- By Gordon K. Lee
As engineering professor Gordon Lee found out
on a recent recruiting trip abroad, the world has a lot to offer.
I decided to travel to India this past winter—more
for the international flavor of R&D than any particular craving
for curry. I visited several engineering schools during my journey
so that I could recruit potential graduate students and discuss possible
collaborations with the faculty. Advances in engineering, science,
and technology are no longer exclusively American endeavors. And serious
overseas recruiting trips like mine have become a necessity as we face
an increasing demand for skilled engineers and the pending flood of
retiring Sputnik-era engineers. Professors have to consider international
students in order to remain on the cutting edge of technology.
But why India? While I visited just one of India's
28 states—Tamil Nadu—there are approximately 250 engineering
colleges and universities in this region alone. These institutions
graduate over 75,000 engineering students each year—a number
that is comparable with the total engineering graduates in all of the
United States. And while the number of engineering degrees conferred
stateside continues to stagnate, they're growing at a healthy
pace in India.
India is a land of contrasts. On the one hand, local
regions remain impoverished and there are many challenges to improving
the infrastructure of the country: Some of the streets and rivers are
cluttered with litter; many people live in shacks and must carry water
to their homes and bathe in the local rivers. On the other, the country
is making large strides in research and academics. Manufacturing activities
continue to grow in engineering, cotton, textiles, rayon, chemicals,
pharmaceuticals, metals, rubber, sugar, plastics, paper, and steel.
Software engineering is a major industry. New manufacturing plants
and engineering laboratory buildings continue to rise. One engineering
college I came across while driving through farmland, appeared to have
sprouted surrealistically in the fields.
High technology and engineering is valued in India.
Many of the engineering colleges I visited were building new laboratories,
library facilities, and classrooms. And even though some of the equipment
appears to be outdated—particularly the laboratories associated
with large machinery—the students seem to find them adequate.
Computer facilities contained the latest PCs, microcontroller hardware,
and software support.
All the students and faculty that I met during my stay
were optimistic about their country and its technical leap into the
21st century. Still, many students expressed interest in coming to
the U.S. While this was exciting from a recruiting perspective, it
is also an area of concern. Unlike many foreign countries where the
majority of students return home after studying abroad, about 80 percent
of the students who leave India for graduate school don't go
I left feeling that there is a lot to do. I continue
to look for excellent international graduate students to work on research
projects and fill our classrooms. But I've become more aware
of the need to look for ways to help our international students build
the economy and infrastructure of their native countries. As educators
and mentors, sometimes we forget that we have a responsibility to be
involved with more than just presenting course material or overseeing
research projects. We must get to know our grad students, and encourage
them to give back to their native land.
The multicultural history of the U.S.—which is
the basis, in part, for our country's success—has worked
itself into our national psyche. International collaborations support
the U.S., and our success emanates from a core of multiculturalism.
The same is true for India. The country's diversity makes it
a resonant partner to our own success.
Gordon K. Lee is an associate dean and professor
in the department of electrical and computer engineering at San Diego
State University. He is also a member of the ASEE Engineering Research
Council. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.