Thursday, June 9, 2016

Mentor reflection

ACARA mentor Kenton Spading reflects on the seminar.
We arrived in Bangalore, India on May 17 under the banner of ACARA’s core beliefs:
  • Education matters
  • Knowledge gained via formal and informal education are both vital to improving the human condition
  • The real world and the people in it can teach you a lot
  • See the world through others’ eyes
  • Carefully consider stakeholders’ opinions
  • Multidisciplinary teams are the first step to solving big problems
  • Strive to identify solutions that last and that can scale to the size of the problem
  • Instructors and students are in this together
  • Go, do!
  • Don’t wait for someone’s permission to fix a problem
  • Failure is healthy
  • Failing, taking risks, and operating outside your comfort zone is healthy
  • Technology is only part of the puzzle
  • Solutions lacking social, political, and economic consideration rarely last
  • Have fun! Work on problems you care about deeply
These core beliefs were exercised daily during the 3-week course. Both formal classroom and informal field education sessions were utilized to challenge the students to consider the complexities of improving human conditions in India.

The inquisitive Indian citizens that invited us into their homes, and shared meals with us despite their poverty, were integral to absorbing the classroom instruction. We saw the world through the citizens' eyes and learned from the Indian organisations we visited that stakeholder opinions are crucial to building trust within India’s non-transactional society.

Our multidisciplinary student’s backgrounds ranging from data management to economists to agricultural scientists to engineers and environmentalists worked in concert to contemplate complex societal and environmental challenges. We learned that no one person has all the answers. We were all immersed in the India experience equally. The students and the instructors alike wore gloves to sort garbage, dig pits, and thatch roofs. We met Indian organisations that had adopted the “Just Do It” attitude to pursue their very evident passion of transforming a developing India into a better place. 

The students tackled many risks and their fear of failure ranging from approaching non-cooperative government agencies for answers to using a non-western toilet on a rocking and rolling cross-country train. The pitfalls of introducing technical solutions into the Indian society without first considering the social, political, and economic implications was a message driven home daily. In a broader sense, that message transfers to every project these students will ever work on in the U.S. as well as in other countries and cultures.

As the students exchanged hugs and snapped photos with their Indian counterparts at the airport, they realised that thanks to ACARA’s study abroad program their core beliefs had changed; their view of the world outside their more predictable Minnesota environment was exponentially broadened. Billions live without western amenities like hot, clean water, electrical power and enforceable environmental laws. However, we were buoyed by our daily observations that India is making progress on many fronts both societal and environmental and that each student can make a difference in improving the human condition if they so choose.

-Kenton Spading, P.E., UMN'84, ACARA Mentor