A new classroom.

Notes from a new kind of classroom:

January 2nd, 2017

We visited a cook stove testing center within Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture and Technology. The engineers proudly showed us their testing center, and their museum of old designs.

img_1572We got to see equipment being tested in an isolated and controlled environment within the lab. I question how useful this information is; the results obtained here are worlds away from performance in the field, where the environment is anything but controlled.

Then, Meena asked if they ever collaborated with social scientists. Though they had spent their careers designing products for women and for development, their reply was not even once.

I do not claim to understand the world of engineering, but I wonder how much more productive their work could be if they had collaborated with other disciplines. I wonder how their designs may have evolved had they been out to the villages themselves.

Though, I left the University feeling hopeful. As we ended our visit with tea and biscuits, we met a young woman who had (the very same day) turned in her PhD thesis on her own high efficiency (28%) design. Though she is but a stranger, I was somewhat overcome with a sense of joy and kinship as she passed around the thick book. I wanted to say, “You go girl!” but settled instead for a smile and a nod as I handed her hard work back to her, wondering about what her career may look like, and the fellow women it may help.

January 3rd, 2017

Yesterday, we revisited Cheetravas and ventured to another village, Karech. Within each village, and between the two (no more than 30 minutes apart by car), there was tremendous diversity. Some houses had iron gates, stone walls and abundant wandering livestock. Some houses had stick fences, thatched walls and only a handful of goats. Some children gleefully followed us from house to house. Some children sat expressionless on their beds as we approached them, waiting patiently for their parents to return from gathering water or wood.

This time we had come prepared to the villages. The faculty had split us into four teams of four: a translator (Meena), a photographer (Rebecca), a recorder (me! A job that suited my passion for organization and check lists), and someone responsible for GPS (Fidel). Each team had a map of houses to visit, and a stack of surveys to complete.

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We hiked through the farms, up and down hills, over stone walls and fences to our assigned households. I never cease to be amazed by the beauty in the Indian countryside; at the top of most hills, we would stop with our hands on our knees, catching our breath to look at the surrounding land, only able to say, “wow.”

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The skeleton of our survey contained quantitative measurements (GPS coordinates, and measurements of the chulas & windows) but also qualitative questions (the decision making process involved in design of the house and the women’s daily trek to gather wood). While the survey provided a place to begin, often our conversations with the villagers evolved into discussions of government welfare, cleanliness and design praises & critiques of the MA insert. Our notes scribbled into the margins, and we collected a tremendous amount of information quickly and efficiently.

I throughly enjoyed this fieldwork. I loved being outside and away from the city. I found it fascinating to hear about the realities of different families in the village. I felt empowered being a productive member of a team, rather than a passive listener taking notes in a lecture. Quite honestly, I felt like a badass.

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On the drive home, I reflected on how my learning on this Fulbright-Hays seminar has differed from my experience at the University of Iowa; I think this seminar experience and learning in a traditional classroom are more different than they are alike. In the seminar, we are interacting with five faculty members with PhDs (who know my name- an exception to the majority of the professors I’ve had in undergrad), graduate students and fellow undergraduates: this harbors an interaction that is infinitely more direct than a lecture in a classroom, and forces real engagement with the project. To be frank, I may have learned more in the last two weeks than an entire semester on this coursework in “People and her Environment:” hands on experience is not only tremendously valuable, it is irreplaceable. The seminar requires less busy work than a classroom while creating a more wholistic view of the issue and the world of academic research, preparing students for the reality that awaits them in confronting similar issues in their own careers.

Lastly, I think traveling abroad has allowed me to learn about Indian culture in a way I never could through PowerPoint slides and pictures. It has opened my perspective to different ways of living, and helped me critically examine my own life, ultimately recreating how I envision my future.

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