identify and work with each student during the course; at Weizmann, class sizes are usually small, which means I get to work one-on-one and understand individual needs.
For their end-of-course presentation, I ask students to create a food dish or a cosmetic, either at home or in a lab, and then explain the physical and chemical processes involved in the task, such as heat transfer or emulsification and preservation of active ingredients. The idea is that when students perform something — even a small experiment — by themselves, they’re able to translate the knowledge they’ve acquired in class into practice, thinking about which processes are actually involved in a lab experiment.
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Environmental cooperation

Environmental cooperation

Why did you choose to study at Tel Aviv University?
I did a student exchange at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in Be’er-Sheva, four years ago, while I was doing my undergraduate degree in Middle Eastern Studies in the Netherlands. During that semester, I took some courses related to the field of environmental studies. It inspired me to return to Israel and to find a program in this field.
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I’ve now finished my first year of Tel Aviv University’s MA in environmental studies, and I’m focusing on my thesis. One of the things I like about the program is that if you’re not interested in writing a thesis, you don’t have to — in fact, you need certain grades to apply to the thesis track. I think it’s a smart approach: if you’re taking the program to enrich your knowledge or change career path, you might not need to write a thesis.

Why is the university’s environmental studies program a great option for students who want to focus on sustainability?
The environment is the biggest issue of our time, and the program’s interdisciplinary approach is crucial for things to really move forward. I took courses in all kinds of fields — water management, philosophy, city planning, nanotechnology, ecology – and learned to look at environmental issues from all these different fields of research.
What’s more, students come from all different backgrounds. Mine is in Middle Eastern studies, but my classmates hold degrees in economics, physics, biology, engineering and more. Some already had a career, and for many it was their second master’s degree. It was extremely valuable to learn together and from each other; it gave me a refreshing outlook on things.
My own thesis combines a lot of different disciplines, too – from Middle Eastern studies and water management to international relations and conflict studies, sociology and anthropology.
Sounds interesting, can you give us an overview of this project?

My topic is environmental cooperation under the Abraham Accords – the normalization agreement signed between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the U.S. in September 2020. Specifically, I’m focusing on a recent agreement facilitated by the Accords that will see Israel provide Jordan with desalinated water, and Jordan provide Israel with solar power. It’s the first big outcome of the Accords that sees countries enter increased cooperation on environmental issues.

Efforts between Jordan and Israel had been going on for decades, but there were too many obstacles for something to actually happen. It’s very much a breakthrough in Israeli-Jordan relations — the biggest deal they’ve signed since the peace agreements in 1994; suddenly, things that weren’t possible are possible. My aim is to get an idea why such an agreement could come into existence, what it can bring to the region in terms of improved environmental cooperation and how that can lead to improved political stability and resource accessibility.
What drew you to this topic?
I come from the Netherlands, which is big on water management technology. During my time in Be’er-Sheva, I took a course in transboundary water management in the Middle East, which really sparked my interest. I then decided to write my BA thesis on transboundary water and wastewater issues between Israel and the Palestinians, and it’s also one of the reasons why I chose to do this program – because it covers transboundary water issues. It’s been gradual, step by step, and now everything is coming together in this project — my background in Middle Eastern Studies and my interests in water management and transboundary water issues.
How far along are you in your thesis?
I’m starting to conduct my interviews, reaching out to professionals in the field and people that have been involved in the signing of these agreements. I want to speak to politicians, diplomats and professionals in the water and energy sector, for all of the three countries that are involved.
What do you love the most about studying at Tel Aviv University?
Even though the program is demanding and serious, the professors are very approachable. You’re really taken seriously by the faculty and by the other students, too. Everybody’s very willing to help you or to connect you with other people.
What’s more, the program provides students with the opportunity to gain practical experience through an internship program in environmental advocacy, environmental planning, social justice, transportation, green architecture and more. It held a day where various organizations gave presentations about their internships, and we were then able to apply to ones we found interesting.
Do you already know what you’d like to do in the future?
I haven’t yet decided if I want to continue in academia and pursue a PhD, but I would really like to contribute to the field of peacebuilding and of solving shared issues between countries. It’s definitely something I want to develop further – it can take on so many different shapes.
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Sustainability

Sustainability taking center stage

Sustainability taking center stage

How has sustainability become such a central component of the University of Haifa?

