In 1979, the world knew a little about computers. The concept of the internet was nothing but a distant dream. However, Dr Indranil Sengupta, now the Vice-Chancellor of JIS University, took the bold step of taking up BTech in Computer Science after completing his Bachelor of Science with Honors in Physics. Dr Indranil recalls, “I have been fortunate to observe the field of Computer Science and Engineering evolve around me from its very nascent stage to the very mature stage that we see today. I can recall writing my first computer program in Fortran-IV on an IBM-1130 minicomputer, which had 32 kilobytes of memory and 10 megabytes of disk space. Today, some high-end mobile phones have almost one million times the higher capacity than these figures.”
When Dr Indranil entered the BTech programme, he didn’t envision himself taking up teaching as a profession. Influenced by Late Prof. Arun Kumar Chowdhury, whom Dr Indranil found as a teacher, mentor, and PhD guide, Dr Indranil took up teaching and never looked back. He served the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur for more than 32 years in the Computer Science and Engineering department. Being more of an academician by heart and not so much an administrator, he held the mission to set high standards in teaching and research to be of the highest priority. He continues this mission at JIS University and strives to make it the best in India and on an international level.
By trying to love his work, Dr Indranil feels that no amount of work can make him tired. “There will be pressures in life from different quarters, but you must remain calm and control yourself at all times. In between work, I take breaks to watch a cricket or football match on TV, watch my favourite serial, listen to music, etc. This really helps me remain calm and composed,” he says.
Focusing on Research
To continue his mission to improve the quality of research and learning, Dr Indranil introduces having concrete feedback from experts from academia and the industry to improve curricula and syllabi of most of the programmes, thus keeping them updated societally more relevant. “For example, in B.Tech. Programme in Computer Science and Engineering, students can opt for one of three specialisations, which are extremely important in the present-day context. The specialisation is in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, Cyber Security, Embedded Systems, and Robotics,” shares Dr Indranil.
Similarly, the curricula in UG and PG programmes in Earth Science and Remote Sensing have been updated, with students getting more exposure to state-of-the-art tools and technologies. Curricula in Juridical Science and Management Studies have also been similarly updated to incorporate specialised courses like digital marketing, IP issues in cyberspace, etc. “We have started specialised centres like Health Science and Technology, Centre for Data Science, and Centre for Interdisciplinary Sciences, where a strong research programme and various PG-level courses are being offered,” he adds. In addition, employing faculty members with a robust research background acts like the seeds that are sown today to reap its benefits in the new future, both in quality and quantity of research publications and other recognitions and accolades.
Humility in Leadership
Although Dr Indranil has made a remarkable change to JIS University, he doesn’t consider himself a leader. “I would love to be called as a worker working at the same level as all my other colleagues from both teaching and non-teaching fraternities. I feel this is the best way to understand possible flaws in the existing system and motivate people around me to take corrective measures as required and evolve a new work culture conducive to the growth of the university,” he explains. In 2015, JIS University was established to fulfil the founder’s dreams, Late Sardar Jodh Iswar Singh.
With a modest infrastructure consisting of just two floors, the first batch of students were inducted in the following year, in 2016. Today, it has become one of the best universities with an incredible academic ambience for science and innovation. Now, with eleven floors, the university takes pride in the state-of-the-art infrastructure and its mission to produce graduates who create a team of good citizens of the country with a solid foundation in human values and ethics embedded in the core of their hearts.
Sparking the Innovative Plug
JIS University ignites innovation and creativity among the students in several ways. One such method is introducing a concept called SkillX that has been embedded into the curriculum of all the programmes. Under SkillX, a student is asked to choose a topic or problem of his/her choice and pursue study and developmental works on it throughout the study. The objective is to develop a demonstrable prototype or some innovative ideas in the process. Some of the selected projects are showcased in the presence of experts for feedback and suggestions. There is also an Institute Innovation Cell, which is instrumental in conducting various kinds of events all around the year and motivating students for innovative thinking. There is an Entrepreneurship Cell, which can hand-hold the students and help them translate their creative ideas into product prototypes.
Facing the Pandemic
In the present age of the internet and the digital revolution looming over us, it has become more difficult to continuously stay updated. In fact, over the last couple of years, thanks to the pandemic, the world has become an even smaller place, and it has become difficult not to visualise that the hybrid model of education is here to stay.
The most crucial challenge is to engage students effectively during online classes. AT JIS University, they realised that students feel stressed when sitting in front of the computer screen or mobile phones for extended periods, often without breaks. This has ignited a new thought process whereby innovative and interactive modes of instruction delivery have been practised, whereby students always feel connected with the virtual classroom. A more significant challenge, not only at JIS but in almost all professional universities, was the practical aspect of curricula. Conducting practical classes, like lab experiments and other activities, was challenging to replicate in an online learning setup. This was an impossible task in most streams like chemistry, biotechnology, pharmacy, etc. However, the faculty members of JIS university explored various virtual laboratory platforms and adopted them to teach students remotely. Now, 3 years into the pandemic, they thought it best to develop an in-house virtual laboratory platform that can cater to the needs of the various electronics laboratories.
Change in Discourse
Dr Indranil has been in the higher education industry for almost 40 years now and continues to work towards making the education system more relevant and efficient from the inside out. “The first thing I would like to do is bring the industry and academia closer together. We often pretend that the two are always working together, but the truth is often otherwise. Our curricula must be designed so that the graduate students become more accepted by the industry,” he shares. He adds that the industry, too, must understand that only general concepts and skills can be taught to the students in an academic system, not the specific things required by them. More industry-oriented internship programs and projects can help in bridging this gap.
The way forward
Apart from the administrative role he plays as the Vice-Chancellor of JIS University, Dr Indranil loves to continue his research work in his spare time. Currently, he conducts research in quantum computing, information security, and VLSI design and testing. He also works with three PhD students and an MS student from IIT Kharagpur.
JIS University dreams of being the preferred destination for students in quest of knowledge. Dr Indranil believes that depending on the research expertise available among the faculty members, Centres of Excellence in various thrust areas shall be set up with funding from Government and other agencies. “We foresee a more vibrant Post-Graduate and Doctoral programme with interdisciplinary and inter-Institute flavours soon,” he says.