Israel imports American skills through intern program

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

U.C. Berkeley student Anne Timerman calls San Francisco "the city dream."

"Lots of Israelis do," says the 24-year-old Moscow native who emigrated to Israel six years ago.

After a summer spent interning at Kaplan McLaughlin Diaz (KMD), a San Francisco architecture firm that is the United States' eighth largest, Timerman — a graduate of Haifa's Technion-Israel Institute of Technology — can speak with authority.

KMD's Herb McLaughlin conceived the internship program three years ago. He contacted the local Technion fund-raising office and offered the first paid internship in 1993, at which time one student participated.

This year, the program's third, Timerman was one of eight interns.

Reflecting on how he started the program, McLaughlin muses, "I guess I'm just one of those Irish Zionists.

"I knew Technion was a wonderful university," he says of the school whose graduates comprise 80 percent of Israel's scientists and engineers. Every year 11,000 students attend Technion, which offers Israel's only school of architecture and town planning.

"I thought we could help familiarize the students" with American business practices, he said. At the same time, McLaughlin foresaw that KMD personnel could enjoy "the stimulus of absolute first-rate students."

This year the program was expanded to include civil engineering and computer science students. Interns were placed with other firms in Boston and Los Angeles as well as New York and the Bay Area.

McLaughlin predicts the program will embrace at least 20 interns next summer.

This is good news not just for the Technion, but for all of Israel, says Jack Kadesh, San Francisco director of the American Society for Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

"The idea is to give graduating students a hands-on experience with an American company," Kadesh says. "In turn, American companies will get an idea of the quality of students coming out of Israel. We're hoping this will create reasons for American companies to want to invest dollars in Israel."

In her own way, Timerman is investing in the Bay Area.

Although she hopes to follow in her father's footsteps and one day teach at Technion, Timerman is currently pursuing a master's degree at U.C. Berkeley.

The Berkeley degree and her experience at KMD, she says, will give her an edge when she returns home to launch her career.

"In Israel, residential construction is booming," she explains. "And for the first time, [Israelis are] witnessing the formation of an `Israeli archetype.'"

The emphasis has shifted from quantity to quality. Israel during the 1960s and `70s needed massive numbers of residential complexes to house the rapidly growing population. Today architects are building structures that meet the needs of diverse communities, she says.

She was able to explore this need-based approach, which is new for Israeli designers, through KMD's senior housing and disability projects in Mill Valley and San Rafael. In addition she aided in early design models for a hospital in Korea.

Mostly, she was struck by the communication between designers and tenants.

"What I noticed is that when the projects are built the architects follow up by talking with the people who have moved in. They observe how they live and use the buildings," Timerman says.

"I think it's an excellent practice."