Cornerstone donation sparks bright future for MISTI MIT-Israel program

In the first major step toward solidifying a future for the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI) MIT-Israel program, Arthur J. Samberg ’62 has made a $1 million donation. This extraordinary gift is a foundational move in making sure the program — a critical bridge between MIT and Israel for over a decade — will be able to continue supporting student and faculty work for years to come.

“As someone who has been very closely involved at MIT for many years,” Samberg reflects, “I was very excited to hear about the MIT-Israel program and the work MISTI has been doing in the country. I really hope that my gift will motivate others to ensure that the MISTI MIT-Israel program will be endowed in perpetuity for many generations to come to continue to reap the benefits of this impactful program — both for our students and for the State of Israel.”

A gift toward sustainability

MIT-Israel has had major demand for more than 11 years. The initiative pairs students with tailored and intensive internship, research, and teaching opportunities across the country. Over 800 MIT students have taken part in the program, with more than 100 host institutions participating. Upwards of 30 faculty seed funds have been facilitated by MIT-Israel, and in the last year alone, 118 MIT students have taken part in the popular MISTI program.

Christine Ortiz, the Morris Cohen Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and founding faculty of the MIT-Israel program, writes that the program has met with incredible popularity. “When we launched the MIT-Israel program, we had no idea of student and faculty demand and impact,” says Ortiz. “The program continues to grow with strong demand both from the MIT community and our partners in Israel. Mr. Samberg’s gift is a strong step towards our goal of ensuring the financial sustainability of the program for generations to come.”

Opportunities in the “Startup Nation”

Despite the program’s momentum, MIT-Israel has not secured the funding needed to ensure its current and future programming into its second decade. Samberg’s gift — $500,000 in endowment and $500,000 in expendables for student and seed funds — is a major step in what the program hopes will be continuing support from the MIT community of alumni and donors to keep the program running strong. As David Dolev, MIT-Israel managing director, shares: “This is an incredible next step towards ensuring a strong MIT-Israel engagement for our students and faculty. We invite our alumni and others in the wider community to join us and build on this gift to fully endow the MISTI MIT-Israel program and enable these opportunities for future generations.”

Dubbed the “Startup Nation,” Israel is a center of innovation and opportunity that attracts ambitious MIT students. Major marquee companies are also drawn to Israel, hoping to join in what MIT Technology Review calls “the magic in the country’s bubbling ecosystem of more than 6,000 start-ups.” For over a decade, MIT-Israel has been enabling students to plug into and have transformational experiences in this ecosystem, where talented minds have never been in higher demand.

Cultural and professional growth

Alumni of the MIT-Israel program frequently cite the cultural impact of the program as well. For Tammy Wu, who took part in MISTI’s Global Teaching Lab to teach in a network of Israeli high schools over Independent Activities Period, MISTI-Israel was a chance to immerse herself in an unfamiliar, non-Western culture. The difference in behavioral norms gave her a chance to grow in new ways. “For example,” she says, “because Israel’s culture invites discussion, I’ve improved on asserting myself and not being afraid to share an opinion that is different than others.”

Another alumnus recalls, “By specifically doing MISTI in Israel, I got the rare opportunity to grow both culturally and professionally. The work I did in my lab was probably the most interesting project I’ve ever worked on, and the experience of traveling around Israel was one of the most rewarding cultural experiences I’ve ever had.”

The transformative experiences that MIT students are having in Israel is part of the educational arch of the program. As Dolev says: “One key component of the MISTI experience is the rigorous pre-departure preparation. As with all MISTI programs, students need to acquire country-based knowledge prior to their experience abroad. The aim of this training is to give the students a deep understanding of the country and culture they will be immersed in so that they can both succeed professionally and navigate effectively the new culture they will be living and working in.”

While in Israel, students also have assignments to meet with local alumni to understand more in-depth about the unique factors that have brought about the startup nation culture, and they meet with local leaders in their field of internship. Upon their return, students have the opportunity to be mentors for students going to Israel in the following year.

Multi-generational impact

“I have had the opportunity over the years to engage with our students going to Israel for hands-on experiences,” says Eran Ben-Joseph, faculty director and head of the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning. “They come back with both a deep understanding of the region while taking their course of study to the next level. Both aspects of their Israel experience are invaluable, and they take them with them far beyond their time at MIT. Mr. Samberg’s support will impact many students for years to come.”

MISTI creates applied international learning opportunities for MIT students that increase their ability to understand and address real-world problems and bolsters MIT’s research mission by promoting collaborations between MIT faculty members and their counterparts abroad.

Building global understanding

“I personally think it’s incredibly important,” says senior Alice Zhou, who also taught in Israel alongside Tammy Wu, “to take the time to appreciate different cultures, as we live in a global community, but so much fear and hatred can brew from a lack of understanding each other. Cultural differences should be celebrated, and the first step to that appreciation is exposure.”

Looking to the future, Zhou sees an important mission for MIT-Israel and similar programs. “I hope in the future more MIT students will be able to see and experience the same cultural diversity I was able to and carry that work forward fostering global cooperation.”


Story prepared by MIT SHASS Communications
Editorial and Design Director: Emily Hiestand
Writer: Alison Lanier / Advisor: David Dolev, MISTI