From India to North Carolina: Fulbright Scholar Teaches and Explores Different Culture

Posted May 09, 2024, 1:23PM

Teaching at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) is a bit of a change for Balasubramani Karuppusamy.

Karuppusamy is a Fulbright Teacher Exchange Scholar in the NCCU Department of Environmental, Earth and Geospatial Sciences (DEEGS) for the 2023-2024 academic year. He is also an associate professor at Central University of Tamil Nadu in southern India, where he has taught since 2017.

“The main difference is (NCCU) is more student-centric,” Karuppusamy said. “Here, the student is considered the most important person. Students can design their program. In India, if you are admitted to the department of geography, fundamentally, you have to study in one department.”

Too, there is less of a hierarchy in a classroom setting at NCCU. In India, “the teacher solely controls the classroom engagement,” Karuppusamy said. “Here, students have the freedom to talk to teachers very liberally. In India, they could not.”

Then there are the material differences. At NCCU, it is common for students to have laptop computers and access to high-speed internet. At Central University in Tamil Nadu, much less so. Many higher education institutions in India lack basics like computers and screen projectors for classrooms.


Karuppusamy was born and raised in Tamil Nadu in southern India. His parents were subsistence farmers. It wasn’t profitable and when Karuppusamy was in fifth grade, his family moved from their small village (about 250 people) to a nearby town where his parents became day laborers. He also worked during secondary school and while earning a bachelor’s degree, doing all kinds of work in their household textile industry.

So he could study for a master’s degree at a different university about 100 miles away, his younger brother halted his studies and went to work to support the family.

After completing his master’s degree in 2006, Karuppusamy found work as a junior spatial data engineer at a private company that did geographic mapping for foreign clients. Over three years, he rose to team leader – partially by working 15-hour days – and then decided to work on a doctorate.

He worked on his doctorate part time and taught part time (to this day, he continues to support his parents) for a university. During his doctoral studies, he began learning about geospatial technology; using satellite images and GIS to develop sustainable agriculture plans.

“Since my childhood, I knew about the problems of farmers,” Karuppusamy said. He would find what crops were grown and what crops would work best for the land and water available.

He completed his doctorate in May 2016 and almost immediately began to apply for post-doctoral work overseas.

He applied twice for a Fulbright and got lucky on the third time after he met Rakesh Malhotra, Ph.D., at a conference in Baltimore. Malhotra, an associate professor at NCCU, wrote a letter of support.

“Being a geographer, I wanted to enhance my skills and look at different environments and a different culture,” Karuppusamy said.

At NCCU, Karuppusamy co-teaches several courses to both undergraduate and graduate students including geography information systems, principles of remote sensing, remote sensing of natural resources and conservation of natural resources.

He aims to offer a comprehensive view of sustainable development which touches on environment, people, economies and governance.

Malhotra describes Karuppusamy as “determined.”

“He actually left his family,” Malhotra said (Karuppusamy is married with two children). “We normally try to balance professional and personal life. For this year, he has put his professional life ahead to have this experience.”

"Hosting a Fulbright Visiting Fellow in our department is a great opportunity for our students and faculty to interact with a top researcher in our field and learn about other cultures while increasing the international profile of our program,” said Gordana Vlahovic, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Environmental, Earth and Geospatial Sciences.

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