The Negev town of Dimona is about to get a powerful injection of university students. The municipality and Beersheba's Sami Shamoon College of Engineering hope to get 250 engineering students to live and teach in Dimona.
"The idea behind this special program is to create a positive influx of educated people into Dimona," said Sami Shamoon College President Jehuda Haddad.
With partners such as the United Jewish Communities, the Merage family of Denver and the Jewish Agency for Israel, organizers are working hard to attract students to the community on Israel's periphery.
Students in the program will have their tuition waived for all four years of the bachelors of science in engineering program at Shamoon College, Israel's largest engineering college, and receive subsidies reducing their monthly rent to NIS 100. The plan is to provide a year's worth of train passes for NIS 1,000, and each student in the program will be given a new laptop computer.
In return, the students will teach in Dimona schools and work in the community.
This program has two goals, according to Dean of Students David Begleiter. First, "They will work to improve the matriculation scores of Dimona students, particularly in mathematics, sciences, computers and engineering."
Second, "They will be the living example to these kids, who grew up thinking that being an engineer is something you do if you're brilliant and rich, that they can do it. They'll see the engineering students teaching them, and they'll know what they can be when they finish the army and go to study," he said.
For Haddad also stressed the importance of role models. He emigrated from Tunisia at the age of three and grew up in one of Beersheba's poorest neighborhoods.
"I believe in higher education, from personal experience," he said. "You leave the environment of the neighborhood and rise on the social ladder and in terms of financial security. The three are connected," he said.
The philosophy behind the project was simple, Haddad said. Students will bring education to Dimona through teaching, "bridging the gaps and increasing the population's access to higher education," he said.
"The students who will stay in Dimona will be improving the entire Negev [socioeconomically], and specifically Dimona," Haddad said.
Dimona Mayor Meir Cohen welcomed the project.
"This project brings quality young people to Dimona," he said. "They can give our future generations the tools to succeed in life."
The project is already attracting attention in many Negev localities.
"Communities have turned to us asking us to do this in their towns," Begleiter said. "And you know what? We might do this also in [the Beduin town of] Rahat. We have a group of Arab students, and they will pass on their experience to other Arab children."
The Sami Shamoon College of Engineering opened its doors in 1996 with 100 students. In 2006, some 3,000 were studying in the college's five engineering programs on its campuses in Beersheba and Ashdod. Eighty-five percent of its students come from the South.