“I look at our students, think about what their futures have in store for then and I am simply envious”

Prof. Alan Solomon, a founder of the SCE Software Engineering Faculty, in a conversation about a glorious academic and professional career, that began in New York in the mid-twentieth century and culminated with teaching hybrid classes in computational statistics by Zoom at age 81

“Our students are smart, work hard, and with the support and encouragement they receive, they will be more than excellent engineers. At the project conventions I see the final projects of the next century. The staff open their eyes to the most modern and futuristic things, and they rise to the challenge”. It is always nice to hear optimistic statements about the future awaiting the college graduates. This becomes even more so when the compliments are given by Prof. Alan Solomon – the most veteran of the SCE academic staff, and who comes armed with enormous professional and personal experience along with a series of outstanding academic achievements.

No one could have foreseen Prof. Solomon’s fascinating career. He completed his first degree in mathematics mid last century at CCNY – City College of New York, as a Jewish youth without means. During his third year of studies, he became acquainted with prominent mathematician and winner of many wards – Jesse Douglas – who was a lecturer at the college. “Douglas gained recognition among others for his solution to the Plateau problem, but for his students he was warm, generous and approachable”, Prof. Solomon reminisced, “his lessons were fantastic and his door was always open. In fact, his receiving hours were “any time”, and it was for me a first example of how lecturers should treat their students”. 

The young Alan completed his master degree and doctorate, on the subject of the mathematical processing of soap bubbles, at NYU – New York University, where he git to know and was mentored by mathematics and physics giants such as Robert Richtmyer and Richard Courant. “Learning from them, was in a way, to be adopted by them. With all their greatness and the halo surrounding them, they were never too busy to encourage and advance me. To meet them on a daily basis was a very special experience”.

Prof. Solomon managed to teach at NYU for four years before immigrating to Israel in 1967. He taught at the Tel Aviv University for several years as a senior lecturer and moved to the Ben Gurion University – at the time just beginning – where he headed the mathematics faculty. He had a brief jaunt in a government position, of which he is very pleased. “I served as assistant to the Ministry of Transport Chief Scientist, Emanuel Pratt, a founder of KAMAG (the Nuclear research Centre). I had the opportunity to learn from him. We worked on several large projects, including the Ayalon highway and the new central bus station in Tel Aviv, and it was very different to academic life. Eventually all universities are the same, but there we handled the Country’s problems, we affected people’s lives. It was a significant act of Zionism”.

“After that I wasn’t a good Jew”, he says with a bashful smile, “I returned to the USA, to the American Energy Department National Lab in Tennessee. Ever since returning to Israel, after 11 years, I have been at the college”. Prof. Solomon is one of the founders of the software engineering faculty at SCE, and served there until his retirement in 2014. Actually, he continues to do so, when he is not busy babysitting one of his none grandchildren with his wife. The Corona crises introduced him, at this late stage in life (81) to the hybrid curriculum. And so, in the classroom he teaches a course in computational statistics for master degree students, while most of the students are at home watching him on a screen.

“Our student, particularly at this time, are desperate to learn. Even when students do not succeed, they make an effort, they try. I just love them. Here they work even harder than at other places, and believe me when I say that, because I have met so many over the years”, says Prof. Solomon and looks to the future awaiting engineers. “The good graduates will have interesting jobs. For instance, anything pertaining to the moon. How to manufacture oxygen there, or the subject of retaining thermal energy. In this sense our world is becoming binational, because the moon required whatever we have in this world – communication, transportation and anything you can think of. This means a never-ending need for software. Everything eventually is computer related”.

To sum up the conversation, Prof. Solomon finds points that connect the first milestones of his life to the future of the college graduates. “I was born in New York, which has an atmosphere of being capital of the world. Money, resources, ideas, everything. A person like myself, with no money, a little Jew, goes all the way through the free education systems. I never paid a penny until completing my doctorate, until they paid me to teach. I had the privilege of meeting giant researchers – people who cared with demands, but who always accepted me and helped me. I was never told my questions were stupid. I had tons of luck, because all along the way I asked people who influenced me. And I can see a similarity to what happens here at our college – which exists to teach people to become professionals. That is why I am so happy I got to teach here.

“In today’s education system there are open doors that were not there before. Today there are opportunities for everyone, for all Israelis. Whoever wants to take advantage of them can get assistance. One of the nicest things at our college, for example, is the library. It was established by professionals and it is amazing in the possibilities it provides the students wherever they have a computer. They should take advantage of that, and should appreciate the lecturers, who also do excellent research, the Institute’s management and down to the last person in the administrative staff – they are all looking out for the students. I look at them and I envy them. They will see a world full of challenges, I am sure that will take the initiative and enjoy it. I am not worried for them”.