Global Technology Initiative

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Trip to India

Two representatives from the College of Humanities and the Arts participated in the Global Technology Initiative's recent trip to India; Philosphy Student, Matthew Pfiffner and Professor Karl Toepfer.

Learn more about the Global Technology Initiative, created by the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering.

See Dr. Toepfer's trip photographs.

Dean Toepfer's reflections on the trip to India:

The GTI tour of India was a revelation in two fundamental ways. First of all, the tour revealed the immense diversity of culture and entrepreneurship in India. One purpose of the tour was to understand how India is becoming a great global economic power through its ability to provide services and manufacturing operations at much lower cost than in the “developed” world. But what was surprising is how well India is able to achieve powerful competitiveness without coherent government policy regarding the economy; without an efficient infrastructure of transportation, utility and health services; without political unity between states; without linguistic or cultural unity; and without the vast majority of the population being able to break out of poverty.

The corporate presentations were excellent but gave contrasting views of India's potential. At Infosys, the emphasis was on India's great capacity to provide superior talent and high-level skills, an assertion reinforced by our visits to universities, where the determination to produce highly competitive graduates was apparent, in spite of great constraints. Cisco focused on India as a giant, self-contained market, rather than as a provider for foreign markets. At Ashok Leyland and Moser Baer, we saw how robotization was the foundation of economic competitiveness, not simply the lower cost of labor. Indeed, at IBM India, it was apparent that the guiding strategy is to convert labor-intensive services (such as call centers and data inputting) into lower-cost products that are the result of robotized or automated manufacturing processes. At RMSI, it was evident that India is also emerging as a major site of technological and workplace innovation, involving international integration of personnel as well as data.

The tour gave space for the appreciation of India's magnificent cultural heritage with visits to spectacular temples, parks, monuments and vibrant marketplaces (such as the Old Delhi business district), culminating in our trip to the Taj Mahal. India is remarkable insofar as its rapid high-tech development seems to entail an integration, rather than rejection, of its cultural heritage, even though the heritage often functions to constrain development. At any rate, India presents a different model of global economic power from that of China or the U.S.

The second revelation was GTI as a kind of classroom. The tour was very well organized to include a wonderful mix of excellent students, who not only brought a variety of perspectives but many important questions. The GTI program represents a new model of educational experience. It is now clear to me that learning is strongest when students undergo an intense experience within a brief period, work in teams and “immerse” themselves in a theme, in a “foreign” context and each other. I could not have learned as much as I did if I had not been with these students and with Deans Wei and Hegstrom and with Professors Agarwal and Tsao. Learning was so intense because of the manifold opportunities for interactivity offered by the tour. A prosperous future for higher education depends on building educational experience around programs like GTI. This is a major challenge to conventional ideas of curriculum delivery, but India is exciting because, in spite of the monstrous challenges it faces, it is determined to transform itself.

Therefore, I am extremely grateful to Dean Wei and the College of Engineering for providing me with one of the richest experiences of my academic career!