ExcelHT awards Druse students scholarships to land hi-tech jobs

Program aims to identify suitable students, help them through entire process of matriculation, army service, college, landing hi-tech careers.

dicther at cisco 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
dicther at cisco 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When Amir Zhereldin told his family that he wanted to study mechanical engineering, they were taken aback. Traditionally, Zhereldin, like most members of his family, would have pursued a career in education, the military, or police and security. This is because Zhereldin is Druse, and until now, the pursuit of hi-tech careers was uncommon in the Druse community. But he wanted to breach the boundaries, and was willing to work as hard as it takes. "The main problem is that young people want to take the easy way out, and I thought about something different - not going with the mainstream," he says. Zhereldin, a student at Ort Braude College of Engineering in Karmiel, is one of the first Druse to receive a scholarship from ExcelHT, a new program sponsored by Cisco Internet networking, JDC, and the Ruderman Family Charitable Fund. ExcelHT is a scholarship program designed to sponsor young Druse as they matriculate through high school, and go on to study sciences in Israel's university system. The program hopes to help the students land jobs in the country's hi-tech industry. On Sunday, Zhereldin, the other nine recipients of the scholarship in its pilot year, and 70 students from the Yirka School of Sciences spent the day at the Cisco offices in Netanya. There, they were addressed by a number of sponsors and supporters who emphasized the importance of the program, as well as Cisco professionals, a Tel Aviv University professor and an army representative. The students also participated in workshops on technological professions led by Druse engineers and exemplary students. The idea for the program was born when Avi Dichter, Knesset member and former minister of public security, invited American venture capitalist Yitzchak Applbaum for a day trip in a Druse village in the north. Applbaum describes the trip as "one of the most amazing days of my life." First, they visited a cemetery. The Druse "died for this country in numbers and ways you couldn't imagine," Applbaum says. He insists that Israel needs to honor these "unsung heroes" and that the Druse "give much more than they get." "The best way to give more back is to help put them in the workforce," he says. Dichter, while serving as minister of public security, was asked by the Druse for more jobs in police and security. "No, that's not enough," he said. Dichter believes wholeheartedly in the mission of ExcelHT, and emphasizes that "looking at this community only through their army service is a mistake." Now, almost two years later, the program is under way, and is expected to be extremely successful. Ifat Baron, manager of technical and social projects for Cisco, says that Cisco, a $40 billion company, wants to "help them [Druse youth] make better decisions about their future." According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, most new professions in the next five years will be in hi-tech. A Cisco spokesman emphasized "diversity and inclusion" and commented, "recruiting people from different backgrounds is the bridge between companies, and the customers themselves are diverse." Jay and Shira Ruderman of the Ruderman Family Charitable Fund are hoping the initiative will help to educate not only the Druse, but also Jews around the world. "I am not sure Americans understand the important role Druse play in Israeli society," said Jay, "It is important for the Jewish people to support all aspects of Israeli society." In future years, ExcelHT hopes to identify suitable students in high school, and help them through the entire process of matriculation, army service, college, and landing hi-tech careers. Amir Zhereldin is now a full-time student, and has even found time to give back to his community. "I am volunteering in helping teens matriculate. They have to cross the first barrier, the matriculation, and the second, the psychometric test. My goals are to get a good job and to try and help others to make a social network of Druse in society."