The World Jewish Congress and the Israeli Consulate in New York officially launched the “Start Up Nation Mentorship Program,” which pairs university students with Israeli professional mentors in fields including high-tech, business, and government.
The program is a product of the 2018 “Campus Pitch Competition,” an initiative which gives college students the chance to pitch a new project that aims to change the dialogue about Israel on college campuses.
Co-founder and President of the program, Adam Shapiro, said the project was inspired by his experiences on campus. He noticed his non-Jewish peers only discussed Israel within political confines regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict, and knew little about Israeli life and culture.
"I wanted students to learn about the Israeli innovations and technology that I am fascinated by, but that no one was hearing about," explained Shapiro. "It upsets me when students all around me know nothing about Israel.... I want them to hear about Israel from Israelis rather than from students who put up the apartheid walls on campus."
Nowadays students are career-oriented and driven to create global networks, which is why a mentorship program is particularly effective, added Shapiro.
"The heart and soul of Israel is its people, and that's what we're showcasing and investing in.... we want to open up all these extraordinary areas of opportunity," said Sarel Anbar, Executive Director of the Start Up Nation Mentorship Program.
"I know several students at Princeton who have so little relationship to Israel that they didn't even realize it's a start up hub," he continued. "By giving them the chance to connect with mentors and learn about Israel, it's really a win-win."
The program launched at Cornell University with 10 mentors and mentees. Since then, it has expanded to Princeton University, University of Chicago, and the University of Michigan, with another 40 mentors and mentees.
To participate in the program, mentors and mentees are asked to have two 30-minute video conferences or phone calls over the course of one academic semester. Though Anbar notes the relationship is not limited to the program requirements.
"The organization is becoming global, and we want to focus on connecting students far beyond graduation," he said, explaining his hope that students will build long-lasting connections with their mentors.
Shapiro said the results of the program have already been worth-while and inspiring.
"One of our mentees is a Lebanese student who had never heard anything positive about Israel," he shared. "When we asked him how it was going, he said he learned more in a one-hour conversation with the CEO of Google Israel than he had in his 20 years."
Aviv Leshem, founder and CEO of Telmil Israel -- an electronic component distributor -- participated as a mentor in the program.
"It's making a true impact on young influential students from Ivey league colleges around the world," he said. "My first experience was really amazing, it can really benefit [both parties] a lot."
Over the course of the 2019-2020 academic year, the program will be expanding to additional campuses across the United States, England, Australia and Canada.
Justin Shapiro, University of Toronto medical student and co-founder of the project will head the Canadian expansion.
“As a medical student, I want to focus on expanding the Science,
Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) components of the program by helping connect students with Israeli mentors in those field,” he said.
Shapiro added that his dream would be for Canadian STEM students and Israeli professionals to work together and eventually co-publish material.
Anbar hopes the program will create a community of students that can exchange ideas and experiences.
"We hope this program will also build a community of elite students by investing in events and initiatives on campus," said Anbar. “This is just the start.”
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