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Preparing The Next Generation For Tomorrow’s Challenges

Roopesh Mathur

Preparing the Next Generation for Tomorrow’s Challenges

Fireside Chat with President Suresh Garimella, Dean Anantha Chandrakasan and Dr. Desh Deshpande

IIT AGNE conducted a scintillating and stimulating fireside chat with President Suresh Garimella of the University of Vermont, Dean Anantha Chandrakasan of MIT School of Engineering and Dr. Desh Deshpande; on Saturday September 24th at the Marriott Burlington, on preparing the next generation for challenges facing them, as they inherit the world.

Desh started with introductions noting that Dean Chandrakasan came to the United States following his mother, who was a scientist and Fulbright Scholar. He stayed in Connecticut and then continued his education in the United States. President Suresh Garimella, on the other hand, grew up in a Telugu family in Bhopal, but came to south India to IIT Madras. Both of them attended the University of California, Berkeley, a famous public university ranked amongst the best in the world. President Garimella had a distinguished career as Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University, before he moved into administration leading to his current position.

They discussed the current generation of students and their expectations. At MIT, students come to campus focusing on large challenging problems like climate change, where they want to make an impact. However, at the University of Vermont, their focus is also on issues of equality and social justice; and students want to make a better world for everyone. Hence the students of today want to solve large challenging problems but make a more equitable world.

Universities and colleges in response have to offer more multidisciplinary programs that cut across traditional specializations, to give them the skills and knowledge they need to succeed. In addition, there is a large need for continuing education and bilingual education for all, as the economy evolves. Here, MIT is offering MicroMasters that provide time bound focused education in specific areas; and have been pioneers in online education with OpenCourseWare and EdX. On the other hand, President Garimella has been actively involved in Tier-2 and Tier-3 colleges in India, where he has been working actively with their administrations. The challenge there is to enable the very large number of students to develop their skills and abilities to take on the challenges and access opportunities in the dynamic global economy.

Coming back to the United States, the focus shifted to competitiveness of the United States economy, which is facing strong headwinds with offshoring and hollowing out of manufacturing. Here, both Dean Chandrakasan and President Garimella have been working at the highest levels, with the White House and the National Science Foundation on strategies for key areas; including reshoring manufacturing and investing in key areas, such as semiconductor manufacturing; robust supply chain and STEM education.

President Garimella spoke about the fact that the education system does not work for many students at the high school level, and does not offer or prepare students for the modern STEM based economy. There are many jobs that require technical skills, but high school students have no avenue or path to those careers. The future economy is going to require technicians and engineers to work on wind turbines, electric vehicle systems manufacturing, solar farms, automated systems and robots.

Socioeconomic circumstances and the high cost of college education, prevents many students from accessing technical education needed to access opportunities in these areas. This problem of the “missing millions” requires new ideas to solve them, such as creating bridge programs with two year degrees, which are “earn while you learn” that combine classwork and on the job learning. Some universities are creating their own high schools that serve as testing grounds for these ideas, which have proven to be successful.

This led to a discussion that involved passionate young people who are in high school and college, who asked questions on difficulties with admission, the educational institutions are doing about the high cost of education as well as urgent problems facing younger people such as gun violence and healthcare costs. The discussion touched on the role of entrepreneurship, where the focus on startups may not be relevant for younger people who have other priorities.

In summary, colleges get many more applications than they can admit, leading to difficult discussions when major donors and prominent alumni find their children do not get admitted. Additionally, the trend is for students to move away from home to other states to attend college, though in-state tuition is much lower.

There is more engagement from faculty and students on issues like healthcare and gun control, which ties to the focus on solving major problems and social justice. New tools and methods are being developed, such as ethical or responsible AI; which inform public policy while respecting Constitutional and civil rights. Desh, who is a famed serial entrepreneur, made the point that an entrepreneurial mindset that embraces risk taking is key to solving difficult problems and building successful careers, and is not necessarily tied to creating startup companies.

The fireside chat ended with a message from the distinguished panel that education is the path for the United States and the world is the path to overcome major challenges that face the next generation. This can only happen when there is investment and innovation at all levels of education from high school onwards, especially technical education.

IIT AGNE is grateful to President Garimella, Dean Anantha and Desh for a wonderful discussion taking time out of their schedules. Mrs. Paulette Harvey, Deshpande Foundation, Mrs. Janis Audet-Krans from The President’s Office at University of Vermont and Ms. Lori LoTurco and Ms. Yuvie Cjapi, from the Dean’s office at MIT worked with AGNE on arrangements. From IIT AGNE, Alkesh Shah organized the event and dinner at Burlington, Durriya Doctor organized marketing, Asit Goel and Nishant Gandhi led the outreach. Raj and Shiamin Melville played a major role in putting the event together. 


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