Sami Shamoon College of Engineering (SCE) is both the fastest-growing college and the largest engineering college in Israel. Dedicated to recruiting, training and retaining students from the South, SCE officials characterize the institution as the "the Negev's brain trust."
Special scholarship programs attract Ethiopians, Beduin, single mothers and women with financial hardships. Some 80% of the student body comes from the South, with Israeli Arabs, Beduin and Druse constituting 15% of the student body.
Israel's first (and, to date, only) female Beduin engineer graduated from SCE, which so far has also educated more Ethiopian engineers than any Israeli college or university.
After graduation, 77% of Shamoon graduates remain in the South, with graduates highly sought after by companies such as Intel, Amdocs, El-Op, Dead Sea Plants and Bromine Compounds.
The Beersheba "spaceship" college, with its futuristic design signifying its reach for the heavens, was the dream of president Prof. Jehuda Haddad.
"The spaceship inspires us to look up, way up, into space, to force ourselves to dream dreams that are way beyond anything we'd ever think we could achieve," says Haddad. "Dreams can't be all that practical - they have to be something that seems to be far beyond your reach."
Haddad made aliya from Tunisia when he was eight years old, fifth in a family of 11 children. After spending time in a transit camp, the family moved to Beersheba's Daled neighborhood, very near where SCE now stands.
Because of his own immigrant background, one of Haddad's objectives in founding the college was to serve young people who lived in the periphery.
"In 1990, we had our chance," Haddad says. "The Council of Higher Education finally authorized the establishment of colleges in outlying areas like Beersheba. The South is home to many poor and immigrant families, kids who didn't test well enough to get into the country's universities. Their futures were limited. So my dream was to create a place to serve those forgotten young people - to give them an opportunity to fulfill their dreams, just as my parents had worked so hard for me to fulfill mine."
The school was founded in 1995, but the big break came in 1997 when wealthy Jewish British financier Sami Shamoon took an interest in the fledgling institution. Up until then, the college had been operating in the abandoned buildings that had previously housed the Beersheba College of Technology.
"We needed money to build a new campus," Haddad says. "Sami, who passed away just this last June, agreed with us entirely on educational philosophy, on how education must be made available to a broad spectrum of Israel's youth. On one visit, I took him out into the Daled neighborhood, showed him this weed-infested, trashy wasteland the city called a 'garden.' 'This is where I want the college,' I told him."
Shortly afterward, Shamoon wrote a check for $3 million, and the new campus came into being. Dean of Students David Begleiter recalls how much pleasure Shamoon took in SCE's last graduation ceremony.
"He had tears in his eyes," Begleiter says. "He was so proud of all these young people from the periphery, kids who never would have become engineers if it hadn't been for him."
Both the spaceship college and the avant-garde Ashdod campus were designed by leading architect Haim Dotan. Starting with 95 students in 1995, the college now boasts 3,500.
"I believe if someone wants to achieve something, he can do it," Haddad says. "Look at me - I'm not Einstein. But I believe that if people just believe in themselves, they can achieve anything they want. And what comes after that, after you've succeeded? You can't forget your neighbor. Success isn't worth anything unless you spread it around."
Contact: Sami Shamoon College, Bialik/Basel Streets, Beersheba 84110. Tel.: (08)-647-5605; 800-207-777. www.sce.ac.il.