STEM Education for Women
Nupur Prakash says her exchange visit to the United States gave her insight into the best practices followed by U.S. institutions and helped her become a better leader.
Nupur Prakash is the vice chancellor of Indira Gandhi Delhi Technical University for Women, established by the Delhi government in 2013 as the first women’s technical university in the country. A proponent of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers for women, Prakash says her proudest moments have been the many positive changes she witnessed in the area of women’s education over the past three decades. “There was a time when girls were pushed toward liberal arts and humanities,” she says. “But parents today are more confident about their daughters’ abilities. It’s fantastic to see the number of women making phenomenal strides in STEM fields.”
Prakash believes educational institutions like the Indira Gandhi Delhi Technical University for Women play a crucial role in encouraging women to explore science-related careers. “Even now, only 10 percent [of] women applicants make it to the IITs,” she says. “Technical universities catering exclusively to women enable more women to follow and achieve their dreams in science-related careers.”
“A firm believer of the quote, ‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give,’ I have basked in the culture of volunteerism since my freshman year. Being a part of the health care field has provided me with resources, connections and confidence to get out of my comfort zone, explore social issues and make a difference in the community. I would encourage students planning to study in the United States to embrace the culture of volunteerism. Question and challenge everything you know. Explore something you feel passionately about. Why? Because it is the road of questioning that leads to the truth.”
—Prakhya Bhatnagar is a third-year medical student (M.D.) at the University of Minnesota.
Prakash says engineering is one of the most interesting fields for science students. “Engineering is for the creative thinker and problem solver. You can get into product development or serve society by using technology for the greater good. STEM fields are professions rich with possibilities.”
Prakash was honored for her “Outstanding Contribution to Education” at the Devang Mehta Business School Award event held in Mumbai in 2014. She also received the “Inspiring Women Edu-leader” award from Engineering Watch magazine on International Women’s Day in 2014 and the JGBS-Top Rankers Excellence Award for Women Role Model in 2015.
Prakash visited the University of Nebraska on an exchange program funded by the U.S. government in June 2016. “There were participants from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and other SAARC [South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation] countries,” she says.
During the program, many key issues and policies impacting women professionals were discussed. “I particularly enjoyed my interactions with the women administrators of the University of Nebraska Omaha,” says Prakash. “They gave me useful insights into community outreach programs and the best practices followed by academic departments in the U.S. There were various seminars on leadership, collaboration, professional relationships and ethics, as well as many site visits.”
Prakash says the exchange program taught her how to navigate the academic world and take on leadership roles. “It helped me become more effective as the head of India’s first women’s technical university.”
Prakash found fundamental differences between the education systems in India and in the United States. “For example, in the U.S., education is very expensive,” she says. “In India, higher education is affordable, even though the IITs charge substantially more than other institutes, as they are the premier institutes of the country. Yet, there is no denying the quality of education in the U.S.—the depth, the academic rigor and expertise a U.S. degree confers is unparalleled.”
Prakash earned her bachelor’s degree in electronics and communication engineering, and master’s degree in computer science and technology from IIT Roorkee. She completed her Ph.D. in computer engineering from Panjab University, Chandigarh, in the area of natural language processing using artificial neural networks.
“There is no truth to the belief that men are better at math and science than women,” says Prakash. “My daughter is a computer scientist and my son chose to study commerce. As parents, we must encourage children to find their passion rather than pushing them to certain fields.”
Today, Indian industries are on a major drive to recruit women engineers to correct their skewed gender ratios. “The industry, especially software companies, is keen to hire women,” says Prakash. “These are very helpful avenues for women engineers to start and have fulfilling careers.”
Paromita Pain is a journalist based in Austin, Texas.