IOWA Magazine | 12-03-2018

International Development

A winter study abroad program takes students to India for an immersive learning experience.

David Braun squeezed into a densely packed subway car and noticed a few classmates struggling to board. More than 7,500 miles away from home, Braun feared his group might get separated during rush hour in one of the world's largest cities. Instead, a few passengers held open the doors and made room for his peers. Aboard the busiest metro system in Delhi, India—where the country's overpopulation crisis was on full display—Braun encountered the unexpected: kindness from strangers.

"I don't think it's until you see things with your own eyes that you actually understand how bad the [overpopulation] problem is, but people in India are very generous and compassionate," says Braun, a UI civil engineering senior who studied water poverty in rural India last year as part of the university's India Winterim program.

Such meaningful hands-on experiences are the goal of the three-week expedition, which gives Hawkeyes the opportunity to learn within India's diverse cultures. Since 2006, more than 1,300 students have participated in the India Winterim, which received the Institute of International Education's 2016 Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovation in International Education. This winter, 51 students depart Dec. 26 to work alongside public and private nongovernmental organizations across India in one of four disciplines (see "India Unveiled").

New this year, the India Winterim water poverty course led by engineering professors Marian Muste (93MS, 95PhD) and Allen Bradley will expand its reach thanks to a two-year, $100,000 grant through the United States-India Educational Foundation. The grant allows for three UI students to travel in the next two years to India and collaborate with students from the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee. Additionally, it pays for two other UI students and associate engineering professor Craig Just (01PhD) to research in India during monsoon season from July to September.

India Winterim founder and UI professor emeritus Raj Rajagopal established the water poverty course in 2011, and Muste has since led students back to the Nuh district of Haryana, India, to build upon past progress. The students partner with the Sehgal Foundation—an Indian nonprofit organization—to analyze water quality in private wells and evaluate the effectiveness of rainwater collection tanks and check dams.

Though UI groups traveled to India prior to that partnership, Jay Sehgal (86BBA)—executive vice president and a trustee for the Sehgal Foundation—helped focus the course, recruit students, mobilize resources, and provide new hands-on learning opportunities abroad. For his efforts, Sehgal accepted the university's 2018 International Impact Award in downtown Iowa City last month. "My hope is this gives students opportunities to open their minds and to understand world issues and the difficulties the world faces," he says. "I hope it is a life-changing experience."

Past travelers say the program has indeed expanded their perspective on the world. Says Amina Grant, a graduate research assistant in the College of Engineering who participated in last year's trip: "There's never one way to solve a problem. It's important to remember there are other views, especially when working with people who have had different experiences."

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India Unveiled

While most Hawkeyes return home for winter break, 51 UI students will travel halfway around the world this December for a three-week India Winterim course offered through International Programs. The 2018–19 sections include:

  • Water Poverty in Rural India: A Freshwater Crisis Case Study (IIHR—Hydroscience & Engineering)
    Students investigate practices to alleviate the freshwater crisis in an impoverished rural agricultural valley in northern India. Interactions with the community illuminate how culture, economics, and the environment shape this region and impact water sustainability.
  • Diagnosing Diseases: Patient History and Physical Examination (Health and Human Physiology)
    Students study diseases and visit with patients to suggest further diagnostic tests, identify potential treatments, and evaluate their prognosis.
  • Pain and Palliative Care: Learning from Each Other (Carver College of Medicine and College of Nursing)
    Students learn about the gravely ill in an environment with limited resources through classroom sessions, service projects, home visits, and volunteering in inpatient units. Alternative approaches to caring for and communicating with people at the end of life are also covered.
  • Observational Learning in Educational Settings in India (College of Education)
    Participants visit schools to observe and interact with teachers and students in their natural learning environments. The UI group also identifies educational leadership characteristics, designs lesson plans, and seeks to understand diversity issues in the classroom.

Hear UI engineering professors Marian Muste(93MS, 95PhD), Allen Bradley, and Craig Just (01PhD) talk about the India Winterim program.

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