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MIT students going to India, China

Fourteen MIT students will stay at Chinese schools as part of the MIT-China Educational Technology Initiative (MIT-CETI), while the MIT-India Program will send another 16 to work and teach at some of India's premier firms and schools this summer.

Five teams of students at schools in Xi'an, Chengdu, Shanghai and Beijing will work with Chinese students to create the first-ever robotics competitions in China, modeled on MIT's famous 6.270 robotics competition; produce a digital video documentary about the day in a life of a Shanghai student, teaching students about digital video editing and revealing insights about the Chinese education system; and connect schools in Chengdu to the Internet with WebTV television sets.

Founded three years ago by graduate students Ron Cao and Jake Seid, the program aims to foster better understanding about the Chinese people and culture. In past years, MIT students have set up the first web server for a high school in China, connected a school to the Internet through wireless technology, and helped to bridge cultural gaps between numerous students in the United States and China.

MIT-CETI has also inspired the creation of several programs, including the MIT-India project and Stanford University's Asian Technology Initiative (SATI). The program is made possible by the MIT International Science and Technology Initiative (MISTI) and companies including Cisco Systems, Kodak, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems.


MIT-India Program students will work at Infosys, one of India's most advanced information technology firms; at Godrej, India's largest privately held company; at ICICI, India's largest bank; and in Jamshedpur, the "garden city" in Bihar run by Tata Iron and Steel (TISCO). They will also teach Internet, web, HTML, Java and graphics at the Bishop Cotton Boys' School in Bangalore, at church and municipal schools in Jamshedpur, and at the Kalmadi Shamrao School in Pune, Maharashtra, where last summer six MIT students taught Internet and web classes.

The long-term goal of the MIT-India Program is to educate a group of MIT students who are equipped to build new bridges between the world's two largest democracies.

"MIT has more than 1,000 alumni/ae who came from India to learn in the United States. We want to reverse the flow, sending our students to India to learn at first hand Indian business practices, culture, technologies and problems," said Kenneth Keniston, director of the MIT-India Program and the Andrew Mellon Professor of Human Development in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society (STS). "Among these students will be the men and women who have the technical knowledge and the cultural understanding needed to expand collaboration between our two countries."

MIT students will work alongside Indian peers, many of whom are recent graduates of the Indian Institutes of Technology or of Management. Interns working for Indian firms will receive in-country salaries and housing; most students will be hosted by Indian families. The MIT-India Program will underwrite airfares and supplementary stipends.

The program is also developing on other fronts. The new South Asia Forum, led by Dr. Abha Sur, a lecturer in STS, has sponsored a dozen well-attended lectures on topics related to science, technology and development in that subcontinent. A 20-member faculty Council on MIT-India offers advice and monitoring to the program. An MIT-India web page and calendar of South Asian events is being developed. Committees of Friends of MIT-India are also being established in the United States and India to provide advice and support to the Program. Next year, Starr Foundation funds will permit adding a half-time assistant to help expand the internship program.

"India is the world's fifth-largest economy and the world's largest democracy. It has an ancient civilization, vast potentials and enormous problems. Its economy is opening, and it has withstood the shocks that have recently shaken southeast Asia. It is an increasingly important center of knowledge creation in science and technology. MIT has long and deep ties with India. The time is right to build on them to create an intellectually vital program of internships, exchanges and new partnerships," Professor Keniston said.

The India Program is supported by the host Indian firms, Indian alumni/ae and friends, the Mustard Seed Foundation and the Starr Foundation grant for Asia programs to MIT's International Science and Technology Initiative, and by the work of the veterans of last year's program in Pune, led by Vinay Pulim, a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science.

A version of this article appeared in the May 12, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 30).

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