The Former President of the Dominican Republic Seeks Partnership with NJIT

The former president of the Dominican Republic, Leonel Fernandez (fifth from left) visited NJIT to discuss partnerships with his country. He met with NJIT President Joel Bloom (far left) and NJIT staff and students.

The former president of the Dominican Republic is looking to NJIT to help his country become more innovative, entrepreneurial and technology driven.   

In a visit to NJIT Monday, former President Leonel Fernandez said he wanted to forge a lasting relationship with NJIT, in which companies and universities in the Dominican Republic could partner with and learn from NJIT’s technological expertise.

Fernandez, who is now chairman of the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development (FUNGLODE), described NJIT as a “21st century, world-class university with a global view.”

“By partnering with NJIT, the Dominican Republic can leapfrog in economic development and high technology,” said Fernandez, who met with NJIT President Joel Bloom and other senior university officials to discuss a potential partnership. He said he’d also encourage more Dominican students to come to America to study at NJIT, after which they can return home and use their technological educations to spur innovation in the Dominican economy.

Fernandez is an influential and respected leader in the Dominican Republic At age 42, he was the youngest person ever elected to the office of president. He served three terms (from 1996 to 2000 and from 2004 to 2012) and was also the first elected president from his political party, the Dominican Liberation Party. He remains president of that party.

He visited NJIT with an entourage of 15 people; the group included former top government officials, directors from his foundation and five Dominican businessmen who work in the fields of oil and energy, media and agribusiness and construction and pharmaceuticals.

President Bloom gave the group an overview of NJIT, detailing the virtues of its location (15 minutes away from Newark Airport); its research prowess (a research budget of $102.7 million); its talented and diverse students (NJIT ranks 11th in the nation for awarding bachelor degrees in engineering to Hispanics, and English is not the primary language spoken at home for the majority of students); its mission to promote economic development (NJIT hosts the state’s largest business incubator); and its successful development of University Heights Science Park, a  351,000-square-foot technology park that is spurring development in Newark’s Central Ward. The Science Park recently attracted a major international company, Biotrial S.A., to build its American headquarters there, said Bloom.

“I affirm everything that President Fernandez said about how NJIT and the Dominican Republic can work together,” added Bloom. “We are a good fit and we at NJIT welcome the chance to help foster economic development and high-tech development in his country.” 

Donald Sebastian, Senior Vice President of Research & Development at NJIT, talked about how the university has established relationships with international companies and foreign governments. He also discussed the impact of NJIT’s research, especially in the fields of convergent life science and engineering; sustainable systems; and “information everywhere” (the latest in computing, media and wireless communication). NJIT is thus ideally suited to collaborate with companies and universities in the Dominican Republic, Sebastian said.  

He also led the Dominican entourage on a tour of NJIT’s business incubator, known formally as the Enterprise Development Center. The group visited City Hydroponics, a company focused on sustainable urban farming that has grown from an $8,000 start-up to a $16 million enterprise. And they also visited the office of Schmitt & Associates, a thriving company that provides web application and e-learning development solutions. 

At the end of the tour, just before he left campus, Fernandez said he was impressed and inspired by what he saw and heard at NJIT.

“NJIT’s high-tech research can help us fully enter the global economy,” he said.  “The Dominican Republic needs to become a high-tech economy that is technologically driven. We must promote innovation in our high-tech sector and in our engineering universities. NJIT can help us do that and I look forward to a lasting relationship.”

(By Robert Florida)