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Archive for February, 2012

Elise Miller-Hooks, Professor at the University of Maryland, guest blogs about her sabbatical at the Technion.

I recently returned to my institution, the University of Maryland, from a month-long stint as a Visiting Scientist in the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Technion.  My office at the Technion was in the Rabin Civil Engineering building, a building with a presence that signifies the central role of civil engineering to the construction of Israel’s civil society. Working from my new office, I had the opportunity to interact with faculty and students, establish new research collaborations and develop lasting friendships.

Technion Professor Eyal Levenberg and Elise Miller-Hooks (UMD) with families have dinner in Haifa.

Of course, the Technion’s reputation as Israel’s premier engineering institution of higher education was important to my decision to make the Technion my home base during my sabbatical. My decision to visit there, however, was also personal. I have family on a kibbutz, Ramot Menashe, just outside of Haifa. With great regret, I hadn’t seen them for nearly a quarter of a century. I knew that the Technion would provide not only an intellectual home, but an opportunity to reunite with my family.

Much of my research is in disaster preparedness and response. The Technion has several important ongoing efforts in this area. Of particular interest to me is a recently established Interdisciplinary Research Center for Extreme Loads and Catastrophic Events directed by Professor David Yankelevsky, Head of the Technion’s National Building Research Institute (NBRI). I met with Professor Yankelevsky to learn more about the Center and worked with Professor Shlomo Bekhor, Head of the Transportation Research Institute, and a graduate student , to develop mathematical models for the optimal location of emergency resources for wildfire response– a collaboration that we hope to last beyond my visit. My host, Yoram Shiftan, his graduate students, and I discussed our research and considered possible ways we might work together in the future.

As a faculty member in engineering, I work extensively with foreign students. I’ve long thought about what it must be like for them to arrive in the U.S. with only book knowledge of the language, having to build a new life and adapt to a new culture. My time in Israel gave me that important experience. I rented an apartment in the Carmel Center, a car from Tel Aviv and a cell phone from Brooklyn. I was a stranger in my new, albeit temporary, home. In search of food to fill my fridge before the first Sabbath of my visit arrived, I passed right by the supermarket a block from my apartment thinking it was an industrial building, and stood in the aisles  of a market 1 km further trying to decipher what was in the containers. On numerous occasions, I repeatedly circled the city in my car in search of my destination, dodging motorcycles and scooters willing to squeeze between the tightest of spaces, and enduring the impatient honking of following cars at intersections even before the light turned green. I felt like a foreigner.  Like my students who come from India, China, Taiwan, Iran, Nigeria, Turkey, Thailand, Korea and other parts of the world, I was in a foreign land. Unlike my students, however, this foreign land was somehow also my home.

When my year-long sabbatical ends this summer, I am certain to look back on my month at the Technion as the main highlight.

Elise Miller-Hooks is Associate Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Maryland.

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