Recently, the University of Haifa has articulated a new strategic vision, committing to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as our core strategy. We’re the only Israeli university that took the SDGs as a strategic initiative and made an effort to integrate them into our activities, at all levels.

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Even though it’s a framing that was only recently adopted, it fits in perfectly with the university’s pre-existing social and environmental orientation. We’re the only Israeli university currently ranked by the Times Higher Education Impact Ranking [the only performance tables assessing universities against the SDGs]. We’re also uniquely located to carry out research and activities related to sustainability, from our campus on top of the Mount Carmel nature reserve to the labs across the Mediterranean and the new downtown campus, a center for social good. Now, we’re excited to do even more.
Why did the university decide to further its commitment to sustainability?
When you think about the role of universities, usually what we advertise is research, education and training. Often, the fourth goal – or commitment, even – is forgotten: to have a direct impact on the world around us.
Students and researchers can leave their mark on the world in many different ways: they can influence policy-making – we have faculty members sitting on different government and national committees; they can translate academic knowledge to the public through the media; and they can engage students with social activities as part of the curriculum.
Universities still have a special role in society, and we must not forget this. We are privileged as professors, as faculty members, and we have a commitment to make this world a better place.
What are some examples of the university’s positive-impact initiatives?
We run eight legal clinics providing pro bono services to underprivileged communities, covering issues such as freedom of information and equal opportunities. Working on these social and environmental cases with professionals is part of our students’ practical education.

Another example is the Haifa Innovation Labs, which I head. Their focus is taking innovation and entrepreneurship to make a difference on social and environmental issues. Our capstone course is called The Innovation Nursery: students are faced with a challenge and, over the course of one year, work to develop a prototype solution. Last year, students developed sensors to read the brainwaves of people with late-stage ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), allowing them to communicate. Technology, AI, engineering — all different kinds of disciplinary expertise came together, and it was really touching.

Are there opportunities for students of all educational levels — undergraduate through to postgraduate — to get involved with these projects?
Just to give you one example, the Haifa Innovation Labs isn’t part of any one particular academic unit. It’s university-wide, and the aim is getting people from different disciplines and levels of education.
You have people working on social and environmental aspects in every department. We’re adding more and more content related to the SDGs into our offerings, and I’m hoping — though it’s not final yet — that every student who leaves the university will have to take at least one course where they’re exposed to the challenges facing humanity and the environment. But ultimately, it’s up to the students: if they want to go beyond that, the opportunities are there.
How do you think the ties with industry that students start to develop through these programs will benefit them after graduation?
Ties with practice — the private, government and non-for-profit sectors, which are all equally important — are critical for the success of the university. We see our sustainability initiatives as standing on four legs: research; education; operations, meaning internally implementing what we preach; and public engagement.
They’re also important for students. I’m a big believer in interdisciplinarity and challenge-based learning. On one hand, people with distinct backgrounds bring diverse expertise, and diversity is a great leverage for innovation. On the other, working on actual problems contributes to the students’ education. You see this now in the workforce, too — they’re looking for diversity and inclusion, not only to give equal opportunities, but also because it improves solutions.
The third aspect has to do with opening career paths. Engaging with practice enriches students’ resumes and grows a network that will help them get a job. If they’re involved in interdisciplinary projects and exposed to entrepreneurship, new horizons open up.
How do you hope the university’s vision will inspire students after graduation?
The young people I meet are very conscious, they’re aware of global and environmental challenges. Yet, often, once you go into the education system, you become very practical and forget why they are there in the first place. We don’t want them to forget their values. We would like to strengthen their ambition to make an impact in the world — we want them, when they go out of the university, to be ambassadors for change. After all, the future is really in the hands of the young generation.
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Sustainability

Agriculture and the environment

Agriculture and the environment

Why is the Robert H. Smith Faculty a great option for students who want to be involved in the field of sustainability?

