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BW Businessworld

“We Embrace AI To Tackle Disruptions”

In an interview with BW Businessworld, Kamal Kishore Pant, Director, Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, highlights the utilisation of artificial intelligence and machine learning in optimising the efficient use of resources in the agriculture sector

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“The institute actively works towards building an enabling environment for innovation and entrepreneurship through incubation centres, mentorship programmes, and funding opportunities, for students and faculty to transform their innovative ideas into successful ventures” 

With AI causing big disruptions, and also with the massive lay-offs by big corporations in the last one year or so, how are engineering colleges bracing for the new challenges at this juncture, and what is the priority for faculty and students at premium institutes like IIT Roorkee?

IIT Roorkee has established a specialised school for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, where students can pursue B.Tech., M.Tech., and Ph.D. degrees. Also, in our new academic structure AI/ML courses are a part of each engineering discipline. With the help of our comprehensive resources, we are training students to be prepared to work in the AI-based industry. In addition, IIT Roorkee is offering courses on Data Science, Machine Learning, Cyber Security, Data Analytics etc. to external students and professionals through E-Learning Centre and Continuing Education Centre.

Training of professionals is needed not only in existing and advanced technologies but also in the fields of electronic manufacturing. To meet this objective MeitY has approved a scheme and set up Electronics and ICT (E&ICT) Academy at IIT Roorkee. IIT Roorkee has also collaborated with industries to deliver rigorous, immersive courses in AI & ML. We are training the employees of corporates like Deloitte in the emerging areas of AI & Data Science.

What specialised programmes on AI are you planning? At IIT Roorkee, we have already launched specialised programmes on Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, supported by the Rahul Mehta Foundation from the US. These programmes include BTech and Master's programme, embracing a multidisciplinary approach with the involvement of faculty members from various branches of science and engineering. We have also introduced minor degree programmes to cater to students who have a specific interest in computer science or related fields.

How can engineering colleges enable a meaningful career for their students, one that gives financial empowerment and impacts the society positively?

It is essential to recognise start-up culture in today's dynamic environment by creating an ecosystem that supports young minds. Healthcare, defence, artificial intelligence, urban planning, and mobility have developed into key research areas today. Since these fields are expanding rapidly, we must inspire students to learn more about them, express their creativity, or launch their own businesses. Our focus covers science, technology, math, medicine, and management in addition to more conventional fields. We work on projects with different teams that include scientists, economists, and management experts. Our goal is to instil an entrepreneurial mindset in students and empower them to create jobs and contribute to the ‘Make in India’ initiative.

What have been some of the landmark transitions in the pedagogy, course structure and experience that students get at IIT Roorkee in the last five years? Moving forward, what elements of Covid-time teaching-learning does the institute plan to retain?

In recent years, there have been significant changes in the pedagogy, curriculum structure, and overall student experience at IIT Roorkee. Courses like Indian Knowledge System, Cognitive Science, Behavioural Management and the concept of Inclusivity, Diversity and Equity (IED) aiming at holistic development of the students have been included. IIT Roorkee also has an Extensive Professional Experience Scheme under which candidates working in government organisations/laboratories, PSUs, and reputed companies who have demonstrated research potential through research papers in reputed journals/patents/technology transfer may apply for PhD in the institute.

We have shifted towards a more practical-oriented approach which is relevant to the society, startups etc. where knowledge is applied and implemented and technology can be developed aiming towards an Aatma Nirbhar Bharat. We emphasise the importance of impactful research and projects that address real-world problems faced by industries, MSMEs, and society at large. The teaching-learning process has undergone a significant transformation. We have adopted new teaching styles and techniques to engage students and promote active learning.

What work has been done on the research, incubation, and startup front in the last few years? What has been the translatability of that research? 

As mentioned, we encourage students to develop ideas and projects, providing financial support and mentorship. They have fostered around 150 startups, with notable examples including Sattviko, a healthy snack startup; CogniAble, focused on autism therapy using AI and ML; Log 9 Materials, a nanotechnology startup for advanced energy solutions; FieldEz, offering field service management solutions; Proctur, an ed-tech startup for exam management; Cellestial E-Mobility, developing electric vehicles; and Oizom, an environmental monitoring startup. The Institute actively supports entrepreneurship through various incubation schemes for faculty for example; Technology Readiness Level Booster Scheme (TRLB), Faculty Entrepreneurship Policy (FEP), Faculty led start-up. The main purpose is to promote technology advancement and to cultivate more and more entrepreneurship culture. Many centres, mentorship programmes, and funding opportunities, enabling students to transform their innovative ideas into successful ventures.

We are striving to achieve SDGs by 2030. As the head of a premier engineering college, what approach would you suggest towards sustainability?

At IIT Roorkee, sustainability is promoted through various initiatives. We educate students about their environmental impact and encourage resource efficiency, focusing on issues like zero food waste, optimal water usage and energy consumption. Audit analysis of all these is must at ground level and students are encouraged to visit local rural areas and colleges to make society aware on all these aspects of Food Energy and water. Renewable energy sources and energy-saving technologies are emphasised, along with water conservation measures such as water purification and reuse systems. Collaboration with industries and alumni plays a vital role in achieving sustainability goals, with partnerships for research projects and funding, as well as leveraging the expertise and support of our extensive alumni network. Our comprehensive approach aims to address the United Nations' sustainable development goals (SDGs) and create a positive impact on society.

Also, how does the institute encourage diversity on its campus?

At IIT Roorkee, we believe in Diversity and Inclusivity and implemented the concept of Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat and everyone has the responsibility to respect others. To promote gender diversity and women empowerment, IIT Roorkee has introduced schemes like Sakuntala and Golden Girl, which offer supernumerary seats for female students. Fellowships for economically weaker students have been introduced. Fee waivers for applying to PG and Doctoral Programmes are available for female students. The institute also admits international students through MoUs, with supernumerary seats for them. IIT Roorkee is also the signatory to the GATI (Gender Advancement in Technological Institutions) charter and has made it to the top 5 GATI achievers in the institutes of the National Importance Category.

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Magazine 01 July 2023