India’s 11th president draws 1,000 listeners to O’Rena

The 11th president of India said on Oakland University’s campus Thursday that the problems of the world are global, and solving them requires global cooperation.


Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam, 77, who typically goes by Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, gave a 7:30 p.m. lecture in the O’Rena entitled “Universities are partners in the national development” to a crowd of about 1,000 people, most of Asian descent, along with a mix of OU students and employees. Kalam served as India’s president from 2002 to 2007, and is now a professor of societal transformation at Anna University in Chennai, which is in the southern part of India.


OU president Gary Russi, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost Virinder Moudgil and dean of engineering and computer science Pieter Frick presented Kalam with an honorary doctor of science degree. Kalam has received similar honorary degrees from over 30 universities.



Earlier in the day, Kalam addressed a student forum in Dodge Hall and spoke about OU’s campus and facilities, his personal inspirations, and how to overcome obstacles in one’s path.


He used as an example his own experience working as an aeronautical engineer and the challenges he faced. Kalam faced setbacks trying to put a satellite in orbit for India’s space program, but eventually succeeded.



“[When you face a problem] you should become the captain of the problem and defeat the problem and succeed,” he said.



He also explained that even if something seems impossible, that doesn’t mean it is unachievable. He used the analogy of the bumblebee, which based on known laws of physics, should not be able to support its own weight while flying.



“In spite of scientific theory, the bumblebee goes ahead and flies anyway,” Kalam said.



During the question and answer portion of the forum, students asked Kalam about a wide range of topics from politics to science to religion.



Saman Waquad, vice president of OU’s student congress, asked Kalam what important piece of advice he could give them since America is struggling economically.



Kalam replied that after the age of 17, students should learn how to be great human beings. “The moral science should be a part of the education system,” he said.


Prior to being a president or a professor, he was an aeronautical engineer who worked on projects like India’s defense research and development and space research.


At the lecture Thursday evening, he said that science and technology have made the quality of life and interconnectedness between nations better, and are key to solving the world’s problems.


“Take any issue, be it energy and environment, understanding the atmosphere, exploration of outer space, increasing outreach of science, equitable distribution of prosperity and wealth, dealing with deadly diseases, weaning people away from drugs or the family ties,” Kalam said. “In every one of them, I feel research has to [be applied]. They all require the best of minds from many parts of the world, working together.”


He also said that youth and education is a big part of the solution.


“I can see the anxiety among the youth how to handle a world devastated by wars between people to people and between nation to nation due to ideological and personal interest. Peace is essential for sustainable development of the globe,” he said. “Every responsible global citizen should stand by the three billion youth of the world who are restless with the hope that youth can do it, nations can do it and the world can do it.”


Kalam said that working beyond national borders is another key element.


“Humanity is devoting more and more attention to climate change, energy, water, disease, economic turbulence and terrorism etc., which are all of concern to the entire world and the solutions for which are beyond any individual nation or group of nations,” he said. “If the problems of the world know not of geographical borders, the education that becomes the foundation of all our science and technology, research and development also must of necessity become borderless.”


He said that as bio-technology and information communication technology converge, it will create a new technology called intelligence bio-science, which will lead to a disease-free human race with more longevity.


“Nano robots, when they are injected into a patient, my expert friends say, will diagnose and deliver the treatment exclusively in the affected area and then the nano-robot gets digested as it is a DNA based product,” Kalam said, but did not say how far in the future he thinks this will be possible.


He said leaders should act locally toward a global vision in which all people have equal access to clean drinking water, clean and affordable energy, access to electronic and knowledge connectivity, and the whole earth be a prosperous and peaceful place without poverty or war. For this, he proposed the World Knowledge Platform, and said the university has a role to play in this.


The mission of the Platform includes shifting dependence from fossil fuels to bio-fuel and other renewable energy, making drinking water and healthcare more available, better natural disaster prediction and management, and sustainability. He said any academic, research or industrial institutions from any worlds can join the Platform.


Moudgil said the office of the provost was honored to host this lecture as a part of The Varner Vitality Lecture Series, and that OU was truly proud to have such a “truly distinguished individual.”


After the lecture, some audience members commented that Kalam was hard to understand because of his accent. But those who understood him said they appreciated the message of what he said.


Corey Rice, a junior biochemistry major at OU, said he liked the part about science and technology’s role.


Lana Brown, an OU senior majoring in East Asian studies with a concentration in Southeast Asia, also said she enjoyed the lecture and thought Kalam was “very gracious, for being a person of such high stature.”


Waquad, a biology major with a human resources minor, said she agreed that many problems can be solved with technology. She said she planned to work in the field of infectious diseases and in human rights advocacy.


Rajendra Modi, a local resident who works at Ford, said Kalam’s message was simple and to the point. “Anyone would benefit from his message,” Modi said.


Photo by RICK SMITH/Oakland University: Abdul Kalam, former president of India, accepts an honorary degree from Virinder Moudgil, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost of Oakland University, while President Gary Russi (left) and School of Engineering and Computer Science Dean Peter Frick (right) look on.