Several HBCU presidents recently traveled to Israel for an important collaborative project. Learn more about the story, including how FAMU’s president found value in the trip for his HBCU, in the story from Tarah Jean at the Tallahassee Democrat below.

FAMU President Larry Robinson (third from left), and the rest of the delegation visit a church in Tabgha, Israel on Tuesday, July 5, 2022. (Photo Credit: American Jewish Committee)

Florida A&M University President Larry Robinson is one of six Historically Black College and University presidents who arrived in Tel Aviv, Israel, on July 3 for a groundbreaking program.

The six-day trip, which is being hosted by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange, is the first one that Project Interchange has ever devoted to HBCU leaders exclusively.

The program’s goal is to enhance new research and academic partnerships between HBCUs and Israeli universities, according to AJC spokesperson Steve Gosset.

Many HBCUs, including FAMU, are land-grant universities that have agricultural programs. With Israel’s leadership in agricultural innovations, the program hopes to expand the research capacity of the universities participating, according to a release from the AJC.

“We have been in discussion with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund about this delegation for over a year,” AJC Project Interchange Director Nisha Abkarian said in an email response Tuesday to the Democrat. “We focused on presidents in accordance with TMCF’s interest in creating new partnerships with Israeli universities as part of AJC’s growing outreach to senior academic leaders.”

Final plans for the trip began in April with the signing of a formal agreement between TMCF and AJC Project Interchange, which states that the program will be held annually following this first year.

AJC announced the trip, stating that the delegation arrived in Israel on Sunday. Robinson was not immediately available for comment.

Other HBCU presidents attending are:

  • Makola Mjasiri Abdullah, Virginia State University
  • Paul Anthony Jones, Fort Valley State University
  • Charlotte Patterson Morris, Tuskegee University
  • Kent Joseph Smith, Jr., Langston University
  • Daniel Kent Wims, Alabama A&M University

As an educational institute of AJC, Project Interchange has hosted travel study programs in Israel for policymakers and opinion leaders from over 120 countries.

TMCF is the nation’s largest organization that focuses on representing the Black college community, according to its website. Since its founding in 1987, it has supported nearly 300,000 students by assisting them financially, connecting them with employers and hosting conferences.

TMCF founder N. Joyce Payne and TMCF President and CEO Harry Williams are accompanying the presidents on the trip.

Thurgood Marshall College Fund President and CEO Harry Williams addresses board members at a three-day retreat hosted by Florida A&M University in March 2022. (Photo Credit: Florida A&M University)

FAMU in particular has worked closely with TMCF recently. In March, the university hosted a three-day Thurgood Marshall College Fund Board Retreat on its campus. It became the first HBCU to host a TMCF board retreat.

While the trip abroad is a groundbreaking one, it is not Robinson’s first time traveling to Israel as president of FAMU. In May 2019, he was one of three presidents in the State University System of Florida to join Gov. Ron DeSantis and other representatives for the Governor’s Business Development Mission to Israel.

So far, the HBCU delegation has visited the Google headquarters in Israel and the Israel Space Agency. They also went to the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, which promotes collaborations throughout the world.

On Tuesday, the participants went to the northern Israeli city of Haifa to visit Technion, the Israeli Institute of Technology, which is one of the country’s leading Israeli universities.

Other universities that the delegation will visit are Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University, which are leading centers in medical and technology research.

“We are always looking to explore new opportunities while raising awareness of the importance of the work we are doing as an organization,” Williams said in a release. “To learn about the wonderful work in the science and medical fields that is currently happening in Israel is great.”

Stops on Wednesday were to include Jerusalem and other cities to hear more about agricultural innovation, food safety and technology. The delegation’s schedule for Thursday includes visiting the Old City of Jerusalem and hearing presentations on how Arab youth are being integrated into the Israeli technology sector.

Before leaving on Friday, the participants will visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and learn about how Israel is developing solar power capability for underserved communities.