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India Initiative Reflections

India Initiative Reflections

Incredible India

(India 2011 Trip) Permanent link

Reflection on India, by Margaret Latimer 
Associate Dean for Instructional Programs, Germantown Campus

Community colleges have been in the national spotlight since President Obama described them as an undervalued resource and a White House summit followed. However, it was an international spotlight that shone on community colleges, and specifically on Montgomery College in Delhi, at the National Symposium on 21st Century Community Colleges. It was a bright light. Ambassador Timothy Roemer and Dr. Molly Teas, from the U.S. State Department, addressed the audience. Mr. Charlie Rose from the U.S. Deptartment of Education (not the Charlie Rose of late night public television) represented Secretary Duncan. Two members of the Indian Parliament spoke: the Honorable Oscar Fernandes , MP, chair of the Committee on Human Resources Development, and the Honorable Naveen Jindal, MP, and executive vice chairman and managing director, Jindal Steel and Power. This was our first, but not last opportunity to interact with Mr. Jindal and Mr. Fernandes. 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent video messages citing the importance of educating people to thrive in the global economy and the role that community colleges play in providing pathways of opportunity, putting students at the “cutting edge of technological change,” pledging commitment to collaborate to improve education at home and abroad that will increase economic opportunity and growth. It was a proud moment for us when Secretary Duncan congratulated Drs. Pollard and Rai for their “tremendous leadership and vision.” It was a prescient moment when Secretary Duncan noted that the U.S. and India face many of the same educational challenges, particularly when it comes to providing technical skills for the 21st century. 

From Indian business leaders who participated in a sometimes passionate roundtable discussion, we gained some appreciation for the enormity of the challenges, the urgency of addressing them, and the energy, commitment, and resources that do and don’t exist. In the week that followed the symposium, as we visited several post-secondary institutions, each rich, full day afforded the opportunity to meet our counterparts and their students to learn, first hand, of their programs and needs, and desire for partnership and exchanges with us.  Incredibly gracious hospitality greeted us everywhere. Marigold leis, showers of rose petals, savory morsels and juices (often watermelon) were served by eager students.  Some of us didn’t miss an opportunity to indulge. 

We saw pride—in accomplishment, in appearance, in people’s optimism about India’s future as a global leader. Students, working at computers, embroidering, or demonstrating engineering projects, were proud and eager to demonstrate their skills and knowledge. They asked about internships in the U.S. Faculty inquired about exchanges. After an extensive conversation with a mechanical engineering faculty member, I was able to get him a copy of our catalog (It was worth carrying them halfway around the world!).

We saw contrasts. A first stop outside Delhi was at the O.P. Jindal Global University. Built on a 60-acre site that includes student and staff (faculty) housing, it currently hosts three programs. Incredibly, it was built, faculty hired from around the world, and the international curriculum developed—all in seven months. The head of a private school (1,500 pre-K–12 students) in Delhi explained their curriculum that ensures all students graduate fluent in Hindi, English and a third global language. A $3 million Honeywell simulator is used to provide training for new power plant managers. Rural government sponsored technical/vocational training facilities were much more modest. 

The roads leading to the $3 million simulator gave us a glimpse at infrastructure that is wanting. Village life, visible along the rural roads, is a reminder that in a nation that boasts 70 billionaires, over 600 million live in a fragile balance at or below the U.N.-defined poverty line. Just outside Delhi, on the road to the Taj Mahal we sped past colleges and institutes of technology and management. Our car shared that road with tuk-tuks and motorbikes; camel, oxen, and cattle drawn carts. 

We saw challenges and opportunity. As Secretary Duncan noted, we share many of the same concerns.  Unskilled workers in a global economy that demands skilled labor pose enormous challenges and opportunities. Underprepared students and transitioning from 20th century skills to 21st century skills are global issues. Developing a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship begins in the classroom, but more than one of our Indian colleagues noted that “No one does rote learning better than India.” Educational reform is not easy—on any continent. India sees opportunity in its growing population as many developed nations face aging and declining populations; India will supply a workforce.  

