Exploring the challenges of India
Fireworks glittered in the night sky over the Taj Mahal celebrating the stroke of midnight and the arrival of 2017.
As Agra, India, took its turn counting down, 16 students from the School of Informatics and Computing joined the festivities as part of an undergraduate class that gave students a unique opportunity to learn about the challenges and culture of a country half a world away. The course, taught by Associate Dean for Academic Programs Esfan Haghverdi and Senior Lecturer and Director of Serve IT Matt Hottell, was designed to provide an introduction to the role information technology plays in emerging economies.
The class was broken up into two distinct parts: the first part of the class during the first eight weeks of Fall 2016, held at SoIC, focused on lectures examining the IT-related initiatives, reforms, and policies set up by the government of India dating back to 1991 and the reforms of Manmohan Singh, the former prime minister of India. There also was an in-depth study of the Digital India Program, which was launched in 2015 with the aim of creating a digital infrastructure (especially in rural areas), delivering government services digitally, and improving digital literacy.
The second part of the class was a trip to Delhi and Pune, India, from Dec. 27-Jan. 7. The course was part of an SoIC effort to increase international opportunities for students without requiring a full semester of traveling abroad. The class was the first at SoIC to include an embedded international trip that blended classroom learning with on-the-ground study of the IT environment in a foreign culture.
SoIC created a new program called Global IT and Development (GLOBID) and an initiative under this program known as IT in Emerging Markets. This course was the first initiative of GLOBID, which aims to expand the scale and scope of international experiences offered through the school.
“The most important aspect of such activities is to introduce the students to the various cultures in the world,” Haghverdi says. “This expands their horizon and enriches their perspective.”
India was chosen because it is one of the largest emerging markets in the world, and IU has built strong contacts in the country. India also presents some unique challenges as it moves into the 21st century.
“We’re extremely proud of the course and the experience students gained during their trip to India,” says Raj Acharya, dean of SoIC. “There is nothing more valuable than being able to apply and understand what has been learned in the classroom to the real world, and this trip to India has given some of our students the opportunity to expand their networks.”
The first stop was in Delhi, where students lunched at the IU India Gateway office, an initiative of the IU Bicentennial Celebration that accelerates IU’s academic activities and partnerships throughout India, and received a lecture from a local faculty member on the culture of Delhi. The students then traveled to meet with Ernst and Young advisory markets leader Guru Malladi, who has been key in the implementation of the Aadhaar Project, the digital identification program that issues a unique, 12-digit number to Indian citizens that allows users to access public and private services, such as government food and fuel subsidies, bank accounts, and mobile phone connections.
The project aims to give a digital ID to India’s 1.3 billion people, a goal that comes with its own set of challenges.
“In this particular field of IT, India is a major player that is shaping and will continue to shape the role that IT plays in the world and in everyday life,” Haghverdi says. “It is extremely important for our students to have a solid grasp of the IT challenges that a country of 1.3 billion people faces and the greatness of their achievements in the context of Digital India Program.”
Students spent the weekend sightseeing the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur, including the trip to the Taj Mahal for New Year’s Eve, and they flew from Jaipur to Pune to meet with a series of companies who are navigating the changing economic and digital landscape of India.
One of those visits included a meeting with Anand Deshpande, the founder and chairman of Persistent Systems, a leader in software development and a home to many SoIC graduates. Deshpande, an SoIC alumnus who also is a part of the School’s Dean’s Advisory Council, helped organize a panel of five senior officials who took questions from the students.
“It’s a very Western company in the heart of India,” Hottell says. “The panel was giving students advice, and it was valuable. It’s the same advice we give students, but when you’re hearing it from someone halfway around the world, it takes on a different impact.”
The group returned to Delhi to close out the trip, meeting with some government organizations and staff members from Kronos, another U.S. company that heavily recruits SoIC students.
“What I hope is they were able to tie in all the readings and work that we did in the first part of the class and really have that resonate more,” Hottell says. “If you read about something, you get this picture of what a place may be like. But when you get there and it’s completely different, your expectations change. Having those expectations shattered with reality is one of the things I hope they get.”
Kunaal Shah, a junior in informatics, lives in Newburgh, Indiana, but has family in India. He was making his eighth trip to the country, and the experience was still enlightening.
“Every second you're faced with something new and exciting,” Shah says. “Every town, city, and state in India has its own culture, and as we were rapidly moving from place to place, we were constantly hit with fresh new experiences. The trip highlighted that nothing is universal, and every application, every software, every technology has to be adaptable to every working environment.”
Carli Edelstein, a junior Informatics major, had traveled abroad prior to this trip, but she was amazed by the experience.
“India blew my mind with its beauty, culture, and knowledge,” Edelstein says. “Meeting with the companies and being able to speak to the professionals was amazing. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
There are plans for expanding the course to study China in the near future, and SoIC would like to keep the timing of the course as accessible for students as possible. Another iteration of the India course will be offered in Fall 2017, and the program will hopefully grow to cover other emerging markets in the future.
For some views of the trip to India, visit our photo gallery.
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