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Visiting Students Returning to India with Knowledge, Memories
Kansas Ag Connection - 08/13/2019

An award ceremony on Aug. 13 will cap off a summer visit to Kansas State University by 30 students from India's leading agricultural university. The ceremony begins at noon in the Wildcat Chamber (formerly the Little Theater) of the K-State Student Union.

The students represent about half of the visiting undergraduates from the Acharya N. G. Ranga Agricultural University (ANGRAU), located in Guntur City, in the state of Andhra Pradesh, one of 29 Indian states. Andhra Pradesh is along the southeast coast of the nation. The other group of students visited Oklahoma State University.

"It's been a nice 360-degree turn for me, welcoming these students from my alma mater," said Vara Prasad, a university distinguished professor of crop ecophysiology in the department of agronomy and the director of the K-State-hosted Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sustainable Intensification (SIIL). Prasad earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from Andhra Pradesh Agricultural University (the original name of ANGRAU).

The students arrived at K-State during the last week of June and have spent the last eight weeks observing and learning from various departments in the College of Agriculture, often working with professors and researchers that matched their chosen fields of study. The students enjoyed tours and cultural events on the weekends.

"This was completely unexpected," said Niharika Vullaganti, an aspiring plant geneticist, and one of the 24 young women who dominate the group of 30. "We never expected to visit another country, but here we are! This is my first visit to the United States -- it was even my first flight on an airplane."

Niharika's father, a veteran of the Indian Air Force, works in the banking sector, and her mother is a teacher. The family has some land that is used for agricultural purposes, but it wasn't until her late teens that she saw how important agriculture is.

"Slowly, I developed an interest in agriculture, and discovered that it is the backbone of the Indian economy," she said. "After that, I tried to engage more with farmers near my home, visit with them about what they do. I became interested in genetics, because it seems like a really creative area of study."

"This is not just about this group," added Prasad. "If you look at the total enrollment at ANGRAU, maybe 60% of the undergraduates are women. I would guess that percentage is true at the other agricultural universities in India. One reason for this is that as India becomes more urbanized, the young men are moving to the cities for work, leaving the women behind to care for the land.

"India's women have a long tradition in agriculture; now they are really stepping up, and becoming the leaders and managers of the agricultural economy of India," he said. One compelling reason for this visit to K-State: to expose the students to a more comprehensive approach to agricultural education -- something that India still struggles with, Prasad said.

"There is not much coordination beyond agriculture," he explained. "Food production is not just 'agriculture.' We need engineers, we need machinery, we need processing, and it's a business. That multidisciplinary nature is not there at ANGRAU, and that's what we wanted to instill in these new, emerging scholars and scientists.

"This has been a great opportunity for them to see how Kansas State University works, and how we work together, across different departments, to address the issues of global food security and nutritional security."

"Engaging with ANGRAU students has been extremely valuable experience for both universities through our cross-cultural and multidisciplinary connections throughout our program activities," said SIIL associate director Jan Middendorf. "It is very encouraging to witness the students' inquisitive nature and passion for learning as they prepare to become our future problem-solvers to tackle issues related to food and nutrition security."

Suresh Kumar Mudda, professor of agricultural extension at ANGRAU and coordinator of this program said that "it has been a great experience for these students to be exposed to cutting-edge research at KSU, and it has enhanced their critical-thinking, and they have gained practical and hand-on experience conducting innovative research. It is a life-changing opportunity for our students and will certainly encourage them to continue their career in aspects related to agriculture and food production.

After Tuesday afternoon's graduation ceremony, the students will begin the long trip home later in the week.

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