UPIITA means Professional Unit of Interdisciplinary Engineering and Advanced Technologies (man, it is so hard to translate that to English!). UPIITA is part of the National Polytechnic Institute of Mexico, the leading technological institution in the country and likely in Latin America. These days students, alumni and staff celebrate the 20th Anniversary of this extraordinary school.
UPIITA is the icing on the cake of technical education in Mexico. It is the best in terms of education and research focused in Bionics, Mechatronics, Telematics and essentially most of the fields related to technological development. UPIITA’s students have a solid reputation in the local industry and a great performance in some international contest of robotics as Robogames and Robocup; they even have their own local tournament, The Robot Wars, that is very relevant at national level.
Proudly I can say that UPIITA is my Alma Mater. I studied several years ago there and my memories are still alive. UPIITA used to be a very tough school; selective, competitive and academically demanding, was hard to be student there. Despite these factors, I met my best friends there; friends that I still keep after many years. We have a very strong bond due to we faced the same difficulties along the five or six years required to finish our major in Bionics, Mechatronics or Telematics. We shared food, shelter and we collaborated to reach our aims and finish our education convincingly. We created a natural brotherhood based in reciprocity and resilience originated by the high academic demands in UPIITA.
Nowadays, UPIITA is even better, more infrastructure and resources, more experienced lecturers, and a more collaborative academic environment that allows to the students achieve higher goals. However, there still a lot of challenges that UPIITA can surpass. For instance, they can increase their global presence and become in one of the leading technical institutions in world at the same level of MIT, Caltech, Stanford, EPFL, Delft, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, or any other University in the top 100 of the rankings of the world. That is a very feasible achievement, I reckon.
Let me cite an example of how other institute has increased its global presence in the world. Three years ago, I received the invitation to visit the Indian Institute of Technology nearby Kolkota, India (IIT campus Kharagpur ) to demonstrate some of my research outcomes. IIT is a very appreciated institution in the indian sub-continent and they are recognised due to they help heaps in the social transformation of Indian society based in the development of technical skills. A lot of Indian students find in IIT the way to improve their lives and left behind poverty and social disadvantage. That is very similar to the mission of the IPN in Mexico.
I was very surprised about the fact that IIT Kharagpur is incredibly similar to UPIITA in many ways. As a matter of fact, India has very similar conditions to Mexico but everything in a bigger scale, the good and the bad. IIT Kharagpur’s students have similar conditions compared to UPIITA’s students, as well. They live in a very demanding academic environment and have a lot of challenges during their years there. To see how similar are students of UPIITA and IIT, read the book “Five point someone” by Chetan Bhagat; it is the story of three students in the IIT that I found extremely similar to my friends and me during my years in UPIITA.
However, compared with UPIITA, IIT has better links with international and Indian companies and more international exposition because they use English as a first language. To confirm the global impact of IIT Kharagpur just consider that the current CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, used to be student of IIT Kharagpur. Similar examples can be found in different developing countries such as China (Ali baba’s CEO) and South Africa (Tesla Motors’ CEO).
Let’s get back to UPIITA, there are three main factors that made UPIITA the most successful Faculty of the IPN at national level in the last twenty years: great people (students, lecturers and staff), a clear mission aiming excellence since the start of the school, and the maintenance of these conditions along the time independently of the social, political and economic circumstances.
The outcomes of these conditions created twenty years ago, can be perceived now. Some of the UPIITA alumni are now lecturers in the IPN, passionate teachers who do their best for the students. Others are in the industry as managers, developers, service, production and maintenance engineers; others do research or have their own companies. As you can see, all these UPIITA alumni have impact in the Mexican society. However, I wonder… Why the success of UPIITA hasn’t been replicated in new schools in Mexico? And most important… Why the impact of UPIITA hasn’t been higher at international level? I don’t have right answers for these questions at the moment but I have been exposed to several Universities and Research Institutes along the last years (Auckland University of Technology, University of Auckland, University of Canterbury, Osaka University, MIT, Harvard, ATR, UNAM, UAM-A, and others) and I can share my experience in order to get an even better UPIITA.
I can tell you that UPIITA have done the things incredibly and unusually well during these twenty years. However, I can suggest five recommendations that can help to UPIITA to increase their quality. Here we are:
- Increase the international academic exchange: Expose the 100% of UPIITA’s students to international experiences in undergrad level. They are good as any student in MIT, Caltech, EPFL, etcetera but they don’t know it (trust me, I have known many students and colleagues of these Universities and I haven’t notice any significative academic difference compared to UPIITA’s student). International experience gives people self-confidence and the opportunity of better chances based in collaboration and cultural understanding. Furthermore, they can have access to resources that sometimes are not available in Mexico, ergo; students can develop better technical skills.
- Grant fair grades to the students. Certainly some Universities in Mexico inflate the grades of the students in order to allow them access to future scholarships. Opposite situation can be found in UPIITA. The school is very demanding, however, for unknown reasons, lecturers grant very low grades to the students although the big effort deployed in the projects, not very sure what lecturers’ standard is. Please, UPIITA’s lecturers, think in the future of these kids, think that we need a fair distribution of graduate scholarships and think that they are good enough to have the chance of better opportunities wherever they want.
- Have interests outside of the engineering field: The most successful people I know have very diverse interests aside of their main work. For instance, my supervisor is a big fan of Lego and he has even written high impact papers about his favourite topic. I have friends who love rugby, theatre, strategy games, videogames, hiking, languages, camping, car mechanics, and a big etcetera. That is really useful in your life and certainly can have an impact in your future work and help you to know other interesting people. Indeed, have deep knowledge in other fields would be incredible useful. For instance, management, design, leadership, rhetoric, literature are fully connected with current tech research. If students and lecturers are really multidisciplinary and just not interdisciplinary, eventually this fact could spark an explosion of creative productivity. Don’t hesitate to do graduate studies in the most distant discipline to engineering.
- Think big: Students and lecturers shall think objectively about their strengths and skills. Again, UPIITA’s people is great, it is just a matter of attitude. If you are a lecturer, think that your students can be futures CEOs or CTOs of a big company, even better, they can create new global innovative companies, or maybe these students in front of you can be researchers that can revolutionise their field. If you are student find some inspiration in people that you admire. There are heaps of people that although the circumstances, achieved a lot in their lives. It doesn’t matter if you are poor, or if you don’t have the best conditions to study or you don’t have enough support of your family. Rise above the adversity… You never know, you can start a company that will change the world or discover a new technology that save human lives or some other important stuff.
- Go outside, encourage your adventurous spirit: Students require practical experiences, industrial experience, experiences outside of the classroom and lab, international experience, and so on. Lecturers also require that. Not all your knowledge comes from books and video tutorials. Go outside of the IPN, use your sabbatical year to live overseas, take your family with you and allow your kids have an amazing life experience! How would you feel if your students evolve positively and you are the same than 20 years ago, in the same place, teaching the same stuff? Again, encourage yourself and your students to have experiences outside of UPIITA.
I wish a better future for UPIITA; I want to see in the near future to the UPIITA’s graduates in critical positions in the industry and research fields. I want to see these future technological leaders even in other fields to change the world. I think the training received in UPIITA allow students to perform very well in any other field, even politics or economics that look very distant of engineering. I am sure that these future graduates of UPIITA can do it better that the previous generation and transform this planet in a better place.
Long life to UPIITA!!!