It’s the only academic body in Israel that provides a degree in agricultural sciences, and when young people look at the future and its challenges, agriculture is one of them.

Mahyan Gon, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Current predictions estimate that by 2050, there will be around 10 billion people on Earth. If things stay the same, the agricultural sector will have to increase production by about 70 percent. That’s a huge task, especially if you consider that available land and water are decreasing, which means having to produce more with less.

What’s more, our faculty allows students to focus on food and environmental sciences, too. Agricultural production, the food industry and the environment are linked: not only do we need to increase the amount of food we produce, but we also need to make our food systems smarter and ensure all this doesn’t affect the health of the environment. Once we have these fields in one place, teachers can talk to each other and join forces, and this is the uniqueness of our campus.
That’s why students are coming here – to improve the quality of life of many people, not just Israelis. All our graduate, master’s and PhD courses are taught in English and open to international students, who make up about 20 percent of our graduate cohort — something we’re very proud of.
You’ve mentioned the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration. How do you implement it in practice?
Students are registered to a particular program, but we make sure that, during the course of their studies, they’re exposed to other areas of interest related to their main field of research.
We also have a student-run entrepreneurship and innovation club, FaculTech, which focuses on food production. We encourage students from different programs to apply as a team; we want them to think outside the box and look at the big picture, rather than focus on narrow topics.
When it comes to our faculty, we provide seed money for professors from different programs to collaborate.
How do you prepare students for life beyond university walls?
A few years ago, we realized that we, in academia, should be heavily invested in strengthening links with the industry. Building solid ties with relevant sectors would help us better serve our students, properly preparing them for life after graduation. To bridge the gap, we launched a new program, Academia to Industry. Over the course of one year, students learn how to run an industry project before taking part in a relevant internship. We’re proud to be the first experimental faculty in the country to promote this type of collaboration.
It’s good for us, for the students and also for the industry — companies can train students for a whole semester, evaluate their abilities and, after graduation, recruit them right away. It’s a highly popular program and a promising way to merge academia and industry. We’re proud to be the first experimental faculty in the country to promote this type of collaboration.
Talking about preparing students for the workplace, how does the faculty balance theoretical knowledge with practical experience?
I’d say that two-thirds of the syllabus is comprised of more basic, fundamental courses — students need to know math, physics, chemistry, biology, genetics. From the second and towards the third year, they are faced with much more practical classes and real-life problems. In terms of research on our campus, we’re somewhere between very basic research going all the way to very applied questions.
Yoram Ascheim
The faculty’s research focuses on increasing food production and improving the quality of agricultural products, all while protecting the environment. Can you give us some examples?
One example that’s at the crossroad of agricultural and food sciences is our research into sesame cultivars. This ancient grain is a superfood, but it’s still mostly being grown and harvested by hand, with low returns. Through a process of pure breeding, one of our faculty members has created a line of cultivars with enhanced yield and seed quality, suitable for modern agricultural practices. It’s an example of very applied research based on basic knowledge of genetics – as well as of how you can increase production without harming the environment.
Another example at the interface between agricultural activity and environmental sciences is our research into the use of wastewater for irrigation. Israel is a pioneer in the field, with 50 percent of irrigation water in the country having been reclaimed; that’s great in terms of water management, but what’s in it? We found that, when we irrigate with reclaimed wastewater, we’re introducing pharmaceuticals into the agricultural environment. I’m studying the effect of those medications on the soil – whether they can be degraded and, importantly, whether they’re being reintroduced into the food chain.
How do you ensure graduates of the faculty are ready to face an uncertain future?
We’re not sure what the world will look like in 2050, but what we do know is that people will need to eat, and to produce food, we need agricultural sectors.
We have entrepreneurship and innovation courses given as part of the curriculum, and most of our students take them. However, they also have to become comfortable with the unknown: that’s the main message that I, as a dean, try to deliver. We don’t give them the right route from A to Z, we want them to find their own way. They need to understand what you don’t understand, design their experiments and, based on the data they get, re-design the next experiment. As a teacher, in some of my exams, there are various ways to answer a question, and I don’t direct students to a specific solution. I want them to bring me their own answer.
In Israel, we have a lack of resources – we don’t have enough water, land or space. Coming up with innovative ideas to meet these challenges is in our culture, it’s part of our DNA, and we encourage students to learn this way – not just to repeat what we teach them in class, but to think independently.
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Promoting renewable energy

