A Mechanical Engineering graduate, Dr. Sachin Untawale, Director of Nagpur’s G.H. Raisoni College of Engineering (GHRCE), stresses the importance of students and educators getting familiarized with the concept of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in a chat with Education Post.
Firstly, congratulations on winning the prestigious Dr. S. Radhakrishnan Bharat Shiksha Award for your contribution to engineering studies. According to you, how can other academicians positively contribute to technical education?
For any institution to progress, dedicated and qualified faculty is paramount. I will answer this question by telling you what we have done in our institution. GHRCE has been around for more than 20 years. But in 2020, we updated our whole syllabus according to the National Education Policy (NEP). The syllabus was revised in consultation with industry professionals and faculties of IITs and NITs.
Given this, our interaction with industries is high, hence our students get internships easily. It is mandatory for a GHRCE student to do an industry internship for a whole semester, which lasts six months.
We have also started something called “reverse placement.” It basically means, we take an elective from the industry and the entire syllabus will be taught according to that industry. This elective is offered to students in their sixth and seventh semester. Once the elective is over, the students are then taken as interns in the same industry.
Can you name a few things you particularly agree with in the NEP 2020?
The whole policy is very well drafted. Each and every clause is of utmost importance. The policy has lot of flexibility and there are several good provisions, such as faculty training in technical education.
Multilingualism and the influence of languages is another important point. For example, if one studies in Andhra Pradesh, the teachers sometimes speaks Telugu and sometimes in English. Or in Maharashtra, you will find teachers explaining in Marathi, Hindi and English. This will encourage multilingualism which is required for effective teaching and if we give an official policy to this practice, it will be good for academia.
The concept of multi-entry and multi-exit is good. There are few students who come from poor families and sometimes have to support their families while studying at the same time. So, this NEP clause will help students who aren’t very wellto-do so they can return to complete their degree whenever they desire.
The NEP has also made creative integration of subjects possible. I can combine the study of Artifical Intelligence with Mechanical Engineering, which could very well be a necessity in the not-so-distant future.
The ABC (Academic Bank of Credits) is another good provision in the policy, by means of which a student can take a minimum number of study credits from the parent institution and the remaining credits from other arms of the institute, while the parent institute must still provide the degree.
Now, two degrees can be attained simultaneously, provided one being regular and the second being online. The NEP 2020 is a giant leap forward for Indian education.
You have often voiced your enthusiasm for Artificial Intelligence even though you come from a mechanical engineering background. Tell us about it.
I am actually writing a book on the application of AI in Mechanical Engineering. I am really fascinated by this concept. We are also offering an elective course — both honors and minors — in AI. Minor courses are offered to all non-CSE branches. And mechanical engineering students who had completed their minors course in AI were the first preference for companies hiring during on-campus placements.
We have also introduced few programs for our faculty. In general, admissions in electronics, mechanical and electrical are gradually decreasing. I have talked about this on several national academic forums about giving an NPTEL (National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning) or a kind of bridge course to non-CSE faculty to study a subject in AI. Since, NPTEL courses are mentored and run by mostly IIT professors and they are online, therefore, teachers could do these courses at any time.
Your institute conducted offline examinations for final-year students during the peak of COVID-19. What precautions did you take?
Besides following all norms and rules, we had conducted a vaccination drive on campus for all the students, faculty members and staff. The management was gracious enough to grant enough funds for the drive.
The companies had already conducted the campus interviews and students had already been selected, but they were yet to appear for the final exam. We strictly followed our academic calendar. Students were required to have 75% attendance in online mode for the final year; everyone was required to complete their internships, even if it was online.
Students of GHRCE helped build “SlimSatellite” that recieved the Indian Space Research Organisation’s nod. Any other such innovative inventions in the pipeline?
The “SlimSatellite” was a nano-satellite and it was a joint project of three engineering colleges — one was GHRCE and the other two were from south India. It was named “UnitySat,” three small satellites clubbed together, which was launched into space from Sriharikota. The satellite is still doing its work in space and sends signals twice a day. About 30 students, along with five faculty members, built the satellite.
We are about to start a project which will involve students from all five engineering disciplines — electronics, mechanical, civil, CSE and CSE-AI. Five students and mentors will be selected, one from each discipline, to make a vehicle called “GHRCE cool wheel.”
The COVID-19 pandemic compelled the entire education fraternity to switch to online and distant mode of learning. How do you see these methods of teaching in technical education?
According to me, one-to-one teaching is the best method of teaching, that is classroom teaching. But during the pandemic, there was no option but to go online. We had to keep it interesting, so we adopted a method of 40 minutes of lecture followed by a fiveminute quiz or game based on that lecture.
Project seminars were conducted via zoom and Webex. Virtual labs, too — one faculty would hold the phone to record while the other showcased the practical. We were still collaborating with industry professionals to get online industrial visits.
What are the upcoming projects of the GHRCE Business Incubator Foundation and how is the institute helping students in their start-ups?
This section was assigned to us by the Department of Science and Technology with a fund of Rs. 7 crore. We have a state-of-the-art business incubator on campus. The incubation centre at GHRCE has already registered 28 start-ups with 14 students from our institute and rest of them from other institutes.
We have entrepreneurship in our curriculum and venture capitalists and angel investors are invited regularly to mentor students. Moreover, we encourage students to intern at start-ups so that they can experience how a start-up function and grows or fails.