On January 5, just a year after President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to deepen engagement between the United States and India, a group of Duke colleagues and I found ourselves on the brand new campus of IIT Gandhinagar, in Gujarat, India.
We were part of an agreement between the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) to provide technical support for the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT).
Our van was met by Sudhir Jain, the exuberant director of this young institution, who was thrilled to welcome us to the university and show us labs, offices and classrooms that will soon be bustling with activity.
Although the campus is partially occupied and remains under construction – with many students and offices still housed at a temporary campus a few miles away – all of us who work at Duke are lately accustomed to the sights and sounds of campus construction, and barely noticed the work taking place all around us.
We quickly heard from Jain that Gandhinagar is a new type of IIT, “a technical institute with a twist,” seeking to deliver outstanding technical education within a larger educational framework that emphasizes civic engagement and personal growth and development.
Our week began with a formal opening session, during which representatives of India’s MHRD; Kathryn Stevens, Duke ’92, acting mission chief for USAID India; Larry Carin, Duke’s vice provost for research, and Jain all shared their visions and expectations for Duke’s collaboration with IIT Gandhinagar.
And then we were off and running for four full days of presentations and workshops.
Duke faculty members Mike Bergin (civil & environmental engineering), Krishnendu Chakrabarty and Kishor Trivedi (electrical & computer engineering) and Debmalya Panigrahi and Sudeepa Roy (computer science) discussed their own research initiatives and explored opportunities for collaboration with IIT researchers, and provided peer coaching and review sessions for IIT Gandhinagar faculty.
In parallel sessions, Larry and Marnie Rhoads, Duke’s director of faculty research and mentoring, worked with IIT Gandhinagar colleagues to review the Institute’s research operations and faculty hiring and review practices.
Minnie Glymph, executive director of communications and marketing at the Pratt School of Engineering, and I shared best practices in global higher ed marketing and communications with our counterparts in Gandhinagar, and spent several days working with them to review their existing activities and publications and begin developing a new strategic communications plan.
And just like that, four days passed in a blink and it was time for us to return to the U.S.
Luckily, a late-evening departure allowed Larry, Minnie and me time to visit the site of “A Better Toilet,” where Duke and RTI International researchers are working to address common sanitation needs in Ahmedabad. (See related post about toilets.)
Guest Post from Laura Brinn, Duke Global Communications