by Emily Minton
Dr. Wallace D. Loh, president of the University of Maryland, College Park, joined a delegation lead by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D-Md.) on an eight-day trip to Israel in late April.
This was the first visit to Israel for the 33rd UMD president, whose trip was initially scheduled for the end of 2012, but had to be rescheduled due to unsafe conditions during Operation Pillar of Defense.
Loh, who described his time in Israel as “a fabulous experience,” explained that one of the goals of his trip was to expand the global reach of the University of Maryland through a variety of signed agreements with Israeli universities including Tel Aviv University, University of Haifa, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“One of the ways we’re internationalizing our university is that Maryland students can attend Israeli universities, at least those with which we have agreements, by paying only Maryland fees, and vice versa,” he said. “What this does is it significantly reduces the cost for University of Maryland students to study abroad in Israel and for Israeli students to study at Maryland.”
Loh added that there are plans in the works for “global classrooms” or classes taught jointly by an Israeli professor and an American professor via video conference. Topics for these classes, which they hope to have up and running by next year, include sustainable environments and international relations.
“For those who aren’t able to travel or study abroad in an international environment, we’re bringing a piece of an Israeli university to Maryland and vice versa,” he said.
In addition to meeting with university presidents, Loh had the opportunity to meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres and took some time to tour Tel Aviv and the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
“Being at the Western Wall was really an incredibly experience. I never imagined that in such a small area there can be such an enormous variety of differences in topography, in culture, in religion, it was unbelievable,” he said.
Rabbi Ari Israel, executive director of the University of Maryland Hillel, explained that Loh’s trip to Israel served to “normalize” the image of the country that celebrated its 65th birthday last month.
“It’s a great tribute to our campus and shows that we’re trying to become more global and realize that Israel is part of that global conversation in a healthy, positive manner,” he said. “Many of our students study abroad in Israel, and it’s critical for the global Jewish people that we see Israel as a normal Jewish country. Loh’s visit helped to normalize Israel through financial business, education and culture and it’s great for our students to see that.”
Israel added that many of his students were “elated and flattered” by Loh’s decision to travel to Israel.
“This trip showed the Jewish community here at Maryland that the president of the university shares the same values and cares about what is important to them.” With Maryland-Israel being one of the highest international exchanges at the university (along with China and India), Loh is not the first UMD president to visit Israel. His predecessor, Dan Mote, also made the trip during his term as university president.
“It’s just one of those places that one has to experience first hand,” said Loh. “Seeing up close the vibrancy, the pluralism, the energy and an incredible transformation of the country is really remarkable.”