Promoting renewable energy

How have you come to work at Bar-Ilan University?

I’ve liked chemistry since high school — it felt like the basic science you can build upon and practice in the industry very easily. I pursued my first degree in the field at Bar-Ilan University, and I continued to do a master’s and PhD in the area of polymer science. I later worked for a few years in a lab that specializes in spectroscopy, and this is where I started getting involved in the energy area, in fields like batteries and hydrogen fuel cells. The work in the energy field and with the industry attracted me. So, when Bar-Ilan University thought of starting the new Center for Energy and Sustainability, I really wanted to be a part of it.

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What was the vision behind the new center?
We felt that, in many ways, the country’s interfaces between industry and academy were weak. We wanted to make the knowledge in the academic world much more accessible to the industry world, which is going through significant energy changes, switching to renewable solutions and reducing carbon emissions. We believe academia can help companies through these transitions – the main goal of the Energy and Sustainability Center is to do just that.
There are a few sub-projects on top of this. We’ll soon start the School for Sustainability, hopefully next year; people from the geography, regulation, chemistry and engineering departments are all working together to build this very important program, which we think is going to be very successful. It’ll offer lectures and workshops, which will also be open to working professionals. We’re also planning a boot camp for this year to encourage initiatives in this area, bringing high-school students here to learn about some of our projects. We hope they’ll later come and work on the changes that the world is going through with us. We’re trying to touch everyone.
How do you strengthen the ties between academia and industry, in practice?
t can happen in various different ways, and we find a way to work with everyone in the manner they see fit. Companies come to us, we show them around some of the labs and tell them about our vision, and they may want to join us.
Some companies bring us their challenges and work with our professors to find solutions; some use our experts for consultations; some choose projects to fund, often owning some of the rights. Other companies don’t want to work on challenges at all – they just have the interest and means to support our initiatives.
What are some examples of projects the center has been working on?
We have two professors working together to develop sodium batteries, which are the next generation of large energy storage. Another project is looking at whether growing potatoes under solar panels – which is happening on campus – harms the amount or quality of the product. If a company wants to invest in a small renewable energy organization, they might come to our experts for advice, too.
Is there a way for students to get involved?
We have lots of labs, it depends on the interest. Master’s and PhD students can get accepted to chemistry, physics or engineering, whatever they’re interested in, and then they can work with us. However, the Sustainability School is not for research and it doesn’t offer the opportunity to do a thesis.
Why do you think it’s important for students to have the opportunity to get involved with and learn from these projects?
As a student, I never had the chance to experience the industrial world, and I felt I was really missing out on something. Even though I worked on interesting projects, I felt I needed to develop a product that someone would actually be willing to buy, a product that could be implemented in the real world.
That’s what I get to see now. I see challenges solved, I see the straightforward progression of an idea, I see us walk towards the future. Sometimes, with research, it seems like you’re aiming too far away, like you’ll only see your findings implemented in decades. Hubs like the new center shorten the gap.
What’s in store for the future of the center?
I think if you speak to me in a year from now, you’ll hear about many more projects. And that’s what I like about it. Every month, we have new ideas, and we just wish we had longer days to get everything done. I’m absolutely certain you’re going to see a whole different center, much bigger, in the future. The potential is endless.
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A chemistry powerhouse

A chemistry powerhouse

Ariel University is a great option for students who want to pursue chemistry or other STEM subjects. Why?

