Fall 2011

An Exclusive Interview with Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron, President of the Open University

Maximizing Potential at the Open University:
Something for Everyone

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 Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron

Tapping New Markets: Potential of 15,000

Prof. Messer-Yaron has identified points on three specific markets that she has targeted for penetration with new marketing campaigns:

i) Israelis living overseas. "When I was recently in Palo Alto I met with a group of Israelis who live and work there, yet want to learn in an Israeli environment. The Open University is the ideal solution for them. I believe our market potential is at least 7,000." This would also provide these talented young people, now in the world of high tech and entrepreneurship before attaining a Bachelor's degree, with an opportunity to enrich their professional experience with formal learning in such areas as management, economics, sciences and computer science.

ii) Israeli Arabs. "We currently have 3-4,000 Arabs who are students of the Open University. My goal is to reach 10,000. We have put in place a 'soft landing' program that lets them begin their studies in Arabic and then slowly blend into the academic program in Hebrew."

iii) Ultra-Orthodox. "We began a few years ago, but it has intensified in recent years. We have a preparatory program for ultra-Orthodox students to help achieve math and English proficiency and smooth their integration into University studies. The potential in this market niche is large and requires understanding and accommodation to their unique needs."

Enhancing the University's Technology Tool Box

"The Open University is at the forefront of implementing new technology in the service of the student body." Different students learn differently and a variety of formats and study tools can enhance their learning experience. There will be those who like to read hard copy, those who like to hear lectures, and those who benefit from self-study tools.

With everything from the E-Reader to Audio Books and more recently, mobile applications for Androids and IPhones and pilot programs with Tablets the University has powered the technology engine in academic institutions across the country.

"Higher education in the 21st century has to be tailor-made. Our goal is to have Open University students choose how they want to receive their study materials. If they want to receive print books they can. But, if they want to download their materials onto their Iphones, Tablets, Androids or on an E-Reader, they will be able to. If they want a set of video lectures that they can review before exams, then they can choose that format as well. That's why we are constantly working on ways to expand our technology tool box."

From Practical to Idealist

Innovation, problem-solving and revolutionary thinking (Prof. Messer-Yaron refers to it as evolutionary) are not skills exclusively necessary for being the President of the largest University in Israel, but, in fact, the skills that one needs to succeed in the field of electrical engineering.

Hagit Messer-Yaron received her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Tel Aviv University, and did a post-doctoral fellowship at Yale University. She is an internationally renowned expert in statistical signal processing and applications to source localization, communication and radar systems. She has held international visiting positions at universities in the USA and France, is a fellow of the IEEE (the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), and has served as the Chief Scientist in Israel's Ministry of Science, where she was in charge of the national strategic research program, bilateral scientific relations with foreign countries, and the initiation and implementation of science-related operations within governments.

It was also around this period that she began to take a prominent role in promoting women in science and technology not only in Israel, but also via forums around the world.

Prof. Messer-Yaron freely admits that she was not, at the outset of her career, interested in the issue of women in science. True, when she first began her undergraduate degree in engineering, women comprised but 5% of the engineering and technology fields. But, it did not initially register with her that this was an anomaly, or 'detrimental' in any way.

Her real 'epiphany' happened in the 1990's. "I was at a conference of some 2,000 people in the US. Someone posted a notice on a bulletin board inviting the female participants to a lunch. I went strictly out of curiosity. We were about 50 women from all over the world -- Americans, Chinese, French, Indians -- and I saw and felt an empowerment, a kind of fraternity with these women."

From that point on, Messer-Yaron became active in promoting women in science and technology. She returned to Israel and established a forum of women in engineering in Tel Aviv University. It was obvious to her and all the participants -- students and faculty alike -- that there was a genuine need for this.

At first, her activities were limited to Tel Aviv University, where she later served as Vice-President. But, soon Hagit Messer-Yaron began expanding her efforts not just in Israel, but globally as well. In 1999, she was appointed the Israeli representative to the European Commission, and today represents Israel in the EU Helsinki group for Women and Science. When she became the Chief Scientist of the State of Israel in 2000, she established the national council for promoting women in sciences and technology.

On the international stage, Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron was a member of the Founding Board of the European Platform of Women Scientists (EPWS) and a Panelist at the 55th session of the United Nations commission on the status of women.

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