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‘The beginning of … a great story’: A&M-Israel collaboration to focus on research

‘The beginning of … a great story’: A&M-Israel collaboration to focus on research

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Though Texas A&M ended its pursuit of a “Peace Campus” in Nazareth that began more than two years ago, officials say a research partnership with one of Israel’s leading universities will accomplish many of the ambitious project’s original goals.

Administrators and academics from Texas A&M and the University of Haifa on Monday announced plans to establish a $5.5 million observatory in 2016 called Texas A&M-University of Haifa Eastern Mediterranean Observatory or THEMO. The facility will employ 12 faculty members from each school to study the issues of water, food security and climate change.

Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp said the partnership will help the flagship school in College Station reach its goal of becoming a $1 billion research university.

“This is just the beginning of what I think is going to be a great story,” Sharp said.

In October 2013, then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Sharp, both members of the Texas A&M class of 1972, traveled to Jerusalem and met with former Israeli President Shimon Peres and former Israeli Minister of Education Shai Piron to announce plans to build a $200 million campus in Nazareth. They said at the time that it would bolster relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims in the area, while establishing peace through education.

Ultimately, Sharp said the plan did not come to fruition because A&M would not have complete control over academic programs. He added that he understood Israel’s desire to have some degree of control of the campus and that relations remain positive with Israeli officials.

“We don’t think we would have had a problem with resources or anything like that,” Sharp said. “But at the end of the day, I did not have the courage to go to [Provost] Karan Watson and say somebody else is going to dictate her academic program. In the end, we just had legitimate differences.

“We cannot put Texas A&M’s name out there and not have Texas A&M call all the academic shots.”

Although the research partnership in the Mediterranean port city is not as expansive as an entire campus, Sharp said it gets back to the core of why it explored establishing a presence in Israel in the first place: to open up a research center with opportunities for collaborations.

Texas A&M President Michael Young, who was serving as president of the University of Washington at the time of Sharp and Perry’s trip to the Middle East, said the research partnership will begin to address some “great global issues” and better understand the connectivity between the world’s waterways. More precisely, it will examine the commonalities between the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

“This is important,” Young said. “It advances our understanding, our science and our discovery, it provides information that will help in the decision making process when we’re facing natural disasters like hurricanes and ocean spills, the things that affect thousands of lives, and provide that data in real time.”

The project will be directed by Texas A&M’s College of Geosciences at a shore-based facility at the University of Haifa, which will open in February, where data will be received and transmitted from two moorings in the Levant Basin.

University of Haifa President Amos Shapira, who patched into the announcement at Rudder Tower via video conference along with other school officials and researchers, stressed the importance of the research being conducted through the partnership. He said the natural resources on land are becoming scarce due to climate change, and they must now look toward the sea, which has been mostly unexplored.

“This collaboration with one of the biggest and best universities in the United States strengthens the role of the University of Haifa as the leading university in Israel in the field of marine sciences,” Shapira said in a Texas A&M press release. “Our understanding on what is happening in the deep water around Israel’s shores is one of strategic importance because the sea is the future of the state of Israel and all of humanity.”

Sharp said during the press event that it allows Texas A&M to tap into a booming tech hub.

An earlier story by the Associated Press stated that in the third quarter of 2015, 165 high-tech companies raised $1.1 billion, according to the Israel Venture Capital Research Center.

Young and Sharp were joined in College Station by oceanography professor Steve DiMarco and Daniel Agranov, consul of the consulate general of Israel to the southwest United States, both of whom discussed the importance of bringing the two lone-star states together on the last day of Hanukkah.

“It’s a holiday of light, and we are lighting this united torch that will lead us and guide us in these difficult times that everyone is interested in what has happened to the environment,” Agranov said.

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