University of Georgia
July 2015
Global Connections
Students have an eye-opening trip to study in India

UGA students Erik Navarro (second from left) and Charlie Bond (second from right) visit Algal Biofuels production laboratory in Chennai with a group of SRM University students.

Engineering students visit India

Trip teaches about water scarcity, sustainable systems.

Amanda Hoffman says the 14 days she spent in India will influence decisions she makes the rest of her life.

“I wish I had traveled more outside the U.S. while in college. How much of a different person would I be now?”

Hoffman was part of a delegation of students from UGA’s College of Engineering and the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences that spent two weeks this spring in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The study tour, supported by the UGA Office of International Education and the U.S Department of Agriculture, focused on environmental concerns and bioenergy opportunities in the region on the southeastern tip of the Indian subcontinent.

Hoffman, who graduated this spring with a bachelor’s degree in biochemical engineering, said the study trip was her first experience traveling outside North America — and it won’t be her last.

“My life and how I viewed the importance of learning about other cultures changed completely,” Hoffman said. “The trip inspired me to get to know the world better. I want to focus on knowing others better and building relationships with others. Missing out on future opportunities like this one will never be an option.”

During the trip, UGA students worked alongside students from SRM University in Chennai and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in Coimbatore. They visited major municipal and agro-industrial sites to examine some of the challenges facing the nation of 1.25 billion people, specifically energy, water and environmental sustainability. Working in small groups with their counterparts from India, the students developed and presented potential solutions to issues ranging from agricultural waste management to renewable energy solutions.

Hoffman says the experience drove home the difficult work ahead as engineers try to create sustainable systems around the world.

“Water scarcity is a terrifying reality for a country like India, specifically where we were visiting,” she said. “We visited a hydropower plant but it was shut down due to an insufficient amount of water to power its generators. So, there were shortages of electricity for everyone. It has been very sad to hear recently of deaths in India due to heat waves and a lack of water.

“We take so many things for granted,” she said. “You can have all the money in the world, but if you don’t have water, it doesn’t matter.”

“I would rate this study abroad as one of the most important experiences of my career. You could perceive the growth that occurred among the students in just a few days. The world suddenly became much larger.”

— K.C. Das

Sarah Chaji, another member of the UGA delegation, agreed.

“Sustainability is a major issue in India and the world needs more engineers to solve these problems,” said Chaji, a third-year student studying biochemical engineering. “I wasn’t necessarily focused on that before, but this experience changed the way I think and the way I live.”

Chaji says students also saw examples of how India is using emerging technologies to address its energy needs, including a bio-mass plant that generates much of the power for a city in Tamil Nadu.

K.C. Das, a professor in the College of Engineering, served as one of the group’s faculty leaders. Although he grew up in Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, this was his first experience in taking students on an international study trip.

“I would rate this study abroad as one of the most important experiences of my career,” Das said. “You could perceive the growth that occurred among the students in just a few days. The world suddenly became much larger.”

According to Das, ensuring there is enough energy and water while protecting the environment is a major challenge for India because of its large population, lack of resources and high levels of poverty.

“So for American students, who for the most part had not seen or experienced such difficult challenges, it was eye opening,” Das said. “I think most students came away realizing that a lot of work needs to be done to improve the quality of life and general sustainability in India. I, too, am spending a lot of time recently thinking about how to contribute to the solutions.”

UGA and SRM University have officially pledged to work together on the environmental challenges the students saw first-hand. UGA Vice Provost for International Education Kavita Pandit traveled to Chennai as part of the delegation and signed a memorandum of understanding with officials from SRM to continue collaboration between the two institutions.

—Mike Wooten, College of Engineering