I work at the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering. This is an exciting place! We just accepted close to 1300 freshmen and 300 transfer students who start their professional careers there. Of the nearly 8200 students we now have, 2700 are at the graduate level. We are a public University, something that is very dear to my heart. I am the first university graduate from my family, and the only reason I could achieve that is because of an excellent public school and university system. This is one of the key properties we share with IIT, but there are three more which make our programs very much comparable.
First, like many of the Indian schools, the University of Michigan, and especially its Engineering College, accepts an important role that reaches well beyond a traditional research and teaching mission of a great US University. We are located in the State of Michigan, the epicenter of some of the most dramatic and fundamental transitions since the industrial revolution. Michigan is part of a global transformation, and these changes are extremely difficult to fathom. The unemployment rate in Michigan is around 15%, and the unemployment rate in Detroit is nearly 30%, probably even being underreported. Detroit is seeing a flight of people heading out and looking for work, leading to an overall decay. For example, the median house price in Detroit this May was $7500. The result is a much stronger focus onto our University. In fact, I have not seen a single state-wide recovery plan in which the University of Michigan is not a crucial piece. Thus, at the University of Michigan, we understand the pressure and the opportunities that come from being a part of a transformation of the overall environment.
Secondly, this transformation has important effects in the thinking of our students- nearly 60% of our students are from Michigan. The most important effect this realization of importance has had in our students is the awakening of a tremendous passion for entrepreneurship. In our Engineering school we are very careful to not equate entrepreneurship with business creation. We think of entrepreneurship as a mindset of creating, finding new opportunities, taking and managing risks and taking personal responsibility for change. We have been the home of the largest entrepreneurial idea competitions in the US. We are in contact with nearly 3000 students who are pursuing such ideas or are thinking about them actively. Last year alone, we were supporting and following nearly 100 student startup companies, and we are still finding new ones. Our programs are not just driven by business generation focused on regular businesses. We have at least as much activity going on in social entrepreneurship. Our students and faculty are trying to invent ventures that add value and change people’s lives, especially the lives of the disadvantaged and poor.
Third, our students recognize that there is a strong connectivity between the local and global environments and changes. Any engineer in the future needs to be comfortable with having colleagues in all kinds of time-zones. This is also a University-wide priority and we expect that within two years more than 50% of our graduating students will have studies abroad. Our international programs are therefore rapidly increasing, and they are becoming a critical part of every student’s education in Michigan Engineering. We have rapidly grown our range of opportunities and inventory of programs and offerings. We also have attracted more foreign students to Michigan. Within the last ten years, the percentage of our graduate students from India has increased from nearly 7% to over 12%. But, we think we are nowhere near our expectations, especially when it comes to partnerships in India. We currently have almost 500 Indian students in our Engineering College. Needless to say, entrepreneurship and international programs have a deep intrinsic connection. Our students want to be part of real change, domestically and world-wide.
But, the reason we are actively participating in this activity today is that we want to propose and explore a partnership that is of crucial importance to both parties. We are not looking for ways to simply spread our name – we are looking for win-win solutions and partnerships. What are the key criteria we use to build such a partnership?
At the center of any such partnerships will be the students. We want these partnerships to offer learning opportunities not available on our home campus. We seek to challenge our students by taking them out of their comfort zone with respect to their culture, in their technical approaches and many other ways. We seek to build several layers of connectivity which are leading to win-win solutions. We are interested in sustainable, long-term relationships, not “touch-and-go’s”. But, most importantly, we are thinking of our international engagements as partnerships, not as programs.
I will provide an example, which is considered to be one of the best partnership programs between the US and China – the University of Michigan-Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute (SJTU). This collaboration transcends much of what people have tried over the years. The curricula were jointly developed to meet the needs of UM and SJTU students. SJTU has become the most important landing point for UM students and faculty. We had 144 Michigan students and well over 40 faculty members at SJTU, and we have about 165 SJTU students at UM today. Thus, we create student interactions in both directions, faculty interactions in both directions. But, equally importantly, we work with the same companies in Shanghai and the US, building bridges and research programs of unprecedented scope and organization. We are a better campus because of our SJTU collaboration, and our friends in China feel the same way about our collaboration.
So, how do we translate these lessons to an India partnership? I would like to propose that we do so by recognizing how similar the challenges relative to our entrepreneurial ecosystems really are. We seek to build a partnership focused on social entrepreneurship. For both of us, the need for transformation, for change requires people with a broad view and an entrepreneurial mindset. We are actually running a class right now, together with our business school, in which we directly involve Indian students and also investors. Ultimately, the purpose of an engineering education is to build a better world. We can do that in our respective environments, and through a partnership we have to set up to create the type of win-win solution that makes all partners excited to create and ready for success because they are doing something real. Our students will get to know each other, collaborate, and dream up solutions which are far beyond what we can today imagine.