Two universities with “a lot in common” join forces
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Two universities with “a lot in common” join forces

NJIT and Ben-Gurion create the Institute for Future Technologies

From left, Kenneth Alexo, vice president of development and alumni relations at New Jersey Institute of Technology; Baruch Schieber, director of the Institute for Future Technologies; Craig Gotsman, dean of NJIT’s Ying Wu College of Computing; NJIT President Teik C. Lim; BGU President Daniel Chamovitz; BGU Rector Chaim Hames; BGU vice president of global engagement Limor Aharonson-Daniel; and Americans for BGU CEO Doug Seserman.
From left, Kenneth Alexo, vice president of development and alumni relations at New Jersey Institute of Technology; Baruch Schieber, director of the Institute for Future Technologies; Craig Gotsman, dean of NJIT’s Ying Wu College of Computing; NJIT President Teik C. Lim; BGU President Daniel Chamovitz; BGU Rector Chaim Hames; BGU vice president of global engagement Limor Aharonson-Daniel; and Americans for BGU CEO Doug Seserman.

Dr. Daniel Chamovitz jokes that he wants to put a bed in one of the offices of the 36-story Jersey City campus of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, to use as his home base on his visits to the area. That’s how smitten he is with the view across the Hudson River to the lower Manhattan skyline.

The Pennsylvania-bred president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has a much different, though no less dramatic, view from his own office, 5,700 miles away in Israel’s southern desert city, Be’er Sheva.

Dr. Chamovitz was in Jersey City on September 19 for the ribbon-cutting ceremony officially opening the Institute for Future Technologies, a joint venture forged between the two universities.

Through this collaboration, which began in 2021, BGU and NJIT will offer master’s and Ph.D. tracks in cyber technologies and environmental and civil engineering. The program includes opportunities for joint research and development, innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as student and faculty exchanges.

“They reached out to us about a partnership, and this was one of first things to cross my desk four years ago when I became president of BGU,” Dr. Chamovitz said.

“When we explored more, we saw the two universities have a lot in common, including a scrappiness and a willingness to work hard. The fact that they were building a new campus in Jersey City positions BGU perfectly within the tristate area. Being one train stop away from Manhattan has inherent advantages.”

BGU has some 20,000 students on campuses in Be’er Sheva, Sde Boker, and Eilat, including international students from more than 75 countries.

NJIT, one of only 35 polytechnic universities in the United States, has nearly 12,000 students on its two campuses.

In March 2021, Dr. Chamovitz, Joel S. Bloom, who then was NJIT’s president, and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a memorandum of understanding.

“NJIT is one of the state’s premier STEM-focused universities, and BGU is one of the driving forces behind the success of Israel’s technology economy,” the governor said at the signing. “By joining together in this groundbreaking venture, NJIT and BGU will combine their expertise and track records in technological research and development to help strengthen the economic opportunity and tech leadership that I have long envisioned for our state.”

Dr. Chamovitz noted that while “most universities have hundreds of MoUs” — memoranda of understanding — “that end up in a drawer and nothing happens,” this one was acted upon with enthusiasm.

He and Mr. Murphy became “texting pals,” he said, and “former President Bloom and I decided to use our seed funds for research. We already have monthly joint seminars, joint projects, a grant from National Science Foundation, and a couple of published articles.”

Doug Seserman, CEO of Americans for BGU, takes a selfie with BGU’s President Daniel Chamovitz.

The institute’s website lists 12 joint cyber research projects and 10 joint civil and environmental engineering research projects in progress between researchers at the two universities.

The topics may be difficult for laypeople to decipher – they include such titles as “Side-Channel Based Targeted Deanonymization” and “Antiviral MXene-Laser-Induced Graphene Composite Air Filters” – but they’re all geared to solid real-world applications.

“I was looking for strategic partnerships that would resonate both top down and bottom up,” Dr. Chamovitz said. “We decided to work in cybersecurity, where BGU has a distinct international advantage” – Be’er Sheva houses Israel’s National Cyber Center and many related programs – “and civil engineering, where NJIT has strong international standing. By working together, we raise each other in both those fields.”

NJIT professor of computer science Baruch Schieber, director of the new Institute for Future Technologies, is well acquainted with colleagues at BGU. He grew up in Israel, earned degrees in computer science from Israel’s Technion and Tel Aviv universities, and won the 1984 Israel Defense Prize for major technological contributions to Israeli defense systems. Before he joined the NJIT faculty in 2018, Prof. Schieber had worked at IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., since 1987.

“I feel that, at least in the beginning, it is important for the institute to be directed by someone who knows both cultures, to help get the people to know each other better,” Dr. Schieber said.

There are several other Israeli citizens in management positions at NJIT, including Craig Gotsman, dean of the Ying Wu College of Computing, and Moshe Kam, dean of the Newark College of Engineering.

Dr. Chamovitz said the joint institute furthers a larger goal of increasing business ties between New Jersey and Israel. “Governor Murphy is very supportive of this collaboration in the hope that it will spawn industrial partnerships to further develop the tech system around Jersey City and Newark,” he said. “Just as BGU has a critical role in building the high-tech system of the Negev, NJIT has that same role in northern New Jersey.”

NJIT’s president, Teik Lim, whose background is in mechanical engineering, said the Institute for Future Technologies “was created at the right time and in the right place. If we do this right, it will open the whole world wide to NJIT.”

Doug Seserman, CEO of Americans for Ben-Gurion University, sees potential for the project from an Israeli angle, calling the joint institute “21st century Zionism at its best,” a powerful platform to “demonstrate Israel’s value to the world” in counterpoint to the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement in the academic arena.

“In academic settings, you tend to have difficult BDS situations,” Mr. Seserman said. “At NJIT, the number 1 school in New Jersey for upward mobility, the students include many people of color and minority populations that represent first-generation Americans, and they tend to be less familiar with Israel. Faculty and student exchanges are what relationships are built on, and these students have the potential to be great ambassadors in addition to great scientists, strengthening the relationship between Israel and the diaspora.”

Indeed, Dr. Schieber said, “I view the student exchange as one thing I’d really like to push, and I’d like to extend it to undergraduate students because I see a lot of advantages. I want to expose students from our side to Israel, especially to a place like BGU, which is very immersive and open to students from all over the world. There are already students from Morocco at BGU a year after the peace agreement was signed between Israel and Morocco.”

Moreover, he believes that BGU students have much to gain from exposure to NJIT students. “Our graduate population is very international and diverse. I saw that when a graduate student from BGU was here for a few weeks, the relationships she built with our students was very impressive.”

He anticipates that some of the research projects will lead to entrepreneurial projects that offer the startup nation an excellent location for business opportunities.

Dr. Chamovitz said he does not know exactly what directions the joint program will take over the next five or 10 years, “and that’s great. That fits in with the startup nation ethos. If we knew what we were doing, we wouldn’t have to do it.”

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