By Jeffrey D. Senese, Ph.D.
President, Saint Leo University
When I was asked to join Gov. Ron DeSantis’ first business trip to Israel, I was excited to help support the state and build relationships for Saint Leo University.
Traveling in May with the governor, state representatives Lauren Book, Randy Fine, and Joseph Geller, state Sen. Wilton Simpson, and the entire cabinet, provided a unique opportunity to expand and enhance Saint Leo’s reach in a country where we already had history.
Saint Leo’s participation in the Israel trip was a natural fit as the university is home to the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies, which promotes interfaith relationships and education. In addition, the university’s criminal justice and public safety administration departments have led students on eight trips to Israel to study techniques and philosophies of policing and homeland security, as well as to visit some of the world’s most religious sites. The university also is expanding its international reach and enrolling students from many countries.
Another aspect of the trip for me was the opportunity to work with the presidents of Florida Atlantic University, Florida Institute of Technology, Florida A&M University, Florida International University, and several other academics from the University of South Florida and the University of Central Florida.
The trip included a whirlwind of visits with governmental entities, businesses, and universities across Israel. We traveled to Ariel University in Samaria in the West Bank. This institution has 14,000 including Jewish, Arab, and Druze students.
The delegation visited the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, which highlights the nature of innovation and demonstrates why Israel is known as the “Innovation Nation,” showcasing diverse fields from desalinization to medical innovations to growing crops in the desert.
We visited Tel Aviv University, where Saint Leo University signed an agreement of cooperation, which provides opportunities for research collaborations, as well as cultural, faculty, and student exchanges.
Our next stop was Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. This was an amazing experience, given the university’s research on water issues and growth in the desert as well as the integration of a business park into the campus.
Last, we had the opportunity to walk the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem and to be immersed into the ancient culture and religious diversity in such an amazing city.
In the end, this trip enabled Saint Leo University to demonstrate that it has much to offer other universities in Israel and the state of Florida, and that we support the direction of business development being implemented by the governor and state leaders.