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Course on Wheels (CoW), a brainchild of Prof. Sanjay Mahajani, is an initiative taken up by the Department of Chemical Engineering to help students gain relevant practical exposure to the Indian chemical industry.

The course completed its second run in December of 2017. While there are no prerequisites, only students from the 3rd, 4th, and 5th years are encouraged to take this course. A 22-day long course with a batch size of 30 odd students, this course is conducted in Gujarat (a major Indian chemical industry hub) where the students visit industries from different sectors like pharmaceuticals, refineries, fertilizer complexes, waste treatment, production plants and other chemical manufacturing plants. Guest lectures by Chemical Engineering entrepreneurs and industry experts are also organised to give students an insight into the real-life problems faced in this field and how students can go about pursuing it.

 

What motivated this?

When asked about his motivation, Prof. Mahajani said, “The students aren’t able to visualise the concepts that are being taught to them in class. This course is meant to act as a supplement for other theoretical courses in the department. If students see the piece of equipment they’re studying about, most certainly they will understand it better.”

 

An idea is born

The idea for the course was conceived 10 years ago. Logistics, course material, funding, and determining the academic contribution of the course were some of the issues faced by the faculty. Concerned industries were contacted directly via the Director’s office for maximum influence, and a team (including Prof. Mahajani) assessed all the industries beforehand to make sure that the visits were productive for the students.

 

Money money

Cost analysis shows that the total expenditure in this course is around 9-10 lakhs. In the pilot run, students had to give a nominal Rs 1,000/- as fees and the rest of the budget was handled by the department. But the second time around, the department reduced its contribution to 60% of the total cost and students had to pay the remaining 40% which amounted to Rs 11,000/person. This step was taken because the faculty felt that the students would be more sincere for the course if some significant fee is involved. These expenses only included the logistical part of the course like accommodation and travel. Food had to be covered by the students themselves.

 

What does a day look like?

A day of Course on Wheels starts with an early morning visit to an industry. Officials interact with the students and brief them about the processes and equipment being used in the plant. After learning the technical aspects, the commercial and economic factors involved in running a large scale industry are also discussed. This is followed by a visit where the students are shown all the equipment they have studied. After returning to their accommodation, the students discuss what they studied and write brief reports in groups. Following this, a brief overview of the next plant is given to prepare the students for the next day. Off-days are also scheduled for rest and recreation.

A Department Elective

The course is a 6-credit department elective. The faculty believes that the students would be more serious about the course if credits were associated with it. The students are continuously assessed through regular quizzes and short tests conducted during travelling time. Quizzes mainly tested their understanding of the processes of plants that were visited. A mid-semester examination is also conducted halfway through the course. The course concludes with the students making a final report, a simulation project (on DWSIM, a plant simulation software), and an end-semester examination conducted in the next semester.

What do the students think?

The course has been very well received and praised by the students. According to them, the most important advantage of this course is its wholesome nature. Different people joined this course for various reasons. Some wanted to know about the business and entrepreneurial aspects of Chemical Engineering, some were interested in knowing about industrial R&D while some just wanted to visit chemical plants. In the end, everybody got a flavour of what they wanted.