MEET Alumni accepted to MIT

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MEET Alumni accepted to MIT
Photo: Photo by Jason Dorfman
Wissam Jarjoui, class of 2011

August 28, 2007 -

We would like to extend a special welcome to Wissam Jarjoui, the first Middle East Education through Technology (MEET) student to be accepted at MIT. CSAIL has been heavily involved with MEET since its conception in 2004 and we are excited to see how successful it has become in such a short period of time.

For many students getting into MIT is something they dream about, but will never achieve. Wissam Jarjoui, class of 2011, has always had dreams, but until he joined the program Middle East Education Through Technology (MEET) they did not include MIT.

It isn't hard to understand why getting into MIT would suddenly become important to Jarjoui after joining MEET, a program designed to bring Israeli and Palestinian youths together in an educational environment. The model for MEET has MIT culture at its core.

MEET was co-founded by two MIT graduates, Anat and Yaron Binur, who based the educational structure of the program on the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab's (CSAIL) model of learning through team work and hands on research.

Instructors are also exclusively recruited from MIT, and many CSAIL and Sloan professors have lent their support to the program.

These factors influenced Jarjoui's decision to come to MIT this fall. As a Palestinian youth growing up in Israel Jarjoui had never heard of MIT, but after his experience with MEET he couldn't think of a better place to continue his education.

MEET was founded with the goal of creating networks between future Palestinian and Israeli leaders, who will one day use those networks to achieve joint goals in both the professional and social spheres. To achieve this goal the MEET team created a three-year computer science and business program for excelling Palestinian and Israeli high school students.

This past year 85 students from across the West Bank and Israel met in Jerusalem for a 5-week session in the summer and then worked on year long projects together that were mentored by technology professionals in the region.

The MEET model of bringing together students from diverse backgrounds to work on group projects allowed students, like Jarjoui who had never met someone from the other side of the Middle East conflict, a chance to learn about each other in a way that was incidental to their shared educational goals.

Anat Binur, co-founder of MEET, explains the program was not designed to create a platform for direct dialogue about the conflict. Instead it was designed to empower each side through education, and to use technology as way for students to connect through joint interests and learn about each other.

"They come from diverse backgrounds and sit together and find a common language, in order to connect or communicate initially it doesn't matter what language you speak or where you are from, what matters is how well you can program," Binur said.

The hope of MEET founders is that in the future at least one pair of Palestinian and Israeli students graduating from the program will enroll at MIT to continue their education, and when they are finished return to the Middle East and help empower their communities to solve problems surrounding the conflict.

Binur believes the diversity of MIT's student body and its mission to create socially conscious students creates the ideal environment for MEET students to build the networks they will need to effect change in their communities.

"MEET is a lot about building networks, because networks define the way you see the world and your ability to take action and solve problems. We are all connected and the friendships students create here could be critical, because you never know where they are going to lead," Binur said.

MEET students aren't the only ones benefiting from this program. MIT instructors who volunteer their summers to MEET are also enriched by it. They are given the opportunity to see how a social start-up works and to use their MIT training to take on leadership roles in a program that has an enormous social impact

For Max Goldman, a CSAIL graduate student in computer science, working as a MEET instructor helped him answer the question of how to make his research in computer science have a direct social impact.

"Computer science is a more abstract area. I know people who do outreach on their own time, but this program was a way to take what we do here and have a more direct impact on the world," Goldman said.

Goldman, like Binur, believes MIT will help MEET students create valuable social networks, but he sees an even greater potential for impact on MIT students. Many MIT students have not had the chance to interact with students like Jarjoui, who have experience with the conflict.

"As an instructor I know I learned a lot about the culture from the students and gained a deeper understanding of what the conflict is about. MIT students will also get a better understanding from Wissam [Jarjoui]. They will get a more balanced view of an important issue that is already a topic of conversation on campus," Goldman said.

Binurs believes MEET is essentially about changing people's perceptions of the world, whether it's the Israeli and Palestinian students discovering each other's humanity, MIT students getting exposure to the Middle East Conflict, or MIT student volunteers finding a way to use their education and research to make a social impact.

Jarjoui is the first MEET student to be accepted to MIT, and he admits that without MEET he would never have ended up here, and that it changed his perceptions of the world and his part in it. He carries with him a strong sense of obligation and a desire to use his education to make a difference.

"One of my biggest goals is to try to make a difference in the world. I believe that an MIT education is a powerful tool that will help me spread awareness in other parts of the world, and will help me understand how to take advantage of the scarce resources on our planet in order to help those in need, because doing the right thing matters," He said. "MEET helped me understand myself, others, and that I am limited only by my imagination."

-Karla Mansur

Related Article: Unique Middle East program rooted at MIT bears fruit - MIT News, September 19th 2007