Building Bonds Through Fulbright Journey



By Casey Moffitt
Gurram Gopal, industry professor of industrial technology and management, was honored with a Fulbright Award.

Gurram Gopal, interim chair of the Department of Information Technology and Management at Illinois Institute of Technology, spent two weeks visiting campuses of Universidad Privada Boliviana (UPB) across the Bolivian countryside making academic and business connections between the university and Illinois Tech as a Fulbright Specialist.

It was Gopal’s third award from the Fulbright program, which is sponsored by the United States Department of State. He traveled to campuses in the Bolivian cities of Cochabamba, La Paz, and Santa Cruz de la Sierra, giving lectures on the digital trends and digital transformation sweeping the global economy and how Bolivian enterprises can take advantage of this massive change and investment. The visit also included meetings with Bolivian academics, students, and business leaders in order to build new opportunities for students enrolled at UPB schools and Illinois Tech.

“There are great opportunities in business in Bolivia,” Gopal says. “Europe has been well-studied and established. China has been a big focus over the last 20 to 30 years. Over the next few years there are going to be a lot of opportunities in the developing economies in Central and South America, as well as Africa. These areas will be drivers of new business growth.”

Gopal says the trip spurred talks to develop degree programs for students at both universities in business, architecture, engineering, entrepreneurship, and tech. Student opportunities at both universities include study away programs, and dual-degree programs at Illinois Tech and UPB are also possible outcomes of the trip, Gopal says.

“For Illinois Tech students, it will expand their knowledge on how to conduct business there and to discover the diverse range of investment opportunities present there,” Gopal says.

A prime example of this partnership is linking students from both universities to Illinois Tech’s Ed Kaplan Family Institute of Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship through webinars, boot camps, and entrepreneurial projects, Gopal says.

A major component of the Fulbright program is to provide a space to exchange academic ideas with faculty and students from other countries, and Gopal participated in a variety of academic activities during his travels. He gave numerous lectures to Bolivian faculty and students, participated in joint seminars, and joined panel discussions. The main topic of these activities was applying the digital transformation into a developing economy using tools, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, and other maturing technologies.

These activities led Gopal to collaborate on a book with Sergio Garcia-Agreda, a UPB professor, and Mariana Pérez Escobar, a researcher at the Basel Institute on Governance, which will explore the vast topic of the digital transformation in Latin America. The book, which Gopal hopes to publish this summer, aims to serve as a guide for conducting business in Latin America and as a useful textbook.

Gopal says Latin America can use the digital transformation to grow its economy, but the region has challenges to address, such as building infrastructure into rural areas, reaching large indigenous populations, and attracting capital. However, Latin America—and Bolivia specifically—is making significant investments in education that should enable the country to benefit from the digital transformation of the economy.

The Fulbright program not only is a forum for academic exchange, it also serves as a cultural exchange. Gopal says that aspect was one of the more memorable parts of his trip, as he attended a family birthday party of his host and was able to see the customs surrounding the celebration.

“The birthday in Bolivia is usually a very family-oriented event, so to be invited to that and see the beautiful traditions was great,” he says. “When you work with people from different countries, you get to know the culture and see the many connections and the differences. You learn to appreciate the differences and see what they prioritize in their lives.”