Embedded in Secretary Duncan’s opening accolades, and building on the relationships established during our brief visit, are opportunities for us to follow through—to develop partnerships that offer global experiences for students and faculty that may impact in large and small ways. Globalization is a reality. The pilot who flew us from Delhi to Raigarh put his resume online in 2009 when the Great Recession decimated the market for private pilots in the U.S. Son of a preacher, he moved about the U.S. growing up; he moved his family to India. Our students must be prepared to compete in and thrive in this reality.

Just as general education competencies are common threads weaving through all courses, and as we seek ways to internalize and institutionalize the completion agenda, globalization is bright strand that must be part of what we do. Energy demands as nations like India and China urbanize, meeting worldwide nutrition and water needs, and delivering quality healthcare and education that provides 21st century skills are the challenges our students must be equipped to understand and tackle with innovation, creativity, incredible dedication and hard work—all of which require solid foundational knowledge and the ability to absorb, filter, and apply new knowledge at an accelerating rate. Our challenge is to prepare them well to do so.

The national slogan, “Incredible India,” was—with avuncular warmth—transmuted by one of our hosts, to “Impossible India.” Impossible India offers endless incredible possibilities.

Another Perspective on Workforce Development

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Accompanying the Montgomery College travel team in India were representatives from other community colleges—Dr. Sunita (Sunny) Cooke, president of Grossmont College, and Dr. Richard Haney, vice president for educational affairs at the College of Lake County. They offered another perspective to what the Montgomery College team discussed about workforce development and student success, plus their presence provided representation from the Midwest and the West Coast of the United States.

Dr. Cooke, a former associate vice chancellor of workforce development in Texas, and Dr. Haney, a former dean of business and industry services, have a rich history of building workforce development partnerships in their communities, providing students with the skills necessary to find employment and providing businesses with the trained employees necessary to fulfill their workforce needs. For them, community colleges have the flexibility to meet students where they are and take them where they need to be.

“People come to us for their first career, their second career, and their third career,” said Dr. Cooke during her presentation at the National Symposium on 21st Century Community Colleges. “They retrain. They change their educational perspective and they have something different and more relevant to take back to the workforce.”

She envisions that a successful, comprehensive approach to workforce development would be a series of ladders and lattices. It is not enough to educate and train the new employees, who are eager to advance in their careers. It is just as vital to educate the more senior employees to ensure that they maintain their career, keep pace with rapid changes in industry, and learn the skills necessary to teach others. She explains that “workforce development must be innovative, evolving, and dynamic.”

For Dr. Haney, he emphasized that success can only be obtained when community colleges have strong partnerships with the businesses and industry in their community. As examples, he pointed to Brevard Community College (Florida) and Edmonds Community College (Washington), who both aligned themselves with the aerospace industry in their communities.  

But teaching workforce development courses for the business industry is not enough. As Dr. Haney explained, “something else to take into consideration is being able to identify instructional facilities or locate instructional facilities near your employers.” For Brevard, it meant locating its instructional facility—the Spaceport Center—within Kennedy Space Center, putting courses right in the midst of the very people who would benefit.

Dr. Cooke's PowerPoint presentation and Dr. Haney's PowerPoint presentation are both available online here.

Before Dr. Cooke departed India, she shared her final thoughts about her experience in India. Her video is below.



Reflections on Visit to Polytechnic

(India 2011 Trip) Permanent link

Reflection by John Hamman 
Chair, Mathematics Department, Germantown Campus

I had many fantastic experiences during our visit to India, but, as a mathematics faculty member, one that stands out in particular was getting to see some of the math curriculum at the Guru Gobind Singh Government Polytechnic and talking to the faculty there. They were incredibly hospitable, as were all our Indian hosts, but they were also willing to share copies of their exams and curriculum with us.  My brief study of this and conversations with the faculty were quite enlightening.  The entrance requirements were markedly different from an American institution; the diploma examination was not necessarily more complex or easier than what is common in the U.S., it just had a different focus. Students were required to have a working knowledge of combinations, permutations, binomial expansions and partial fractions to begin their studies at the polytechnic. Not surprisingly, the computational ability (without technology) is far above what we would require of American students. 

