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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

USI launches global partnership with India

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Betty Vawter
Senior Editor, News & Information Services
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Three University of Southern Indiana students are conducting field research in India for two weeks in an internationally known project on social and economic empowerment in resource-strapped communities.

The opportunity resulted from relationships established by Dr. Ronald S. Rochon, provost, and faculty members during two recent trips to India to explore academic partnerships with several organizations.

The experience initiating the collaboration will take Amy Brown, Chanse Ford, and Daniel "D.J." Horstman to Delhi and Alwar, India, from June 27 through July 10. In Alwar, they will interview families that have been involved for several years with an "empowerment model" developed and implemented by the Society for Development Studies (SDS), a partner institution of the United Nations.

Dr. Sudesh N. Mujumdar, USI associate professor of economics and chair of the Department of Economics and Marketing, finalized arrangements for the collaboration. He said the empowerment program has emphasized building financial independence among women.

"The U.N. award-winning empowerment model is designed to help women become self-sufficient through skill development and entrepreneurship training and assistance," he said. "Financial independence enhances the material and social well-being of the entire family."

Mujumdar said the experience will give the students a leg up in the job market. "Learning to navigate an unfamiliar culture is increasingly important as the world and the labor market become more globalized," he said.

The students also will come to understand that innovation does not necessarily require a lot of resources.

"Sometimes people think they could create new products or processes if only they had a lot of money or other resources," Mujumdar said. "But, in this community of Alwar, people are innovating with very few resources."

The students will conduct the field research and analysis under the guidance of SDS faculty and Dr. Niharika Banerjea, USI assistant professor of sociology. Banerjea's research interests include globalization, urban and community sociology, and South Asia. She will be in India with the students for a portion of their stay.

The academic pursuits and interests of the students selected for the fieldwork mesh with the interdisciplinary nature of the empowerment project.

Brown, a 2011 graduate in sociology, completed minors in anthropology, biology, and psychology. Her interest is behavioral ecology - specifically, human adaptations to environmental change. During spring break, she pursued research in Guatemala on a trip led by Dr. Michael Aakhus, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. She is completing the field research as a USI internship.

Ford, a junior in political science, is pursuing minors in journalism and economics. He will view the international field research through a political/economic lens as well as that of a journalist. Former news editor for the student newspaper The Shield, he recently won first place in the category for non-deadline news in competition sponsored by the Indiana Collegiate Press Association. He is blogging about the team's experience in India.

Horstman is a senior engineering major with an emphasis in mechatronics. He is completing a minor in math. Horstman was the winner in 2008 of the College of Business Ideation Contest. He has an interest in devising creative, practical solutions to material and social challenges.

Brown and Horstman are from Evansville and Ford is from Beech Grove, Indiana.

A non-government organization, SDS is based in New Delhi but has an international network. One of its missions is to develop practical solutions, founded in solid academic research, to empower resource-strapped communities. Among recent work by SDS was the training of 105 officials from seven countries for the Afghanistan office of the United Nations Development Program.

In October 2010, Rochon led a team of USI faculty including Mujumdar and Dr. Nadine Coudret and Dr. Ann White, dean and associate dean, respectively, of the College of Nursing and Health Professions to India for an initial exploration of partnerships. They met with representatives of organizations such as the University of Mumbai and the Reserve Bank of India in addition to SDS. A follow-up visit by Mujumdar Banerjea Dr. Scott Gordon, dean of the Pott College of Science and Engineering and Dr. Mohammed Khayum, dean of the College of Business, took place in March to further opportunities for joint work across disciplines.



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