In ‘004, after his freshman year at MIT, Chaim Kutnicki of Elmwood Park got a three-month summer internship at the Technion in Haifa.
"It was really hard to arrange," says the ‘1-year-old, "and it wasn’t easy to get funding."
During his stay there, Kutnicki, a member of MIT Students for Israel, became convinced that the U.S. and Israeli universities were not really that different. He decided he needed to do something to bring the two institutions closer together.
"MIT doesn’t really have any study abroad programs," he points out, "except for one, with Cambridge University."
Envisioning MIT and the Technion as "sister schools," he began to create the outlines of a plan that would eventually allow semester-long exchange programs between the two.
In addition to working at the Technion’s Faculty of Biomedical Engineering, Kutnicki spent his summer on a "reconnaissance mission," speaking to anyone he could find at the university who was interested in study abroad programs.
"The idea was floating around for a long time," he says. "There’s a lot of cross-pollination between the two schools. Many professors there received their training at MIT."
The 19-year-old pitched his ideas to Technion faculty and administrators, who, he says "were very excited at the prospect." He then set out through phone calls, e-mails, and detailed proposals to convince MIT.
By the time he returned to the United States for the fall semester, the seeds of his plan were in place. Working through the MIT Hillel, the then-sophomore helped bring Hibur (in English, "connection") to life.
While a full-fledged student exchange program has yet to be arranged, the group has been meeting with MIT faculty and administrators to enlist their support for the project. In the meantime, Hibur is encouraging MIT students to spend time at the Technion, and, says Kutnicki, a cadre of ‘5 volunteers "is doing the legwork" to help them arrange it. The group is also involved in fund-raising and is looking for individual donors as well as corporate sponsors.
Kutnicki says he was motivated by several factors. He is a graduate of both Yavneh Academy and The Frisch School, and his love of Israel has deep roots. In addition, he felt that an exchange program with the Technion was just a good idea.
"It takes something everyone can agree on using science for the benefit of humanity and helps put a positive spin on Israel," he says, adding that bringing Israel’s positive achievements to the forefront is one of his main goals.
The two schools have already offered mini-exchange programs and video-linked seminars featuring noted faculty from both schools.
This summer, Kutnicki, together with the director of MIT’s Hillel, brought a group of students to Israel to meet their Technion counterparts, explore life at the school, and, he says, "get a taste of Israel." In September, the Technion students went for a trip of their own, spending two weeks with their new friends at MIT.
"It’s a win-win collaborative effort," says Kutnicki, adding with complete assurance that an official student exchange program will be a reality by the time he graduates, in ‘007.
For more information about Hibur, visit http://hibur.mit.edu/.