Teaching in India helps establish a student pipeline
A number of people from the Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering have visited VIT Pune over the past three years, including Professor of Mechanical Engineering Bruce Murray and Associate Professor of Systems Science and Industrial Engineering Mohammad Khasawneh, who each taught an undergraduate course there in January. Murray taught a 40-hour, two-week course on heat transfer, and Khasawneh taught a one-week statistical methods and research methodology course. Both said the students they taught were well prepared and met a profile similar to Binghamton students.
Murray, whose trip was supported by the Lois B. DeFleur International Innovation Fund, worked with VIT Pune’s syllabus for the whole program and said it would have been impossible to get through everything in only one week. “I can lecture for 6 hours a day, but I had 45 students and they had to listen to me for 6 hours, then go do homework and take three exams in that period,” Murray said.
Though classes at Binghamton are typically larger, the intensity of Murray’s course cut into the time he would normally use to interact with individual students. He did find some time to talk to graduate students about research, but was up until 11 every night preparing assignments and exams.
“Beyond the teaching, the students who came to talk to me asked questions about Binghamton University and graduate school in the U.S. and one student e-mailed me awhile ago to ask if I would write a recommendation,” he said.
Murray did establish a research connection that is underway now, in part via Skype, with a company run by alumnus Sandeep Tonapi, who uses graduate students to do some of the work. “I’m involved with master’s students’ research topics,” Murray said. “They have an advisor in India as well, but I provide some other support to students.”
Khasawneh had 54 students in his course – fewer than he would have in any undergraduate class at Binghamton. “I think the group of students I taught was very bright and very comparable to what we have at Binghamton,” he said. “We actually have two students from that school here now as graduate students working in our Watson Institute for Systems Excellence (WISE) group and they’re doing very well.”
As was the case for Murray, establishing a pipeline of graduate students coming to Binghamton was one reason why Khasawneh gave seminars during his lunchtime and evenings while at VIT Pune, even though he was teaching full days from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
“I met with faculty and doctoral students as well, for possible collaborations,” he said. “It’s a little soon for anything, but we’ve had follow-up communications with them, so far mostly at the student level, from those interested in coming to Binghamton.”
With his Lean Six Sigma teaching, Khasawneh was familiar with the one-week class format. “It’s challenging because you need to keep students’ attention, so I do a combination of traditional lecture and a lot of in-class activities, homework questions during class time, individual and group assignments and activities to keep them engaged and continue to ask them questions. They did an evaluation at the end of the program and I scored 9.2 out of 10, so I was very happy with the student feedback.
“I would do it again, definitely,” said Khasawneh. “It was my first trip to India and I enjoyed it − just getting to see where they come from gives me first-hand experience of their environment. I learned a lot. There were lots of group activities so I could be creative in coming up with exercises that would fit. It helped me think more about what exercises would work for this type of class. Also, getting to know their culture, where they live, what they eat. It was a very valuable experience for me.”