December 21, 2011
Vice-Chancellor Dr. Venkat Rangan welcomed delegates of the International Conference on Wireless Technologies for Humanitarian Relief on December 18, 2011, at the Health Sciences campus in Kochi.
Included below are excerpts from the Vice-Chancellor’s address.
Our university is Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham. Vishwa is Sanskrit for universe and Vidyapeetham indicates a place where one gets higher learning. Amma’s vision was to set up an institution of higher learning with several goals, an important one being the transformation of the ordinary to the extraordinary.
As you know, Amrita is a fairly young university. It was established in the year 2003. I remember when I first came to the university as the Vice-Chancellor, my first suggestion to Amma was that we should have a very tough entrance exam, to make sure we admit only the best students, like the IITs, from where I also graduated. That way we could become the best in the shortest possible time.
Amma patiently listened to me and then laughed at me. Smiling beautifully, she said, “If we take the best students and then graduate them, what value are we adding? No, that is not our goal. We should, of course, take the best students, but we should also have a place for the rest, whom other institutions might regard as ordinary students. We should transform these ordinary students into extraordinary over a period of four to six years.” So that is an important goal for us.
Amma herself faced every possible barrier in her life. She wasn’t from a big city like Mumbai or Delhi, but from a remote village, so there was a regional barrier. She came from a poor fisherfolk community, so there was an economic barrier. Amma has had formal education only upto the fourth grade, so she faced an education barrier. Speaking only the local dialect of Malayalam, she had a language barrier, as well.
But Amma overcame all these barriers. Today, with her love and compassion, she has conquered the entire world. People from all over the world come to her. The reason I am saying this is because we believe Amma to be the best role model for our students. It does not matter what kind of barrier the student may have faced in terms of resources or access to the kind of education available in big cities; here the students are inspired to do their best so that they can overcome any barriers and excel in whatever field they choose to be.
When we got the wireless project WINSOC from the European Commission, Dr. Maneesha and I thought that we will do the research and write papers and thus complete the project. We were taken by surprise when Amma asked us where we would deploy the sensor network system we were proposing and researching. We replied that we never thought about the deployment aspect, as we belonged to a university and we believed our goal was to do research, publish papers, graduate students, and move on to other projects.
Amma emphatically replied that this was not the way she wanted our university to work. She told us that before we began the wireless project, we should select a site, where we could actually deploy the network that we were going to research and develop. “Otherwise don’t take up the project,” Amma told us. She was very clear that we were to return the grant to European Commission, unless we could actually demonstrate the benefit of the network to society.
At that time Amma was in the US for her annual tour. I received a phone call from New York. Amma was being driven from one program site to the next. She called me and said that within the next fifteen days, before we formally accepted the project, we were to go and get a site where the landslides frequently occurred. So we scrambled to do that. Because of the goodwill for Amma and her organization, we were able to easily get a site in Munnar, where landslides were common.
Dr. Maneesha spent months and months in the field doing research. In that remote area, her team deployed the sensor network. The sensors are embedded 25 m deep into the ground so that advance warning of an impending landslide becomes possible. The whole focus of the project became the bringing of the benefit of research and deploying the best of technology for the benefit of the common man and saving lives.
Throughout the project, Amma guided us. I wanted to share this as an example of how Amma sets the priorities for our university in terms of what we should accomplish. Another thing that Amma emphasized right from the start was that our university had to be multidisciplinary. In India, it is very typical for a university to either focus on engineering or medicine or management or humanities. The reason Amma asked us to deviate from that pattern is because the frontiers of research today lie in the intermingling of different fields.
This intermingling of fields is also demonstrated in this conference. Amma asked us to have the first day of this conference in our Health Sciences campus. As you know, there are a lot of applications of sensor networks in health care. Amma wanted an interaction between the invited guests, the distinguished speakers, the experts and the scientists who were coming to participate in the conference with the medical community here.
This 1300-bed super specialty hospital and research center is where a lot of people get relief from their suffering. So it does seem very appropriate to have the first day of the conference here, at this location, especially when we are talking about humanitarian relief. Tomorrow, and for the next three days, the conference will be our Amritapuri campus. After the conference, you will have the opportunity to visit our Coimbatore campus, as well.
Wireless Technologies for Humanitarian Relief
ACWR 2011 Inaugurated
Dr. Paula Bohr at ACWR 2011
Swamiji’s Address at Inauguration of ACWR 2011
ACWR 2011 Delegates Meet Chancellor Amma
Panel Discussion on Wireless in Healthcare
Disaster Relief at ACWR 2011
Keynote Speeches at ACWR 2011
ACWR 2011 Concludes