Professor Sunil Kumar Sarangi took over as the first Director of National Institute of Technology (NIT), Rourkela in 2003, soon after the institute was transformed from being a Regional Engineering College in June 2002. Serving the third term now, Sarangi has proved himself a successful teacher and administrator trying to bring about a positive change in the institute in particular, and the education scenario in general.
“It has been a challenge to transform REC into NIT. Today’s challenges come mainly from the perception of the NIT system among various stakeholders, namely the public, government, potential faculty and students.” Explaining further, he says, “Though the Central Government has laid guidelines that put NITs at par with IITs and IIMs, there is a great difference in the government’s approach while dealing with the latter set. While the gap between the two sets of institutions is closing day by day, several government policies still do not treat NITs at par with the IITs. And government actions shape public perception. This public perception needs to be checked and that is the primary challenge that the NIT system faces today,” he says. The institute aims to pursue more product-oriented research supported by industry, and steps have already been taken to host industry-sponsored R&D centres on campus, which will bear fruit by the 2020s.
As autonomous institutes, there is an NIT in each State and Union Territory of the country. From a predominantly undergraduate teaching college, NIT-Rourkela has become a composite teaching and research university with over 5,200 students, 300 faculty members, six new departments and two dozen postgraduate programmes. The doctoral student population has grown from near zero to above 700.
Talking about the present day education scenario, Sarangi feels most things in this world are demand-driven and higher education is no exception. ‘”As time goes, our country is expected to graduate to a manufacturing economy, which will boost the need for design and manufacture of capital goods. That will require a substantial number of qualified graduates, postgraduates and doctorates in all engineering fields. Such a situation will naturally boost the demand for quality engineers, and I am confident that our higher education establishments would rise up to the occasion.’”
A strong believer of team work, Sarangi says his students, staff and faculty work with team spirit and that makes things easier. Satisfied as an educationist, the professor who has devoted 11 years to NIT, has not only continued to be an active member of the academic community, but also contributed effectively to the growth of a thousand other academics and engineering professionals, and has made efforts towards creating an environment where teachers and students can work together to create knowledge and share it with others for the benefit of society. “This job has given me an opportunity to make a tangible difference in the education scenario of our country.”
Born and raised in rural Odisha, Sarangi attended Ravenshaw College, Cuttack (now Ravenshaw University) after completing matriculation in village schools. He then did his BTech in Mechanical Engineering at IIT-Kharagpur and later joined the State University of New York at Stony Brook, US, for his MS and PhD in Mechanics specialising in Radioactive Heat Transfer and Quantitative Spectroscopy. After a couple of short research appointments in the US and India, he joined the faculty of IIT-Kharagpur at the Centre for Cryogenic Engineering. “Being a professor in an institute of higher learning is not a job; only an opportunity to continue to be a student all your life. My career at IIT-Kharagpur and here at NIT-Rourkela have been extremely satisfying in terms of the opportunity to read, build and experiment, to share what I have learnt with others, and to explore the possibility of converting bookish knowledge to real products.” He was a visiting faculty at Los Alamos National Laboratory, US, and also worked as senior research associate at Institute of Integrated Energy Systems, University of Victoria, Canada.
On the present education scene, Sarangi sees no difference. “The only difference is paper-based books have given way to internet and e-learning. Students are more interested in the quality of employment they can get after graduation rather than education they are receiving as such; teachers are more concerned with publications and their impact, and administration is more bothered about international rankings.”
On the future of the institute, the sexagenarian says, “NIT-Rourkela will contribute a significant amount to creation of national wealth, which in turn would enhance both material and human resources of the institute. By 2020, we expect the student strength to be doubled to approximately 10,000 and have about 2,000 doctoral students producing about 500 PhDs per year in 25 disciplines.”
Sarangi finds satisfaction in reading books, teaching classes, discussing issues in the laboratory and his faculty meetings. “The director’s office and the Cryogenics lab of the Mechanical Engineering Department are relaxing.” He also swims for about 40 minutes every day at NIT’s Acoustic Sports Complex and enjoys the friendship of hockey player and MP Dilip Tirkey. Not a fan of movies, he can recognise only Amitabh Bachchan and Akshay Kumar.