Turning challenges of COVID into opportunities. How the IDC managed the crisis

With the approach of the academic year of 2020-2021, IDC moved its operations into high gear to enable the absorption of its hundreds of international students.

Turning challenges of COVID into opportunities. How the IDC managed the crisis (photo credit: IDC)
Turning challenges of COVID into opportunities. How the IDC managed the crisis
(photo credit: IDC)
“IDC turned the challenges of Corona into opportunities,” says Jonathan Davis, Vice President for External Relations at IDC Herzliya, and head of the university’s Raphael Recanati International School. For Davis, who has been responsible for the health and welfare of eight hundred international students, the year of the pandemic has been a frantic rollercoaster of activity, arranging transportation for students from around the world, ensuring that health regulations were followed, quarantining students upon arrival, remaining in touch with anxious parents, and of course, making sure that classes were conducted online.
When COVID-19 hit in March, IDC speedily adapted to the new educational realities. “We immediately made sure that we were able to continue teaching,” recalls Davis, “which meant training hundreds of lecturers and professors in the art of online teaching in the most innovative and creative way that we could. We took two hundred students from the school of computer science who became the mentors and tutors of these professors and lecturers, to assist them with technical aspects. We began to find, in very entrepreneurial and innovative ways, a means to make lectures more interesting.”
With the approach of the academic year of 2020-2021, IDC moved its operations into high gear to enable the absorption of its hundreds of international students. “We had to establish an operations room at IDC,” says Davis, “and we had contact with representatives from the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of the Interior, and Ben Gurion Airport to make sure that no mistakes were made. This was running 24 hours a day. We had to field requests from Latin America, China, and around the world, and we had to battle out the different bureaucratic aspects of it. As we were bringing these students in, the regulations and rules of corona were changing from one minute to the next.”
“We had a responsibility to bring these 800 people here, and we were also responsible for the quarantine of 800 students, he adds. “Many went to dormitories, but some went to apartments off-campus. We had to check those apartments to make sure that everything was according to the rules and regulations.” Equally important, IDC was in constant contact with hundreds of concerned parents around the world, holding frequent Zoom conferences with as many as six hundred parents at a time, from the Far East, Europe, North America, and Latin America. Chuckling, Davis says that parents ended up speaking to each other during these Zoom calls, playing ‘Jewish geography’ and finding common ground. Davis lauds the parents who sent their students to IDC this year, saying that they “displayed tremendous courage and tremendous Zionist values.”
Jonathan Davis, Vice President for External Relations at IDC Herzliya. (IDC)Jonathan Davis, Vice President for External Relations at IDC Herzliya. (IDC)
Moreover, he adds, “the students themselves took a chance, needing to quarantine. They were educated quickly, and their acculturation to the country was swift. Every student who came here had to have some Zionist value within them to come here in order to come here.” Davis says that IDC’s success in managing the crisis successfully is due to the efforts of his very dedicated team, who worked day and night to make sure that things were running smoothly. Amazingly, Davis reports, the student body at the international school increased by 5% this year.
Continuing his theme on what was gained during the pandemic, Davis says that on-campus information sessions for prospective students, which usually attracted no more than sixty or seventy people to the campus, were switched to Zoom and drew online audiences of hundreds from around the world. The Zoom information sessions attracted parents as well as students. “Part of part of our success is that we were able to reach so many people all at once,” says Davis, “and at the same time convince those people that we care about the students, and provide them with TLC so that no one will be left unassisted overseas.”
Algom Ben-Horin, RRIS Campus Life Events Manager. (IDC Herziliya)Algom Ben-Horin, RRIS Campus Life Events Manager. (IDC Herziliya)
With the halfway point of the school year approaching, the students safely ensconced, and studying online – though some courses, which require lab time or studio time are conducted in small groups according to regulations – Davis is a bit more relaxed than he was in September. He is hopeful that with the vaccine on the way, that physical, frontal classes may resume at some point during the second semester.
Even after corona has ended, Davis says, it is possible that a certain percentage of courses taught at IDC may be given online. Holding some classes online would save space on campus, could be beneficial for students in certain circumstances, and again, could be an example of a “challenge turned into an opportunity.”
Davis then speaks of the opportunities that IDC presents in the realm of graduate studies, ranging from its Master’s degree programs in counter-terrorism and diplomacy to its MBA programs in entrepreneurship and innovation. Referring to the counter-terrorism and diplomacy programs, Davis says, “They have great value to study in Israel because of what happens in the Middle East and in our region. At IDC, not only do we have academics teaching the courses, but we have teachers such as Ambassador Ron Prosor, head of the Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy at IDC, who served as Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Israeli Ambassador to the United Kingdom, and Director-General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, and Major General (Res.) Amos Gilead, Executive Director of the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS) at IDC Herzliya, and former Director of Policy and Political-Military Affairs at the Ministry of Defense. If we are teaching counter-terrorism and the professor is the former head of the Lebanese desk in Israeli intelligence, they will get lectures that they can’t get anywhere else in the world.”
Sylvia Kassoff, Director, Student Affairs and Well-Being. (IDC HerziliyaSylvia Kassoff, Director, Student Affairs and Well-Being. (IDC Herziliya
Davis speaks equally highly of the school’s business courses and varied MBA programs, noting that IDC is situated between Raanana and Herzliya, in the midst of Israel’s ‘Silicon Wadi’, with the most high-tech companies per capita of any region in the country. “IDC has a very strong connection with those companies. It’s possible to do cooperative education with those companies and internships with those companies. All of our graduate programs which have to do with business and master’s in business and economics have a lot of entrepreneurship,” reports Davis. IDC even offers an MBA in health management in conjunction with Sheba Hospital.
IDC is certified by the Council of Higher Education in Israel, and the school now awards Ph.D. degrees in psychology, law, and computer science, making it the first private university in Israel to award that degree. All these achievements, says Professor Davis, will soon lead to IDC becoming Israel’s first private university. When that happens, it will change its name to Reichman University, in honor of Professor Uriel Reichman, its founder. “The creation of IDC Herzliya has been superb for its 30,000 graduates who are in key positions in Israel and around the world. When Professor Reichman built this university, his aim was to make future generations of leaders in this country.”
Shelly Levy Health, Foreign Afairs, Interior Ministries Liaison (IDC Herziliya)Shelly Levy Health, Foreign Afairs, Interior Ministries Liaison (IDC Herziliya)
“I am humbled to be at a place which has amazing leaders," says Davis. "I feel that I am able to translate my Zionist values into helping students come to Israel. A huge percentage end up immigrating, It’s damn good for the country, and it’s a lot of fun.”
This article was written in cooperation with The Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya.