THE PORTER SCHOOL OF ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES
Prof. Pinhas Alpert, Geophysicist and Head of the Porter School of Environmental Studies (at center), discusses joint research with Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron, Electrical Engineer and currently President of the Open University (at left).
TAU's Porter School of Environmental Studies is unique in Israel — the first and only school offering interdisciplinary MA and MSc degrees in environmental studies. And Porter is one of only a few schools in the world to unite researchers from different fields under one "green" umbrella.
Leading a Scientific Revolution
To find real-world solutions for this century's environmental challenges, Porter's research combines hard sciences such as engineering, zoology, and earth sciences with humanistic fields such as philosophy, law, sociology and the arts. Unconventional partnerships and workshops are the norm, building green bridges among departments to find creative solutions for environmental dilemmas.
Whether building clean technologies or defining "green law," this multidisciplinary approach has advanced innovative fields of study, revolutionizing environmental thinking and practice — locally and globally — and is shaping public policy everywhere.
"The composition of our academic team is the very definition of environmental efficiency," says Prof. Pinhas Alpert, Head of the School. "We don’t employ additional faculty members — we fuel our research by drawing from TAU’s existing academic firepower."
Prof. Yehuda Benayahu and his team are using an innovative approach to monitor the effects of global warming on the marine environment using artificial reefs.
This cross-discipline synergy can produce extraordinary results. A recent — and most unlikely — pairing of Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron, an engineer, with Prof. Alpert, who is a geophysicist, along with their then-PhD student (now Dr.) Artem Zinevich, generated a research finding that cellphone signals can forecast weather patterns better than any meteorological method available today. It was published in Science and has since won two international awards, including the Best of What's New Popular Science Award on Flood Warning in 2009 and the Best Inventor prize from the World Intellectual Property Organization in 2010.
Says Prof. Yehuda Benayahu, marine biologist and former Head of the School, who helped engineer the successful pairing, "On campus, they had never met before, but by stepping into each other's labs, they invented an ingenious way to understand climate change."
Founded in 2000, Porter reaches out to young minds already accomplished in their field and partners them with Tel Aviv University's top researchers.
Local community impact
Porter graduate student Daniel Ben-Yehuda works on a regional water management plan as part of his internship with a leading environmental NGO.
Porter's influence on the community beyond TAU is undeniable. Through its yearly internship program, the school is training new generations of environmental professionals and leaders. These interns are taking on significant roles at Israel's leading environmental organizations, engaging in projects such as preparing an action plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, introducing more efficient water management processes, or assisting local communities in environmental justice cases.
While students gain the practical experience to complement their studies, Israel's environmental NGO's equally benefit from the initiative, which provides them with valuable human resources and environmental expertise.
Another example of the school's outreach is its Environmental Justice Clinic, which Porter created with TAU's Buchmann Faculty of Law to uphold the environmental rights of disempowered local communities. Successful suits include a precedent-setting case decided by the Israeli Supreme Court.
National and international impact
Prof. Avraham Kribus, pictured here with his master's student Amir Hirshfeld, has developed a unique solar collector that could increase the use of renewable energy sources.
The school's effect on public policy is equally impressive. For example, Porter's research instigated a change in Israel's national road planning policy to combat pollution of underwater aquifers due to "highway run-off."
The Environmental Policy Clinic, established in 2009, also works to promote informed environmental policy in Israel, by working with local authorities on practical recommendations to improve environmental policies and the public's access to local environmental information.
Collaborations with governmental departments abroad are also part of the mix, including an extensive R&D project funded by the Italian Ministry of the Environment, led by top scientists from both countries, focusing on air pollution, monitoring ecological change in the Mediterranean and Red Seas, combating desertification, rehabilitating polluted streams and treating waste water for recycling, and developing renewable energy sources.
Porter's academic collaborations include a developing project to tackle climate change with Columbia University's Earth Institute and a joint scholarship program with the Imperial College London.
International students can also obtain an intensive multidisciplinary insight into environmental studies, through the Porter School's new International MA program in Environmental Studies, taught in English. The program places an emphasis on Israel's unique geographic and geopolitical setting, focusing on environmental concerns, such as water, which have massive implications not only for the region's already fragile environment but also for its political stability.
How you can help
Dr. Arie Nesher, Professional Director of the Porter School of Environmental Studies, is an architect and city planner.
With the support of friends and donors around the world, Porter's potential is unlimited.
Contributions to establish a "financial umbrella" for new faculty and students will help Porter compete for the best and the brightest on a global level. Your contribution of $500,000 can provide scholarships to cover tuition and expenses for the full term of their studies for 2 PhD students and 5 Master's students, as well as for 3 gifted post-doctoral researchers — and help meet Israel's demand for cutting-edge environmental scientists and researchers.
Just as critical, is the promotion of research of specific priority areas. With broad consensus on the prospect of climate change worldwide, more research is needed into the changes expected on the regional level and the steps needed to address this, in order to impact decision making at the national level. Your gift of $250,000 can support a one-year research project (on topics such as desertification, water treatment, renewable energy and others), bringing together environmental researchers from a range of fields to study the regional effects of climate change from a broad interdisciplinary approach.
Gifts providing funding for conferences with high-profile visiting scholars will help cement TAU's — and Israel's — primacy in environmental scholarship. The Porter School's public conferences, seminars and workshops provide a platform for environmental debate both within and outside of academia. Your contribution of $75,000 can support an annual series of conferences featuring guest speakers from abroad, bringing new approaches and expertise to the Israeli agenda.
Support for the Porter Internship Program helps students gain valuable work experience while also supporting Israel's environmental NGOs with much-needed professional staff. Your gift of $70,000 will provide stipends and professional support for 12 Master's student internships in different organizations.
As Dr. Arie Nesher, Porter's professional director, says, "Our potential is TAU's potential — and Israel's. With the ability to bring together world-class minds who might never have expected to meet, there is no limit to our research — or what it can do for Israel and beyond."
More about The Porter School at the School's Web page, http://www.environment.tau.ac.il/Eng/.
The Porter School Alumni Say...
'07 Porter School Post-Doctoral Fellow
Sheba Medical Center
By combining mathematical models of ecology and economics, Huppert is working to minimize the risks of environmental and epidemiological hazards in Israel. After he had returned from post-doctoral research in the US at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, the Porter School gave him a competitive salary and the independence he needed for applying his research locally.
Today Huppert is developing high-profile environmental risk-assessment surveys, and is working to build a center that models infectious diseases. He says, "Near the end of my fellowship, the Porter School's directors personally helped me find challenging work in my field. And the nice thing about them is that while I was there, I was given full freedom to explore whatever research direction I wanted."
"I also like that they are attempting to do interdisciplinary work. It gave me an opportunity to cross fields that I would otherwise never encounter, and work with other young fellows in different specialties like law. As a young scientist returning to Israel from abroad, it is hard to get a decent fellowship that compare to U.S. standards. The Porter Fellowship was very competitive -- I think the highest in the country."
'11 Porter School Master's Degree
Nova, a non-profit organization
With a background in business consultancy, Gabay turned to the Porter School to add unique depth to her professional tool kit. "A society is not just built on economics," she notes. Porter gave her a better understanding of the symbiosis possible among environment, business, and society, and that has served her well as CEO of Nova, an organization that helps NGOs benefit from business training.
One of the key benefits of the Porter School, Gabay says, is that all students are given a multi-disciplinary education and encouraged to choose complimentary fields of study. That approach helps students understand that environmental considerations must be seen in a real-world context. "If you want to make a significant change to benefit the environment, you cannot focus on only one aspect of the problem. In reality, no green building project can succeed if it isn't economically viable."
The freedom TAU's Porter School gave her to pursue her individual academic interests along with the support she received from the faculty helped Gabay to imagine — and build — her career. "I made contacts and developed the networks I needed to make my work possible," she says, noting that her supervisor took a keen interest in her research. "I could always knock on his door."