VCU international partnership provides collaboration opportunity for School of Engineering students

  • From left to right: Swapnaja Kabir Jadhav (Graduate Student at IIT-Kharagpur), Demetrius Adams '13, Abigail McFarland '13, E. V. Thomas, Ph.D (Professor at IIT-Kharagpur), Joshua Monday '13, James T. McLeskey Jr., Ph.D., Vamsi K. Yadavalli, Ph.D., and Raj R. Rao, Ph.D.

By: V. Renee Russell
Global Education Office
(804) 828-3636

RICHMOND, Va. (Jan. 29, 2013)—In the field of engineering, collaboration is an expected part of the design process. But for four VCU undergraduates in the School of Engineering, that process moved outside the lab and into a unique international experience that brought a broadened world view and a deeper knowledge of their respective fields.

From January 5-13, 2013, Demetrius Adams, Abigail McFarland, Joshua Monday, and David Tchao traveled to India to work on multi-semester capstone design projects at the Indian Institute of Technology – Kharagpur (IIT-KGP). The visit was part of VCU's ongoing strategic international partnership with IIT which began in 2006.

"These projects are an invaluable part of providing an international experience to VCU engineering students," said Raj Rao, Ph.D., associate professor of chemical and life science engineering in the School of Engineering. Rao also serves as director of the VCU-IIT-KGP partnership. "Through this partnership, we strive to provide our students with experiences that help them understand the importance of collaboration and also realize the real impact that engineering can have on the lives of people in different parts of the world."

"This trip has made me realize how much valuable information I could get while working with other engineers," said senior Abi McFarland, a mechanical engineering major whose group project focuses on constructing a sabai rope polisher that villagers will be able to build inexpensively and use to make rope. "It's one thing to read about something on the internet and another to see it in real life."

"It was also interesting seeing the machinery they have at the school," she continued. "It was very compact and not as heavily industrialized and automated, but it was just as effective as more complex machinery."

"All of the students that I worked with at IIT-KGP were Ph.D. candidates who had extensive knowledge of my research topic," added senior Demetrius Adams, a double major in chemistry and chemical and life science engineering, whose project focuses on drug delivery systems that utilize silk fibroin nanoparticles. "Their studies all related to the application of the two proteins found in silk worm cocoons and working with them really broadened my knowledge of the scope of this project."

In addition to the depth of knowledge gained in their respective fields, the trip served to broaden the worldview of the students who participated. "This trip, overall, has shown me a completely new view of the entire world," said David Tchao, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering, whose project focuses on using two specific molecules, fibronectin and dendrimers, to target cancer cells by inhibiting their growth. "Working with contemporaries in India gives me fresh and cultured perspective that I never would have considered. Just being able to be there to see Calcutta, Bishnupur, Kali Temple and Queen Victoria's Memorial was amazing."

The final results of the design projects are yet to be determined, but if the past is a predictor of future success, they are sure to be outstanding. This is the second year that VCU engineering students have traveled to India through the partnership program. Last year, five students participated in the program and their projects were presented at the 2012 Senior Design Expo held at the Science Museum of Virginia last April. Two of the five projects were recognized with the Excellence in Design Award for their respective departments.

"Each student comes home with a much broader understanding of the world," said Rao. "The program also impacts the other students on the project, and by making presentations to the entire senior design class and to the general public at the Science Museum of Virginia, the impact is spread even further."

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