However, the coursework once enrolled has many similarities to our system. Students were required to take two levels of applied mathematics before moving on to their specializations. Most of the math topics—perhaps with a slightly different focus—could be found in courses at Montgomery College. The students appear to do well with this curriculum.

One of the most memorable parts of visiting this school was the final question posed to me by a mathematics faculty member who had walked with me during the tour. He simply asked, “What do you think of our program?” When I responded that I was impressed and enjoyed what he had shown me, he grinned from ear and ear, thanked me profusely and proceeded to beam with pride. Clearly, he was proud to show off his institution and I was proud to have gotten to see it. I hope this is the start of a productive conversation between faculty who come from different backgrounds but have the same goal of producing students who can be competitive in an increasingly global marketplace.

The video above depicts Guru Gobind Singh Polytechnic, as shot by Professor John Hamman, during his visit to the institute.

At the National Symposium for 21st Century Community Colleges, Professor Hamman joined with Professor Joan Naake  to present Underprepared Students: Developmental Math Using Technology. Their PowerPoint presentation is now available as an online pdf for viewing.



Photo Slideshow from Symposium

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Video Highlights - Day One

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Dr. DeRionne Pollard , president of Montgomery College, began the first day of symposium presentations with an in-depth look  at American community colleges (you can find a pdf of her PowerPoint here ). While I am employed at a community college, I really didn’t know the full and rich history of community colleges in America until her talk. As it turns out, Dr. Pollard’s home state of Illinois is credited with starting the community college movement with the establishment of the first public junior college within Central High School in 1901.

Now, 110 years later, there are more than 1,200 community colleges, likely with one just around the corner from most households in America.  I remember my own neighborhood community colleges, no matter what state I lived—from Maryland to Kentucky. As a middle schooler, the local community college hosted my summer camp. In high school, the community college offered affordable professional theatre performances. After university graduation, the community college became “my” community college when I enrolled as a student, in an effort to decide what I wanted to pursue as a career. It guided me to a rewarding career in television journalism. And when I wanted another career years later, I looked to another community college for the answer.

But it wasn’t until I began working at a community college and talking with faculty, staff, and students that I truly understood the impact community colleges make in people’s lives. They are about discovery—finding yourself, your passion, and your future. As Dr. Pollard says, community colleges are “potentially the most transformative institutions in contemporary America.” And now, in India, leaders have the opportunity to adapt the American community college model to their own country, opening the doors of discovery for millions of people.

The enthusiasm for this model was certainly evident during every break in the symposium. My colleagues and I were peppered with questions about every aspect of community college operations: how are you funded? How do students transfer to universities? What degrees to you offer and how are they received by businesses? These conversations were invigorating, allowing me to consider my own institution in a new light. In today’s global economy, I believe this is an examination that all community colleges will need to make. As other countries look to implement their own community colleges or variations of community colleges, just like India, America’s community colleges must adapt to the anticipated needs of future generations whose careers will likely take them well beyond their own borders.

Sharing Ideas

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One of the highlights on the second day of the symposium was the business roundtable, Looking Forward to 2020: Business Leaders from India Speak on Workforce Needs, Opportunities, and Challenges, led by Dr. Sanjeev Sahni from Jindal Educational Initiatives. The roundtable showcased the variety of opinions held by Indian business leaders about how best to overcome the country's challenges and build a stronger, more integrated workforce.

The dynamic conversation continued when the symposium participants broke up into small work groups to discuss the next steps needed for implementing sustainable change in India. Each table's discussion was facilitated by a Montgomery College faculty, staff or administrator. 

