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Want to Make Yourself Employable? See Israel

July 16, 2009 By:
Aaron Passman, Staff Writer
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Drexel University is striving to put students to work in Israel.

The university is doing that in part by reviving Israel as a destination for its co-op students to get on-the-job experience. It is also partnering with an Israeli-sponsored, long-term program that is seeking to capitalize on the current economic situation by attracting individuals who might be having trouble finding opportunities at home.

Drexel students have the option -- and, in some majors, are even required -- to participate in co-ops with domestic or international companies. As part of the school's push to expand its global reach, two staff members from the Steinbright Career Development Center visited Israel in May to explore links with companies willing to host interns and to investigate options for students wanting to do co-op work in the Jewish state.

Kathy Neary, Drexel's associate director of global business development and career services, met with representatives from several businesses there, including Teva pharmaceuticals, Argo Medical Technologies and a number of Israeli venture-capital firms. The trip, which included members of the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce, was led by Pennsylvania State Treasurer Rob McCord.

According to Neary, Drexel students worked in Israel in 1999 and 2000, but the program was halted because of violence surrounding the second intifada, when many universities shut down their programs in Israel.

The drive to create new co-op opportunities in Israel reflects efforts by Constantine Papadakis, the late president of Drexel, who had included Israel among the five nations with which he hoped to establish stronger connections. The other countries are China, Ireland, India and Italy.

The catch is that the positions are almost always unpaid. A president's fund can provide a few thousand dollars toward the cost of the trip, but rarely covers it all, according to Neary.

A recent beneficiary of that fund was Danielle Podlas, a senior majoring in fashion design. She is one of a handful of students to do a co-op in Israel since the endeavor was revived in 2007.

The 21-year-old spent three months last fall working with Galit Levi, one of Israel's top fashion designers. Having been bitten by the "bug" during three previous visits, Podlas -- a native of Irvine, Calif. -- said she knew that she had to find a way back.

Alliance With Other Outlets

Drexel is also forging an alliance with MASA Israel Journey, which works to place students in the Jewish state for long-term programs. The group recently sponsored a trip for more than a dozen career counselors from colleges across the country, including Susan Braun, who manages Drexel's international co-op program.

Among the ventures Braun plans to promote is MASA's "Career Israel," a fee-based project that places students in unpaid jobs, finds them housing and provides orientation. MASA is a joint venture between the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

The program costs $6,000, but MASA does offer a $3,000 scholarship to students who've never been on a long-term program in Israel. It also has needs-based scholarships available.

Aaron Goldberg, MASA's director of post-college programming, said the group has seen a spike in interest because of the economic and employment situation in America: "There are literally thousands of young Jewish adults looking for a meaningful, productive experience. Many are concerned with professional development, many are concerned with personal development, and some are just looking for a job."

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