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From Indiana to India

Although based in the United States, institutions like Purdue University make exciting educational inroads two continents away.

Located in West Lafayette, Indiana, Purdue University is thousands of kilometers away from India. Yet, Indian students are collaborating with the renowned American institution like never before. The reason? A series of innovative initiatives, ranging from exchange opportunities and visiting lecturers to regional professional networks, which expand the boundaries of international learning.

The bedrock of Purdue’s engagement with India lies in its carefully-forged connections with dozens of Indian educational institutions. According to Heidi Arola, the university’s managing director for global partnerships and coordinator for engagement with India, Purdue is actively focusing on deepening relationships with a handful of its most promising Indian partners.

To students in India, these efforts translate into access to exciting opportunities like the Purdue Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE), a program that allows a group of undergraduates from Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad, Bombay and Madras to do research internships under the guidance of Purdue professors. “We see this as a concrete way of strengthening our institutional partnerships while simultaneously creating a pipeline of excellent graduate students who may return to Purdue to do a master’s or Ph.D.,” says Arola.

The PURE initiative is just the beginning when it comes to Purdue-related educational opportunities for Indians. The India-Purdue Collaborative Lecture Series, created in honor of Purdue alumnus Professor C.N.R. Rao, brings renowned faculty members to speak in various Indian cities, with the most recent topic of discussion being cybersecurity. Purdue also recently began a collaboration with India’s Science and Engineering Research Board to support an exchange of Ph.D. students and fund virtual research centers between Purdue and its Indian counterparts.

“One of my main motivations to come and study in the United States, especially in New York and at Columbia University, was the diversity of students. In this aspect, it was the right decision and definitely one of the biggest positive experiences of my life as a student in the United States. The diverse student body provides one with an opportunity to learn about different cultures and, more importantly, gives an insight into how similar issues affect people in their countries. This understanding is critical for an individual, like me, who wishes to work on global issues.”

—Vipul Nanda is pursuing a master’s degree in international affairs at Columbia University, New York City.

The U.S. university’s India outreach is not limited to experts and current students. Outreach extends to prospective students as well. Purdue sends international admissions officers to cities throughout India, twice a year, to meet with parents and students, says Arola. University president Mitch Daniels has made it a point to visit India for each of the last three years.

“Our faculty have connections at dozens of different institutions throughout the country, so they are frequently visiting [India] to work on collaborative research,” adds Arola. “They also give talks and short courses, including ones through the Government of India’s Global Initiative of Academic Networks program.”

Purdue’s engagement within India has fostered a robust exchange of both students and educators. For the 2016-17 academic year, for example, Purdue welcomed nearly 1,900 students from India, including the largest undergraduate enrollment of Indian students of any U.S. university. One hundred and twenty faculty members of Indian origin work on the university’s home campus, and in conjunction with partner organizations in India. Arola points out noteworthy alumni like G.V. Sanjay Reddy, vice chairman of GVK Power and Infrastructure Limited, and Akshay Kothari, country manager of LinkedIn India, have been active in the Purdue-India Executive Council and beyond.

The strong cooperation between Purdue and its Indian partners is not by chance. Arola points out outreach within India has been a key strategic goal of the university for a number of years, and a number of reasons. “Purdue has a strong and growing alumni network in India and an increasing number of collaborations with corporate and institutional partners,” she says. “India is also the world’s largest democracy and an indispensable partner of the United States.”

In particular, the alumni community described by Arola is a cornerstone of the university’s collaborations within India. Purdue Alumni India is an active network of volunteers who organize student recruitment events, info sessions, happy hours and more. “Facilitating alumni engagement provides a great networking tool for them to reconnect with each other,” she says, “and is also a way for the university to reconnect with former students who may now be in a position to, for example, help create internship and job opportunities for current or graduating Purdue students.”

Looking to the future, Arola hopes to enhance both corporate and government partnerships that can reinforce every aspect of Purdue’s collaborations in India. “One recent program we also hope will serve as a model for other companies is the Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories-Purdue Doctoral Fellowship Program,” she says. Under this program, two employees of Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories are sponsored to pursue doctorates in engineering- and chemistry-related fields at Purdue. “Through stronger industry linkages in India,” says Arola, “we can increase the return on investment of a Purdue education for Indian students by strengthening internship and job placement opportunities, while also enhancing research collaboration.”


Michael Gallant is the founder and chief executive officer of Gallant Music. He lives in New York City.