An annual visit to Athens and Limestone County by Indian students proved so educational it might just get expanded into a two-day camp for the kids, Athens-Limestone County Tourism Association Director Teresa Todd said Monday.
Fifty students and four chaperones from Mumbai, Maharashtra, India, visited North Alabama this week to learn more about American roles in technology and education. The visit, which included a tour of Athens State University and a meet-and-greet with local officials, was expanded this year to include a tour of AIDT Robotic Technology Park.
"They divided them into three groups and took them in different parts of the robotics center," Todd said, adding the students were able to watch a film on robots and meet with some of the instructors at the facility.
The groups were so impressed, Todd said, one chaperone floated the idea of starting a two-day robotics camp for the students. Another emphasized the importance of students learning more about the topics discussed in the tour.
"Dr. Chintan Tijoriwala was very adamant that these kids need to learn how to program and build robots and just everything you can have a robot do for you," Todd said.
The trip to North Alabama was arranged by EDU Outing Concepts and its sister company, EDU Sails. Nina Tijoriwala, founder of EDU Outing Concepts, said the companies have already arranged educational tours in the United States for more than 1,000 Indian students. In the past, those trips involved time spent at Kennedy Space Center, but in 2015, they visited the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville instead.
Since then, they have made it a routine part of their annual trip. Todd said this year's educational tour was a 10-day excursion that started with New York and Niagara Falls, brought the students to Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and ended in North Alabama.
"It is always an honor and a pleasure to meet these beautiful and so well-disciplined students each year," she said.
Their one day in Athens started at 8:30 a.m. at Athens State University. Students took a tour of the campus and met with Athens State University President Robert Glenn, Limestone County Commission Chairman Mark Yarbrough and Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks in McCandless Hall.
Todd said the students gave Glenn a standing welcome, which he joked was a first. They also chatted about fidget spinners and lined up for selfies with the mayor.
"It was probably 30 minutes at least of him just taking pictures," Todd said. "He was so cordial and kind."
She said there was some concern they wouldn't have enough time for everything that was planned but that it worked out well. After the Athens State and robotics park tours, the students headed back to the Space & Rocket Center, where they spent the weekend before heading back home Sunday, Todd said.