Among the ideas for sustainable change in Indian higher education are:


o  Skilled workers and certified workers deserve greater respect
o   Students need vertical progression, ways to move up into higher-level positions

o   Women’s empowerment needs to improve

o   Curriculum needs to be more relevant and interesting

o   Workforce needs to be motivated to come into community colleges

o   Funding assistance is necessary for both students and for technological needs

o   National accreditation standard of community colleges in India

o   Greater industry interaction with institutions of higher learning

o   Develop roadmap to accomplish improvement

o   Instructors should have one year of practical, hands-on training before teaching

o   Changes in industry are not incorporated into curriculum – courses should be updated every three years

o   Need greater partnerships with industry, including apprenticeship programs

o   Parents need to support vocational training, and career programs should be transferrable to universities




Welcoming Remarks

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This short video demonstrates the enthusiasm shared by both India and the United States for collaboration around the community college initiative in India, but it barely scratches the surface of the dialogue that took place. Take a minute, watch the video, but also read more below; it gives a more detailed reflection of the morning's remarks by Indian leaders Oscar Fernandes and Naveen Jindal, the U.S. Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.


Honored guest Oscar Fernandes, a member of the Indian Parliament and the chair of the Committee on Human Resources Development, opened the symposium by sharing his own educational journey from a tradesman to a government leader. For him, it is a true “passion to send children to the technical institutions.” He even recalled urging one of those institutions—when he served on a selection committee—to admit a young man who arrived for his interview in pants far too big for his frame. Mr. Fernandes knew the young man had the right dedication for school because, as he explained it, he wore his uncle’s pants to “look smart.”

Mr. Fernandes’ passion for education and his presence at the symposium demonstrated the real commitment that he and other government leaders in India have for building an educated workforce that will meet the evolving needs of the global economy. Currently, India has a Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) at approximately 12 percent, meaning only 12 percent of young people eligible to enroll in college or university are currently enrolled. There are plans to change. India has pledged to raise that number to 30 percent in just nine more years—by 2020. And according to Mr. Fernandes, the government of India plans to open 50,000 more rural schools to train the country’s youth.

Following Oscar Fernandes, the U.S. Ambassador to India, Timothy Roemer , discussed how education and opportunity provide the “very essence” on which America and India—two great democracies—can continue to build their future cooperation.  As he explained, success at the two-day symposium and at collaboration “… means that my children and President Obama’s children and India’s children have this opportunity to dream and work and grow these two countries to be the indispensible partnership of the 21st century for peace and prosperity, human rights and democracy.”

Ambassador Roemer proudly shared some of America’s own community college success stories— Senator Harry Reid, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jeanne Kirkpatrick. These names illustrate just how far community colleges can take their students. You see this each and every day in the alumni of Montgomery College, who have achieved success in their personal and professional lives. Through this symposium and efforts like the White House Summit on Community Colleges, Montgomery College and America’s community colleges are getting well-deserved attention for the education they provide to so many of our nation’s students.

“In the United States and now in India, leading community colleges have been effective in reaching out to lower income students, putting them at the cutting edge of technological change and giving them the skills not only to land jobs, but to launch successful careers,” said Hillary Rodham Clinton , secretary of the United States Department of State, in a special video message delivered at the symposium. She sees community colleges as playing a vital role in further developing the United States’ partnership with India.

“President Obama has called America’s relationship with India one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century and a critical element of our partnership is working together to educate our young people so that they may thrive in a global economy.”

For U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan , the symposium and the opportunities to promote dialogue between Indian and American counterparts is a “win-win." He shared his message with symposium participants in a special video message, introduced by U.S. Department of Education General Counsel Charlie Rose: "I want to congratulate Montgomery College President Dr. Pollard and Vice President and Provost Dr. Rai for their tremendous leadership and vision and we are grateful for the work they do. Community colleges like Montgomery College are providing pathways of opportunity to literally millions of America's students..."

