By Jennifer Myers
LOWELL -- The Israeli desert and the Mill City just got a little bit closer.
In a continuing effort to prepare students for today's global world, UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan and Zvi HaCohen, rector of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, signed a memorandum of understanding yesterday at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center, formalizing a partnership between the two schools.
Meehan said that as a former congressman, he understands the importance of strong relationships between the U.S. and its strategic partners, like Israel.
"We are both committed to enhancing economic development and promoting peace in the Middle East," Meehan said, adding that the bond formed yesterday and the nation's continued strong relationship with Israel are important not just to the two countries, but "for a lasting peace in the Middle East region as a whole."
HaCohen said his university, which is in a desert, is highly ranked in many academic arenas, including robotics, renewable energy and cyberspace security. Being in a desert, it is also committed to that environment and searching for ways to help it thrive, both economically and socially.
The university runs a desert research institute, which could collaborate with UML on water-quality and soil-research projects as well as climatology research.
On the social spectrum, there are students at Ben-Gurion who live for free in university housing in poor neighborhoods and, in exchange, provide community service to the children of those neighborhoods.
The two universities hope to work together on social issues to advance the status of women leaders and to foster peace through political, social and cultural initiatives in the Middle East.
The partnership between the two universities will provide for student and faculty exchanges between the two, as well as the sharing of and collaboration on research.
But the connection may be more globally important than that.
HaCohen explained the difficulty that Israeli academics and scientists have in collaborating with Palestinians and Arabs because politics is an immovable obstacle. However, if there is a third party through which they can work, collaboration is possible. He said UMass Lowell could be that conduit.
"It is very difficult to make peace from a top-down approach, especially when it is involved with politicians," HaCohen said.
When Meehan became chancellor in 2007, there were 300 international students studying at UML. Today, there are 542 foreign undergraduate and graduate students from more than 50 countries. The university now has partnerships with 63 universities in 25 countries.
"Our partnership marks an exciting beginning to go beyond what each university can do by itself," Meehan said, "and it will create a new generation of decision-makers, entrepreneurs and leaders who can compete and collaborate with the best in the world.
"We have a responsibility to ensure that our students are work-ready, life-ready and world-ready to meet the challenges of not only today's society, but also the changes we anticipate in the future," he added.
Meehan has aggressively pursued international agreements. Last fall, he traveled to China to forge partnerships with schools in that nation.
Additionally, a new two-year MBA program will welcome 25 Japanese executives to the UMass Lowell Manning School of Business in April and a second group of 25 in the fall.