Watson School branches out to India
Binghamton University’s growing international presence now includes partnerships with multiple universities in India, due to efforts by the Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science at a number of levels.
The impetus for the connections came from both directions said Watson Dean Krishnaswami “Hari” Srihari.
“India is the world’s largest democracy with 6-9 percent growth annually for the last five years or more, and with a population exceeding a billion people,” said Srihari. “So from the Watson School’s perspective, India and China are two countries that are critical parts of the world, and their scholars are critical to enhancing the educational discourse on our campus.”
“Our strategy in India focuses around educational institutions that Binghamton University would be proud to call partners,” Srihari said. “We worked to first identify a list of schools that we would be glad to partner with, and within that a subset that would want to be active partners with us.”
“After we identified the quality universities we were interested in working with, we started to explore the ones that made sense for us to work with,” said Bahgat Sammakia, vice president for research. “We are really trying to explore on a personal level how work with a university can engage us and Watson has been really successful in doing that. We have an MOU with each one of these schools.”
Relationships have been built with Vishwakarma Institute of Technology (VIT) Pune, VIT Vellore, Manipal University, the National Institute of Technology (NIT) Tiruchi and Anna University. All are mutually beneficial, said Srihari.
Alumni have been instrumental in making connections. “One of our alums, Sandeep Tonapi, MS ’98, ’01 PhD, helped us with the logistics and as intermediary and was instrumental in setting up the relationship with VIT Pune,” Srihari said. “He was working at General Electric in Schenectady and in Arizona and then decided to set up a company in India. Bahgat and I worked closely with him.”
Amanda Bailor, international career and alumni connections coordinator for the Watson School, works with universities and alumni to solidify relationships. For example, she said, the Watson School is extending its reach into the Bangalore area because it’s the IT capital of India. “We want to leverage the presence we do have in India, and we have several very successful alumni who are working with us to help ensure that we establish robust relationships with universities and industries in the area,” she said.
In terms of academics, the Watson School has hosted joint conferences with its partners, faculty have taught at each of these locations and we’ve had visitors from most of these universities, Srihari said. “We’ve also collaborated on research proposals and we have a self-supporting Binghamton University-VIT research center in Pune that works with industry in that area and that has given our faculty the opportunity to work with leading industries there.”
Bailor said the Watson 2+2 International Transfer Program – for students interested in computer engineering, computer science, electrical engineering and industrial and systems engineering – can be a draw, and the Watson School continues to explore ways to create win-win situations with alumni and industry in India “to ensure we have a broad and attractive offer to partners to provide continuing education to help our alumni and to feed a pipeline of our students into that industry and provide internships for our students.”
The connections made with prospective students are vital as well, Srihari said. “We’ve seen a significant increase in the number of graduate applicants from there that will allow us to enhance our selectivity and consequently the quality of our graduate programs. We’re going to the right pool and the best students from India will help make our campus more diverse.”
Some results of the relationships with universities in India are already apparent:
• Growing numbers of graduate students from India are applying to Binghamton − over 600 have applied to enroll in master’s programs this fall.
• Faculty and administrators from universities in India have visited here, and our faculty and our campus leaders have visited our academic partners; we have co-sponsored conferences and symposia, and our faculty have taught courses in India.
• We have submitted joint proposals to the government of India with VIT Vellore in the area of electronics packaging.
• Inroads are being made through faculty presentations at NIT Tiruchi to partner in the health systems area.
“We generate a lot of attention in India because we’re from the U.S. where we have a very well-developed educational system and they’re still relatively young in India,” Sammakia said. “They view the collaboration very positively because they know they can improve and learn. Our advantage is getting excellent quality students whose first language is English and who are very motivated.”
“Our connections with VIT Pune were minimal and now have grown significantly after visiting and starting research collaborations,” Sammakia said. “That university has a lot of automotive industry nearby and we’re working on electronics for automobile basic manufacturing research and process development. It’s systems engineering where there are different sets of academic problems we wouldn’t normally do, so it also improves our spectrum of problems.”
“We would like our faculty, staff and students to get more of an international perspective through experiences such as working with the Samsung initiative, and at Bangalore, and having internships for our students in the summer,” said Srihari. “It’s a broader cross-section of faculty and staff gaining experience and we want our partners to come over here to spend time, and engage in more research proposals.”
International research collaborations make sense, said Sammakia, and it’s possible to develop joint workshops that NSF would fund to gain exposure in foreign countries. “The American money stays here and the foreign money stays there, coordinated by their version of a research foundation,” said Sammakia.
Future plans call for student exchange programs, whether for credit or on a volunteer basis. “There is significant interest at Vellore in us sending our students over there to work on senior design projects, so our students will broaden their scope and perspective,” Srihari said.
“One of our students is going to spend two weeks volunteering in India this summer to build a solar system,” Sammakia said. “So we’re looking at how we can develop summer projects that are voluntary but that students would benefit and learn from. We need to ensure safe and secure opportunities.”
Watson School students also joined the School of Management’s now-annual January trip to India – the centerpiece of Assistant Professor Vishal Gupta’s Doing Business in Emerging Markets: India course. “We visited manufacturing areas in Delhi and it had an impact on all of the students on the trip,” Bailor said. “Even in the U.S. they’ve probably not seen manufacturing, so they don’t understand the kind of work people do every day, so it was a bit of an awakening. Our engineering students were real leaders in these areas and there was a great cross pollination of ideas and backgrounds. They used that to understand a different culture from a country standpoint but also from a professional standpoint.”