December 05, 2012

Fulbright Visiting Professor teaches sustainability, interconnectivity

Posted: December 05, 2012
Vijay Chariar (left) attends a roundtable event on wisdom-based leadership, a curriculum he teaches to people around the world.

When Vijayaraghavan (Vijay) Chariar received a 2012-2013 Fulbright Visiting Professorship award, he knew he wanted to share his experiences and passion for sustainability and interconnectivity with students in the College of Technology and Innovation (CTI) at Arizona State University. This past semester, he did just that. Chariar, a professor from India, shared with students of the Design for the Developing World course his innovative ideas for improving quality of lives in the most modern of cities to the humblest of villages.

With engineering professor Mark Henderson as his host, Chariar met with students and taught principles of eco-centered development and how it relates to overall global sustainability.

“It really is about introducing a new perspective of development to students.” Chariar said. “Students at CTI were very receptive to learn about diverse contexts in different parts of the world and understood that the perspectives of development need to be diverse, too. It is important to keep that desire at the forefront of their education.”

Chariar also presented his patented design for a waterless urinal to CTI classes, explaining that the use of this design reduces the need for traditional plumbing while reducing odors. Chariar said that according to a recent World Bank report, many major Indian cities will run dry by the year 2020 if existing consumption patterns continue. The urinal design eliminates the need for fresh water pipes and mechanical or electrical parts, thus lowering costs and contributing to a more sustainable way of life.

Chariar teaches that all living systems communicate with one another and share resources across their boundaries. He also explains that exchanges of energy and resources in an ecosystem are sustained by pervasive cooperation. But the most important message Chariar says he wishes to share with CTI students is the importance of understanding interconnectivity.

“From the microbes to the mammoths, life is interconnected. If I disturb the microbe, I disturb the mammoth,” Chariar said. “The technologist needs to be much more humble in making interventions because these interventions rock the system.”

Chariar leads the Rural Engineering and Infrastructure Group at the Centre for Rural Development and Technology, Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, India, where he also received degrees in Experimental Solid State Physics and Solid State Materials. Along with his research in science and technology developments in rural India, Chariar also teaches courses on wisdom-based leadership.

He instills those same principles of wisdom-based leadership to his two elementary-aged children, who, along with his wife, traveled to Arizona for the fall semester. He also imparts in them a responsibility to make sustainable choices by setting the example.

“In fact, we have enjoyed using public transport wherever possible on this Fulbright visit,” Chariar said. “We have met the most interesting people, had some exciting adventures and my children are learning the importance of making sustainable choices.”

Chariar’s ideas were presented in some of Henderson’s classes. When Chariar began his time at CTI, he hoped he would be able to veer students away from reductionist thinking, which is an approach that fails to recognize interconnectedness of various systems. Chariar gives the example of wasteful energy consumption which inevitably leads to hazardous chemical waste.

“By looking for reductionist solutions to our problems, the side effects of the solutions are much more harmful than the problem itself,” Chariar said. “Perhaps many of the problems we face are because of reductionism.”

As Chariar’s host, Henderson had the opportunity to facilitate global learning and strengthen international diplomacy.

"We are honored to have a Fulbright Visiting Professor here in our midst," Henderson said. "Vijay's systems view on design for the developing world and his extensive field experience add a global perspective that we like to cultivate in CTI students of all concentrations.  We look forward to continued collaboration and exchanges even after Vijay returns home this month."

Funded by an appropriation made by the United States Congress, the Fulbright Program awards over 8,000 grants annually for students and scholars worldwide in an effort to increase understanding and strengthen ties between people in the US and people in other countries. Participants are chosen for their academic merit and are given the opportunity to study, conduct research, and teach while contributing to finding solutions to shared international problems. 

Written by Sydney B. Donaldson, College of Technology and Innovation

Jessi Hibsman, Jessi.Hibsman@asu.edu
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