Professor Daniel Chamovitz has spent the last few weeks settling into a new role—that of president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. He officially started on Jan. 1, succeeding Professor Rivka Carmi, who completed three four-year terms marked by consistent development of the university and its environs in Beersheva.

A native of Aliquippa, Pa., Chamovitz, 55, most recently served as dean of the George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences at Tel Aviv University. While there, he founded its Manna Center Program for Food Safety and Security, and was awarded the prestigious Alon Fellowship for outstanding young researchers.

Passionate about teaching, he was also repeatedly named “Outstanding Lecturer.”

“BGU has a different mandate from any other university in Israel,” he states. “Of course, we must aim for research excellence—that is the essence of academia. At the same time, however, we must take care not to detract from our ability to impact the wider community in Beersheva and throughout the Negev region. We will strive for excellence in the three main areas that define Ben-Gurion University of the Negev: research, education and social outreach—the realization of the vision for the Negev by the man whose name this institution bares.”

Israeli founding father David Ben-Gurion believed that the Negev was one of the most promising areas in Israel—one that is now growing in popularity among young professionals families and retirees—and set a personal example by settling in kibbutz Sde Boker in the desert’s center.

Doug Seserman, chief executive officer of American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, said he looks forward to partnering with Chamovitz on the continued development of BGU during a time of innovation and growth, noting that “he clearly has the leadership skills, know-how and charisma to further drive academic success and continue the evolution of the university and the region.”

Daniel Chamovitz, president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Credit: BGU.

Seserman also said that it was bittersweet to say farewell to Carmi. “Her vision and dedication have transformed the university and the Negev region into a research and technology powerhouse over the last 12 years. She has also been a major force in empowering the women of Israel. It has been a true pleasure to know her and work with her.”

Carmi took the helm in 2006, the first woman president of an Israeli university. She was the first dean of an Israeli medical school, also at BGU. In August 2010, Carmi became the first woman chairperson of the Committee of University Heads in Israel, serving in that role until December 2012.

In June 2015, she received an honorary Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in the name of Queen Elizabeth II.

Born in Israel, Carmi graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Hadassah Medical School, completing a residency in pediatrics and a fellowship in neonatology at Soroka University Medical Center, and an additional fellowship in medical genetics at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard University Medical School.

Her research focused on genetics in the Bedouin community, including their higher prevalence of inherited genetic diseases.

In her 12 years at BGU, Carmi, 70, said that her personal achievements were focused on academic teamwork and strengthening research abilities at the university. She has acknowledged the achievements gained under her watch, and how BGU has increasingly become recognized nationally and abroad.

Its leadership intends to continue along that path with the construction of a new North Campus and proximity to the high-tech business park in Beersheva, the largest city in southern Israel with 200,000 residents.

Rivka Carmi, former president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, with Doug Seserman, chief executive officer of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, at a New York City celebration honoring her 12-year tenure, Oct. 8, 2018. Credit: BGU.

‘Human and environmental capital’

In assuming the role as president, Chamovitz believes that BGU has a tremendous advantage: its students.

“They certainly have keen eyes to identify the human and environmental capital that give this region so much potential, and I’m looking forward to working together with them to maximize it. Also, our modern Marcus Family Campus, which will be enhanced with the new North Campus and the Advanced Technologies Park, provide private-sector interaction and opportunities we could have only dreamt about in the past.”

Chamovitz has published more than 50 academic articles and book chapters, and serves on the editorial boards for several leading academic journals in his field. His critically acclaimed book, What a Plant Knows (2012), has been translated into 18 languages.

He immigrated to Israel in 1984, earning a B.Sc. in biology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a Ph.D. in genetics. In 1995, he completed his postdoctoral research at Yale University.