Many students have been inspired by their visit to the ICRISAT Hyderabad campus in the past; the COVID-19 pandemic has come in as a big disappointment to many students aspiring to do so this year. Digital technology, however, has come to the rescue as a reasonable alternative to an actual visit to the campus. Students are now able to get know ICRISAT, its work and the world-class research facilities through virtual tours.
Educational tours are an integral part of the course curriculum for students pursuing graduate studies in agriculture, horticulture, forestry and sericulture at the state agriculture universities (SAUs) in India. As the pandemic struck in March 2020, one ‘wave’ led to another, and now that the fear of third wave is looming large in India, the SAUs are compelled to stall the study tours for students. To fulfill their course completion requirements, the SAUs are now approaching various R & D institutions across the country seeking opportunity to visit them virtually.
When we started receiving such requests, we immediately responded to them. The University of Agricultural and Horticultural Sciences (UAHS), Shivamogga, and the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bengaluru, both in Karnataka, have taken lead in setting examples for other SAUs and educational institutions. So far, in a matter of two weeks, over 1000 students from seven campuses belonging to the two universities have already participated in the virtual tours offered by ICRISAT. While actual visits usually could accommodate about 50 to 60 students at a time when they visited the campus, today, thanks to technology, as many as 310 students could join the ‘tour’ in a single session.
A typical session on a virtual tour includes a screening of the corporate video, followed by a detailed presentation on ICRISAT’s vision, mission, approaches and activities, and also details on its world-class research facilities and services. Often, on request, ICRISAT scientists join the sessions to talk about our breeding programs etc.
It is important for ICRISAT to reach out to visitors, especially the student community, to educate them on the challenges and opportunities of improving livelihoods in the drylands as also the positive outcomes of research and development efforts through application of cutting-edge science. On the other hand, with frequent queries from students as to whether ICRISAT offers internship opportunities to student-researchers and how to make a career at ICRISAT, the virtual tours are certainly offering convenient means of connecting.
Despite the intermittent challenges of poor internet connectivity and power failures, the students are able to join the virtual tours from the comfort of their homes. They tell us that they enjoy the tours, get inspired and some even dream of making it to ICRISAT one day with a conviction to join its efforts of ensuring nutritious food and better livelihoods to billions of poor living in the drylands.
Dr Arun Balamatti
Senior Manager, Visitor Services and Protocol Management, ICRISAT