There’s real value placed on teaching and on the importance of personal connections with students. Their education is really taken seriously. I think, I hope, that students feel that. Professors are given the opportunity to interact with them, ask them what they want to focus on in their research and help them to develop those fabulous ideas.
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We’re also providing opportunities for students to travel to conferences, present their work and interact with other researchers and faculty members. I had students who virtually presented at the American Chemical Society meeting in Atlanta, Georgia last August. Another student traveled to a workshop in the far north and is writing a paper based on the ideas he got during that weekend.
When it comes to the chemical sciences, the possibility to join a group and research whatever you’re interested in is open. Ariel just got a medical school; the university has a strong chemical engineering program; I work closely with the Wine Research Institute; and I’m developing a material sciences program. I think most international students who consider coming are by definition self-starting, ambitious and extremely independent. Ariel University is a really good place to be that kind of person.
You moved to Israel from the U.S. What advice would you give to students who feel nervous about moving to another country?
In the chemistry department, and I think in all the sciences, there’s a tremendous international population. When I was the age of our graduate students, the thought of moving abroad seemed incredibly daunting — a new culture, a different language. But what I see here is that international students form tremendous communities: they travel together, help new students settle in, form sports leagues and have cultural and social celebrations. It’s an enormous strength of the experience here.
Can you tell us about the work you do around wastewater purification?
Our aim is to figure out better methods of chemical detection. I can tell you what’s in my water because I’m a chemist with access to all the instruments that I need, but most people don’t have that capability. I want to develop technology for the general population that’s both as easy to use and cheap as possible, so that people can see if there are lead or other chemicals in their water and be able to make informed decisions about what they consume.
We know that there’s a correlation between exposure to certain compounds and developing some diseases, but we can’t really get a good handle on that mechanism – how it works and how to stop it – if we can’t accurately quantify a person’s exposure.
What would you say to encourage students to specialize in a chemistry subject?
Chemistry has a big image problem not just with students, but with the general population. As chemists, we have to do a much better job of explaining that what we’re doing is really important to make lives easier — and to save them.
There’s chemistry in everything. A lot of major advances in science that people see and use every day are based on chemistry, including Covid-19 antigen and PCR tests; vaccines, including the newly developed Covid-19 vaccines; pregnancy tests; and new sources for clean energy, including more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Men have a much greater representation in STEM subjects than women. What work are you doing to address this issue?
There’s still a significant disparity in the number of men and women who are active and successful in STEM fields. It’s critical to address this issue: the entirety of science benefits from a larger, more inclusive pool of talented individuals joining the field.
What we need to do at all stages, but especially around middle schools, is develop programs that tell girls, we know this is hard, but look how fun it is, what you could discover, how rewarding this can be. I’ve run a chemistry camp for middle school girls in the United States for seven years, and I’m thrilled to bring similar programs to Ariel University. The idea is to give girls positive experiences, strong role models, and to directly say, if this interests you, please continue. We’ll do everything we can to help you.
What advice would you give to students to make most of their time at Ariel?
Students should come into any institution with the expectations that they should ask for things, be self-starters, introduce themselves to more people — that’s how they’re going to get the most out of it.
When they ask me for advice about research, I tell them to think of anything in this world that makes them think: wouldn’t it be nice? Wouldn’t it be nice if my milk got spoiled without smelling? Wouldn’t it be nice if this food didn’t explode all over the cup when I try to heat it up? When I was a student, I was terrified people were going to fix all problems before I’d be able to get into research. It turns out there’s no shortage of problems to be solved.
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Sustainability

