Scott College of Business Professor Aruna Chandra taps her global network of scholars to show her students a new perspective on how the world works.
The concept of professional networking might conjure a scene from a chamber of commerce mixer. Or palming a stack of business cards at a conference.
But for Scott College of Business Professor Aruna Chandra, networking typically involves a suitcase and her passport.
“I like people, and I like people with different perspectives from different countries, and so when I run into somebody who has an area of commonality with my research, then I immediately gravitate toward that person and they do to me,” Chandra said. “I build up that network, so now I have a network that spans the globe.”
Chandra focuses her research on social entrepreneurship, which takes her — and Indiana State students — to developing countries. “When it comes to social entrepreneurship, it’s economies that have social problems where you see social entrepreneurship flourishing the most,” she said.
Among other locations, Chandra has led student groups to Brazil, Thailand and most recently, India. While in Bangalore, India, Sycamores visited social entrepreneurial organizations such as Selco Solar Light Private Ltd., Aravind Eye Hospital and Goonj.
Selco has worked for more than 20 years to enhance underserved rural areas with sustainable energy technology and creating economic connections. The world-renowned Aravind Eye Hospital is trying to cure the blindness there by providing high-quality care at reduced rates or for free. Goonj is an award-winning social enterprise that since 1998 has recycled discarded clothing and other materials from urban areas into a resource for rural development.
In addition to cultural and historical experiences, students learned of multiple internship opportunities while abroad with Chandra. MBA student Jessica Chichester of Terre Haute and President’s Scholar Alethia Marrero, ’17, a double major in political science and legal studies, were interested in returning to India to pursue one of the unique experiences there.
And while the experience certainly opens doors for students, it also creates a robust exchange for Chandra’s colleagues.
“I get immense pleasure in interacting with Indiana State students,” said Ganesh Gopal, a visionary social entrepreneur from Kerala, India. “They always have this passion to learn. They’re very curious. They’re completely uninhibited. They don’t mind stopping at any point and pursuing their curiosity, which is really good.”
Gopal first met Chandra when she visited Kerala in 2015 to study technology business incubation in India. His first impression of the meticulous researcher stuck with Gopal.
“She had a questionnaire for each startup, and she had a questionnaire for the larger incubator as well. She wanted to learn different facets from both sides of the wall — small technology startups — how would they feel the incubator is performing? Are they getting what they want at the end of the day?” Gopal recalled. “And the incubation manager was also supplied with a questionnaire. She planned out each facet of her research and how to talk about it, and what are the benchmarks that she needs to look at for the research and so on.”
Gopal joined Chandra and her students on a tour of Chiang Mai, Thailand, in 2016 and presented to another group of her students during a visit to Bangalore, India, in March.
“(Immersive cultural experiences) should be part of any curriculum, because once you see something and learn it for yourself, once you actually interact with people you read about in textbooks, if either of you go out to them or you bring them in to the university, I think that is where the learning happens most,” Gopal said. “Because there is only a limit to what a textbook can teach you, so when I interact with the students from ISU, I see that they’re very broad-minded.”
Chandra started building her international network in 2003 when she was researching business incubation around the world. She set out to determine how the macro-environment and the entrepreneurial ecosystem in a given country impacts a business incubator’s way of doing business.
“I published work on many of these different places, so I started out with an interest in that and I get emails, quite regularly, from people in different parts of the world asking me, ‘Can I have this paper?’ or that paper, or ‘I’m interested in this-or-that, because not much research has been done on business incubation in a comparative sense,’” she said.
Universities have invited her back, and Chandra earned a Fulbright specialist grantee. All along the way, she has built — and continues to build — a network of like-minded innovators and scholars.
“My Moroccan network is getting richer by the day, and that’s primarily because students have gone back and they have told me, ‘Tell me when you’re going to come and I’ll make arrangements.’ So, I did,” she said. “I’m going to Morocco to start working on some joint research projects related to Fulbright.”
A summer program at State for visiting Brazilian MBA students has also created invaluable connections.
“Through them, I made a contact with a Brazilian who has very good connections with some of the top people in Sao Paulo, and he made an offer to connect me to people in Sao Paulo with industries — with ethanol industries, for example — we could visit,” she said.
On the ground as the faculty member in charge of the study abroad experiences, Chandra says she often has a foot in two worlds — that of an American and as a cultural translator for her American students.
“When Americans come here, we have a hard time kind of slowing down our rhythm to fit the Indian clock. Twelve o’clock means 12:30, 12:15, even 1,” she said. “There are a lot of challenges in interpreting the cultures, and I feel like I think I have a dual identity. I’m both American and I’m Indian, but when I come to India, I notice that my American identity takes over more than does my Indian identity, which almost has disappeared.”
Despite the immense planning and on-site juggling required to pull off a study abroad trip, Chandra finds great joy watching her students immerse themselves in a new culture.
“Particularly this trip, I watched this culture through the eyes of our American students. And I’m picking up on certain things. They comment when they see a cow or a dog and they take pictures. I’ve never even noticed those things on the street,” she said. “It’s sort of fascinating. Everything is so fresh, it’s new, it’s like a child — watching the world around them with fascination and excitement, and it’s very exciting for me to see how they react to this culture.”
That level of fresh-eyed discovery builds the world’s future leaders — people who are uniquely capable of making positive change in the world, Gopal said.
“If you want to create actual leaders who can think for themselves, who can innovate and can bring a lot of social change, (trips similar to Chandra’s experiences) is what you need to do,” Gopal said. “You need to think outside the box, you need to travel, you need to see for yourself and learn. So that, I see in ISU, which is a very good thing.”
Chandra is planning to return to Brazil in spring 2018 and is researching a trip to Cornwall, England, for 2019, where she would like to explore food entrepreneurship.
“There’s a lot of work going on in food entrepreneurship, but not a lot of universities offer courses in food entrepreneurship, sustainable food entrepreneurship (reducing food waste) and at the same time creating entrepreneurial opportunities in the food space,” she said. “So I’m thinking of doing a course on food entrepreneurship, because one of the things Cornwall is trying to do is brand itself as the food capital of the United Kingdom.”
For more information on faculty-led study abroad opportunities, go to indstate.edu/facultyled.