Faculty members experiment with life, learning in India


Alakananada Mookerjee

While folks at home were trying to get the best of the capricious Brookings sun, a few South Dakota State University faculty got to partake of a hot and happening Indian summer. A team of SDSU professors headed by Dr. Karl J. Schmidt, Director of International Programs, traveled east to attend a summer seminar on India held between June 10 and June 30 in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad.

Those attending included Dr. David Hilderbrand, dean of graduate school; Dr. Ali Selim, professor of civil and environmental engineering; Dr. Alfred Andrawis, professor of electrical engineering and computer science; Dr. Diane Rickerl, professor of plant science; and Brenda Andersen, associate director of student health services.

“This was a faculty seminar aimed at giving participants a serious academic grounding in India’s past, present as well as its possibilities for future. Some of the topics that the seminar focused on were Indian history, culture and language,” Schmidt said.

As part of South Dakota State University’s ongoing drive to promote greater diversity on campus, in March the university worked out an exchange program with the University of Hyderabad, India.

Commenting on why he chose to organize a seminar on India, Schmidt said, “This was something that I had worked on in my previous institution. I had run a very successful seminar at the University of Hyderabad in summer of 2000. Faculty came from a variety of disciplines traveled to India to get acquainted with things revolving in Indian history and culture. When they came back they knew more about Indian students and were able to incorporate something of what they learned into their teaching. I thought it would be a good thing to do for SDSU too.”

The two-week seminar series was held on the campus of the University of Hyderabad, housed amid tree-lined pathways and small rolling hills. The American academics and their Indian counterparts met for three hours each morning in a seminar room and exchanged notes. While most professors on the Indian side were from the host university, a few specialists came in from neighboring institutions.

Speaking about his experience in India, Salem said, “It was unique and different. I got to see a different part of the world. We visited one of the elite facilities in India. I was amazed to see the willingness of the Indian people to work so hard. I found the faculty to be extremely well-informed. One of my passions is politics and I must mention that I really enjoyed discussing political developments in India with one of the faculty members there. All in all, I had a good dosage of knowledge in Indian culture, economic and society.”

Voicing a similar view, Andrawis said, “It was a great educational experience. I got to learn so much about Indian culture and society. What impressed me the most about India was its diversity of religions and castes . . . Yet, the minorities know how to live peacefully with each other and respect each other.”

Along with the scholastic feast, the faculty also sampled the sights, sounds and flavors of India. After a fortnight’s stay in Hyderabad, Schmidt and his five-member delegation headed north to New Delhi, India’s capital city and home to more than 12 million people.

“Delhi is such a beautiful city. I really liked downtown Delhi, especially the parliament building. It was so high class,”

Andrawis said.

From New Delhi, they took a four-hour drive to the city of Agra – home of one the world’s seven wonders, the Taj Mahal.

Andrawis said of the monument, “It was so wonderful. I have never seen anything like it and perhaps, never will (again).”

When the faculty was not busy taking in aspects of Indian culture, politics and history, they had other ways to fill their time.

Schmidt said, “In the afternoon, after the morning seminar got over, we would do sight visits in monuments, art museums – or go shopping. I bought a lovely Kashmir silk rug at Delhi.”

“We went to malls, both western-type malls and traditional Indian stores. I bought a pair of leather sandals and a beautiful kurta (traditional Indian shirt and trousers),” Selim said.

From the work to play, he left the country with a postive impression

“I love India,” he said.