A holistic approach to sustainable development

A holistic approach to sustainable development

How would you define the concept of “sustainable development” in the context of African communities?
For a lot of the things we’re trying to achieve throughout the continent, the technology is there. The greatest challenge is often ensuring the project suits the local context. We define sustainable community development very broadly; we’re not only talking about basic needs, such as water and electricity. It’s about the entire life of a community.
Full Length Portrait Of Girl Using Water Pump On Land
Why did decide to set up the new program?
In terms of African studies, Ben-Gurion is the leading university in Israel. On top of the regular academic programs, the Tamar Golan Africa Center promotes all kinds of activities and initiatives related to Africa on campus. Here — and around the world more in general — a lot of energy’s being invested in finding ways to achieve sustainable community development, but from an African studies perspective, we felt there was room for a new, original approach that combines these two fields of knowledge.
To achieve any successful initiative in a local community, you need to consider governmental institutions, ethnic narratives, religious beliefs and gender roles. We’re encouraging students to think in a specific epistemological framework — which is African communities, not just any community — because sustainability requires being sensitive to a specific historical, political, economic and cultural context. Africa has thousands of different communities, but there are still a lot of common denominators that people who want to engage in an effective way should consider.
It’s not only about how you can install water pumps in a village. How can you engage the women? How can you ensure long-term economic commitment? These questions are connected to a whole lot of wider considerations that aren’t just related to the technological innovation.
What does the cohort look like?
We have about 10 different countries represented in our in our cohort, and there’s also a range of professional backgrounds: we have a lawyer, architects and people who’ve been engaged in culture. Some students are interested in agriculture, others in youth unemployment, financial literacy or accessible architecture. Everyone learns about and from each other.
When everybody comes around the table, you become aware of the range of issues that need to be tackled. In a lot of ways, we’re bringing to life the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, which consider various facets of life, all interlinked: if you don’t have clean water, you’re not going to have high-quality education, which means you won’t have women’s empowerment, which means you’re not going to have good governance. You can’t do it any other way. In the past, when people have only looked at one slice of the pie, it has failed.
As part of the program, after studying on campus for a year, students must spend a semester working on a local project in Africa. How do you prepare them for this time?
Every project begins with a student’s personal interests. Some have a very clear idea of their passions, some were working in a specific area before joining the program and want to leverage their studies to do it in a different way, others have come with a vague notion of what they want to work on.
Throughout the course of the first year, we have a project workshop that helps everyone crystallize around an idea and finalise the logistics, reaching out to an organization, government office or community. We then spend an entire semester helping them come up with a plan that’s as organized as possible before they leave. We definitely do a lot of theoretical study, but we also do a lot of practical planning. That goes from writing the proposal to forming the budget, as well as other aspects of their project that will later become important, like social media, working with stakeholders or dealing with conflict resolution. For example, we have a program where students learn to do podcasts to get the word out about some of the work they’re doing.
What are some of examples of projects?
Somebody’s working on solid waste management for her local community in northern Kenya. Someone is looking at LGBTQ refugees — the ways they’ve advocated for their needs and the issues facing them — while someone else is looking at how social media can help with youth unemployment. We have a Ugandan student who wants to return to Kampala and set up community gardens in low-income urban neighbourhoods, while another student wants to intern with a Zambian organization that addresses the issue of teenage pregnancy. It’s a whole range, it’s really exciting.
How long do these projects tend to last?
They last for at least three months, which we feel is the absolute minimum to do anything with any kind of impact, but we’re not trying to come with a one-size-fits-all plan. Some students are doing evaluation assessments, maybe helping consult an initiative about areas that can be improved, expanded or changed, so their projects are more limited. Some are beginning a specific project within the larger framework of an existing organization, and that organization will define what they want or need. Others initiate something from ground zero or work with their community, and we hope they’ll continue way past the three months.
What’s life on campus like?
We take a holistic view of the cohort as a makeshift community for the year, implementing a lot of the principles we expect students to take away, which becomes a learning experience in and of itself. We try to make our program participatory and empowering, making sure everyone has a voice and a role. It’s about the entirety of the experience, not just the classroom. It’s the study tours, semester breaks, weekends, all kinds of activities and initiatives that build really strong relationships among the students. This will continue to be a support network well beyond the years of their study together.
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SCIENCE AND TECH

Shining a light

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