As Secretary Duncan explained,  “the United States and India face many of the same educational challenges, particularly when it comes to providing students with career and technical training for the jobs of the 21st century.”

To tackle some of India’s educational challenges, Naveen Jindal , an elected member of Parliament and the executive vice chairman and managing director of Jindal Steel and Power —the fourth largest company in India—has undertaken a bold approach. He launched his own philanthropic program to increase educational access in India. Through Jindal Educational Initiatives, he and his team have built a university, several institutes of technology, and four community colleges throughout India. They see the community college model of open access higher education as a real opportunity for addressing India’s shortage of trained manpower. For a country of more than 1.2 billion, more than 500 million people need basic skills training, according to USIEF’s Vibha Sharma.

“For us, it really is a window of opportunity. We must seize it. If we seize this opportunity and give our youth employable skills, they will be able to contribute to India’s economic development,” said Mr. Jindal. “If we lose this opportunity and we are not really able to impart good education to our youth that they will be able to contribute to the nation’s development, then this—the democratic advantage—will not happen. It has to be seized.”

Mr. Jindal’s goal is simple and yet—at the same time—awe-inspiring: to educate and hundreds of thousands of Indians, teaching them marketable skills that will lead to careers in his company and many other highly successful companies across India. The need is great; 2008 education figures  from India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development find that more than 62 percent of India’s youth drop out of secondary school, before ever enrolling in higher education, and quality, skilled employees are difficult to find. To make a difference, Mr. Jindal plans to dramatically increase his community college enrollment from 2,000 students to 10,000 annually!

Inspiration comes from Mr. Jindal’s late father, O.P. Jindal, who believed that “the person who works with his hands is the most important.” By creating educational institutions for both current and future generations of Indians, Mr. Jindal truly is, as he says, “fulfilling his [father’s] dream.”

With Jindal Educational Initiatives, Montgomery College has had unique opportunities to visit Jindal educational institutions; talk with faculty, staff, and students in India; and learn from the experience. Additionally, the College worked closely with the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, which provided the College with a $195,000 grant, and USIEF, which is assisting with grant implementation.

When Dr. Molly Teas joined the U.S. Department of State as the senior education adviser with the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, she identified an opportunity to support the development of a community college exchange program in India. With the country’s gross enrollment ratio at just over 12 percent, community colleges could help address what she sees as a “gap in education.”

Why community colleges? Dr. Teas witnessed success at community colleges growing up; her mother taught there. Now, she looks forward to America’s unique model of higher education—“engines of job growth”—generating interest and being adapted to fit the current workforce need among India’s citizens.



Educating Future Generations in India

(India 2011 Trip) Permanent link

When I look back on my first day at the National Symposium on 21st Century Community Colleges, the numbers are what stand out. They are staggering. Nearly 1.2 billion people live in India and the need for higher education is greater than ever.

12% of Indian youth are enrolled in college (Gross Enrollment Ratio); 500 million people in India need basic skills building; and 12.8 million Indians enter the workforce each year, but there is training capacity of only 4.3 million per year.

For the broad range of U.S. and India partners gathered at the symposium, the American community college model could be adapted to provide high-quality, open access, higher education to youth in India. Why? As Charles Rose, general counsel for the United States Department of Education explained, collaboration to improve education can "allow our children to unlock their gifts and achieve their destinies… “


Safe Landings

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The Montgomery College team arrived safely in Delhi early Sunday morning (India time) and we are trying our best to get acclimated to the time difference. 

This morning, I know I will join members of the team in making sure our technology resources - computers, PowerPoint presentations, videos - work smoothly for the conference.

In the afternoon, I look forward to meeting with two members of the team from the United States - India Educational Foundation (USIEF) - executive director, Adam Grotsky, and Vibha Sharma, director of the USIEF's Office of the United States - India Higher Educational Cooperation.




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