We Are Educating Our Students On Practical Problems Of Society: Director, IIT Mandi
Laxmidhar Behera, Director, IIT Mandi, describes the impact that this second-generation IIT is creating in the hilly region
Here is an academic institute that imparts not just engineering skills to students from all over India who gain entrance through JEE, but helps in solving local and regional challenges through its engineering and scientific solutions and reaching out to the community in multiple ways.
Laxmidhar Behera, Director, IIT Mandi, describes how this second-generation IIT, located in a pristine environment 14 km away from Mandi, says, “Through the IIT brand we would like to bring to light the needs and requirements of this region. At the same time, we would like to highlight what the region can contribute. Himachal can contribute a lot to holistic living. The Himalayan herbs and Himalayan ambience for yoga and meditation are apt examples of this.”
The institute is actively engaged with the youth of the region and imparts skills in new-age technologies to students. Behera informs, “We have signed an MoU with Himachal Kaushal Vikas Nigam and trained 650 young Himachalis in AI, robotics and machine learning. These are high-tech areas and at least 70 per cent of those who took part in the training have them have got a job. And last year we had a summer camp on AI and robotics wherein school children from XI and XII grades stayed at IIT and attended the programme.” He adds, “Reaching out to the youth and empowering them is a high point of our engagement with the society.”
Understanding of terrain
Another dimension of working towards local solutions is its focus on study of landslides, perhaps the biggest challenge that the state faces. “IIT Mandi has been working on landslides for a long time. We are developing technology for landslide monitoring and we have installed equipment for monitoring in Mandi and Kangra districts. These systems can warn the district administration that a landslide is going to occur within half an hour or so and they can prevent loss of lives,” shares the director.
And while Himachal is an energy-surplus state and hydropower is very cheap, the institute is still working with other stakeholders, including other IITs, towards clean energy. And it offers a master’s programme in electric transportation, which is now a buzzword.
With an eye on the industry requirements, the institute has set up new centres and launched new programmes to prepare the future-ready workforce. Behera says, “We have set up a centre for Quantum Science and Technology and are hiring new faculty in this area. We offer AI and robotics. We are very strong in drone technology, robotics-based automation and healthcare applications. We have an undergraduate programme in data science, as also a management programme particularly geared towards data science.”
The Indian Knowledge System and Mental Health Applications (IKSMHA) Centre at the institute is also engaged in research on lack of sleep, lack of focus and depression. Scientific intervention into these areas.
And recently, the institute has launched a programme in general engineering wherein students would study foundational aspects and in fourth year, select the specialisation.
In the context of disruptive technologies becoming the talk of the town and the concerns being raised, Behera says, “I address all the new entrants emphasise that core engineering is important. I say that if you get an opportunity in core engineering then go ahead. AI is here to stay and can be applied in a variety of ways but we should not create a job hype.”
Research, incubation and entrepreneurship
The institute fosters research and innovation through two of its initiatives - the incubation centre and also technology innovation hub. It has taken over 117 startups onboard. And it has provided Rs 10 crore funding to all startups, besides providing faculty mentors for them.
Not only that, IIT Mandi has started entrepreneurship practical for students last semester. “This has created awareness among our own undergrads. We are educating our students on different practical problems that the society faces, where they can bring in technology.”
NEP on the campus
Much of what the institute is doing is aligned to the NEP. For example, there is a compulsory course on the introduction to consciousness and holistic value. Behera says this is important because students work hard but don’t have a holistic perspective of body, mind and consciousness.
The IIT also emphasises experiential learning. As Behera says, “We have started a compulsory course for first-year students – foundations of design practical course. It involves more than 100 hours of lab. They understand the working of 3D printers and fabrication machines. They learn how to start from scratch and an entire product.”
There is also a project called ‘technology for society’, which entails going to different villages and understanding societal problems.
With its 97 per cent placement IIT Mandi has clearly signalled that distance from metros or big cities is immaterial. And by hosting the G20-S20 (Science-20) event in June this year, as part of India’s G20 Presidency, it solidified its position as a hub of scientific learning and knowledge dissemination.
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