Meyer Excellence Program in Electrical Engineering

By Roberta Neiger

It’s not easy to single out and attract the most talented from a pool of students already chosen for their excellence. But that’s the raison d’être of the Meyer EMET Excellence Program, sponsored by Vincent Meyer and the Meyer Foundation: to identify and recruit the most gifted electrical engineering students, who will go on to perform research, and become worldwide leaders of technology and academia.

“We are looking for students who not only excel in their studies, but are also very curious, creative, and independent.” - Prof. Ayellet Tal, academic supervisor

To draw top students to a career in research, the EMET program offers the best research-oriented education, including a broad mathematical, scientific, and technological background, as well as interaction with faculty and graduate students. It also provides Fellows with a generous stipend, freeing them from having to find employment and allowing them to concentrate on their studies.

Prof. Ariel Orda, dean of the Viterbi Faculty of Electrical Engineering (EE), explains that the EMET program provides the department with a crucial tool for cultivating research excellence among outstanding students. He expects EMET alumni to play a leading role in shaping Israel’s future in academia and in the high-tech industry. In particular, they are projected to become a vital component of future generations of the EE faculty. “This amazing program has been made possible through the generosity of the Meyer Foundation. We are indebted to Vincent Meyer for his remarkable vision and outstanding commitment,” says Orda.

Prof. Ayellet Tal, the program’s academic supervisor, explains, “We are looking for students who not only excel in their studies, but are also very curious, creative, and independent. These are the students with the greatest potential to become researchers and technological leaders. In this program, we expose them to the various research areas of the department and let them take their first steps in research.”

“I am completely satisfied… there is no better place to learn subjects of science and technology.” - George Avdella, student

While EE has an impressive number of undergrads, the most gifted are often grabbed by industry at an early stage. This may prevent them from pursuing higher degrees and become leading researchers in the academia or in industry. The EMET program has turned out 27 alumni, of whom 21 continued to graduate studies - 18 within Technion. Six are already PhD candidates: five at Technion and one at Stanford.

Technion has been nicknamed MIT-east and Israel called Silicon Valley II, for good reason. The Israeli high-tech industry’s developments, as well as its technological and commercial achievements, are attributed largely to Technion graduates. Within this impressive scenario, EE ranks among the world’s top 10 electrical and computer engineering departments, and is the major source of engineers who steer Israeli technology in electronics, computers, and communications.

Three third-year EMET students tell their stories

Students of the Meyer EMET Excellence Program at the entrance to the Andre and Bella Meyer Advanced Technology Center

George Avdella (l) says he must have science and technology in his genes. His mother, who studied math and ultimately became a high school math teacher, worked with him regularly to sharpen his skills in that area. His father, who frequently spoke of his work, was an engineer. George’s younger brother, whom he terms “the truly smart one,” is also a Technion student. But, guided by the words, “I can and I will,” Avdella developed a ‘can do’ attitude completely on his own.

An Israeli Arab from Jaffa, Avdella now lives in Technion dorms, and says he cannot imagine studying anywhere else. “I am completely satisfied,” he says. “The professors and students here are great; there is no better place to learn subjects of science and technology.”

Freeing him from financial pressures, the EMET program allows Avdella to give full attention to his studies. Beyond the monetary support, he says, “The program gives me immense motivation.”

“It's so important to meet others who can present options for the future.” - Aviad Aberdam, student

This 22-year-old student does not know yet which aspect of electrical engineering he will pursue. He plays with the idea of creating a start-up company. The bottom line, he says, is “to develop something new, and to give back to Technion and the EMET Program by succeeding.”

Aviad Aberdam (r) wasn’t interested in being an excellent student from an early age. Today, though, he sees things differently. “I, like everyone else, now want to push to the extreme of my abilities. This is shared by many people,” says Aberdam modestly, though few share his sky-high grades.

While Aberdam is “very happy to have chosen EE,” he does not yet know which specific path he will take. “Many things in this field interest me, on the logical and scientific sides.” At this point, Aviad is drawn to communications, signal processing and learning systems.

As an EMET student, he is exposed to different alternatives in the field. At monthly meetings, program participants gather to hear professors and grad students describe their work. Says Aberdam, “It’s so important to meet others who can present options for the future.”

“The more I study electrical engineering, the more I love it. It's an endless frontier.” - Rivka Emanuel, student

Aberdam, who grew up in Haifa, is an observant Jew. At 27, and the father of two small children, one wonders how he maintains academic excellence and parenting. “It’s comfortable being a student and a father,” he says, surprised at such a notion. “My hours are flexible and I get to spend a lot of time with the kids. This is the perfect combination.”

Rivka Emanuel (center), 24, originally from Chicago, says: “If I do something I’m passionate about, I want to give my all and do the best I can do. The EMET program lets me put 100 percent into my studies.”

“Electrical engineering is a very wide field, and the EMET program opened me to many research options. I can go into chip development, signal processing, electro-optics, machine learning, or other areas,” she continues. “The only problem is I’m interested in them all. What I know for sure, is that I want to be an electrical engineer and be part of the rapid innovation in this field as it continues to transform our lives.”

From a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) family, Emanuel discovered at age 14 that she could not blindly accept things on faith alone. “At this point I knew I would not be religious and that my goal was to understand the world from a scientific and engineering point of view.”

Taking the bold step of returning to Israel, which she had visited, Emanuel arrived at Technion, a decision she terms one of the best in her life. “The more I study EE, the more I love it,” she says. “It’s an endless frontier.”