This semester the Business and Economics Department has been bolstered by Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence Sraboni Dutta, Ph.D, who is an Assistant Professor in Management at the Birla Institute of Technology in Kolkata, India.
Dutta, who describes the Fulbright program as a matching process that places scholars based on the skills they have and the skills a school seeks, says she was excited about teaching in the U.S. because it offered her “exposure to the different ways of teaching, the environment here, the colleges, and the methodology that’s followed.”
“We were looking for a scholar who could teach courses that we currently do not offer,” says Associate Professor and Business and Economics Chair Carol Cirka. Dutta—who specializes in economics, marketing and entrepreneurship, ethics, and project management—fit the bill. She is teaching two “special topics” courses: International Marketing and Entrepreneurship. “Both courses enrolled quickly,” says Cirka. “Our hope was that the students in her classes would benefit from learning more about these two subjects [and] gain an appreciation of Dutta’s background with Indian businesses.”
In International Marketing, “we’ve looked into certain cultural aspects that need to be addressed and the strategies that various known global players have been following,” says Dutta. “This gives [students] insight into how real-world marketing is done,” something Dutta says is vital. The focus isn’t only on the American market “because if they become part of a corporation that has global operations and they are placed in other countries, then they will know how to adapt.”
The Entrepreneurship course makes students aware of how small businesses are started, the challenges they face, and the prospects of the businesses. Dutta wasted no time having student develop a business plan of their own. “That’s practical hands-on training they have,” says Dutta. “In the future if any of them do pursue their dream, then they can modify it and upgrade it.” She encouraged students to evaluate their surroundings to determine if there was a need they could fill. Two proposals the class discussed were an on-campus supplier of party goods and a shuttle service for those without vehicles—something that appeals to both the freshmen in the class and Dutta (who does not have a car and would welcome rides).
Dutta hasn’t been sharing her wisdom with only Ursinus students. In addition to lecturing at Perkiomen Valley High School, the Collegeville Rotary Club and West Chester University, she was also the guest speaker at the Perkiomen Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Build Your Business Networking Luncheon in February. She started the lecture with a message from the Bhagavad Gita. “The action of great men is an inspiration for others,” said Dutta. “And who are these great men? They are the class of people who call themselves entrepreneurs.” She then cited Steve Jobs and Bill Gates as examples and talked about what it means to be an entrepreneur. “It’s a professional application of skills, knowledge and competencies into monetizing an idea,” Dutta said. “Or insane perseverance in the face of total rejection.” Her alternate definition drew laughter from the crowd of small-business owners who seemed to relate all too well.
“I really enjoyed her anecdotal stories that shared personal experiences rather than just factual information about the business community in India,” says Charlene Wysocki, an attendee who, as Coordinator of Research and Sponsored Programs, was also part of the committee that selected Dutta for the Fulbright position.
Prior to her academic career, Dutta worked for Price Waterhouse Coopers on a project called the Tea Sourcing Partnership, which sourced tea from various parts of the world. She inspected tea gardens in India to make sure they were socially compliant on issues such as factory conditions, educational facilities for workers, healthcare and overtime wages. Tea, in fact, is one thing she misses about India.
How is the tea here? “Different,” she says diplomatically, followed by a laugh. “We are used to very aromatic tea with big leaves. You soak it and you pour it out. It’s very light,” says Dutta, who misses Darjeeling tea the most. “If you get it fresh from tea houses, it’s even better. That kind of tea you can’t have in tea bags. It has to be soaked in a pot. It’s the British way of drinking tea.”
Dutta, who uses Skype to stay in touch with her family, which includes a 12-year-old son, will return to India at the end of the semester. She says her time as Ursinus has been very enriching. “There are so many things that I’ve learned, especially the Blackboard. We don’t have any kind of online interaction with students through a common platform…where every student gets your PowerPoint [presentation] or reading material,” says Dutta, who is eager to suggest the system to her school.
“Another difference is the mode of teaching,” says Dutta. “[In India], we are expected to teach a topic first and then have discussions, whereas here people are expected to upload material first and then [students] do kind of a self-study and then there is discussion. So it’s a little reverse.” Dutta looks forward to trying the new approach with her students in India.
As for the students in the two countries, they “are more or less the same. We give the students less liberties in class in India. That’s the main difference,” says Dutta. “We expect our students to stand up and answer when asked a question, but there’s nothing wrong in sitting and answering.” Also, if they have to leave the class, they usually ask to be excused.
Before she returns to India, Dutta says she would love to initiate a collaborative research project with an Ursinus faculty member. “That would be the best thing that could happen because my home institution is more interested in the research we do,” says Dutta. Any aspect of entrepreneurship, including the psychology of entrepreneurs, that has not already been explored and has cross-country parameters would interest her. “That would be very good for me too and would be highly appreciated by my home institution.”