Underscoring Virginia Tech’s international reach and its continuing goal of attaining top-100 status as a global research university, a delegation of senior administrators and faculty members recently embarked upon a multistate visit to India to inaugurate the university’s newest office in Chennai, cultivate partnerships with industry leaders from Mahindra, and meet a cohort of business students in Mumbai coming to Blacksburg this fall.

“As a land-grant university, we are absolutely committed to not only education, but also to high-quality, highly productive research, and then the transfer of that research for the betterment of the communities that we serve through our scholarship. For us to accomplish that, we need to understand that we are working within a broader context — that we are a global research university, and global universities like Virginia Tech need to have really good partners in the right places in the world,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Cyril Clarke, who led the delegation. It was his second trip to India in three years.

Virginia Tech has had a presence in South Asia countries since 2009, with research ties that go back even further. Guru Ghosh, vice president for outreach and international affairs, said the partnerships the university has developed there help faculty members conduct high-quality research with leading academic institutions and corporate entities in the second most populous country in the world.

“These research and education collaborations between institutions in the U.S. — the world’s oldest democracy — and India — the world’s largest democracy — are force multipliers for research innovation that can address sustainable growth and global challenges,” Ghosh said. “There is extraordinary talent in India, particularly in STEM fields. As an institution with a legal presence in India, we are tapping into that talent and working with our partners in India to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.”

Clarke and Ghosh were joined by Dan Sui, senior vice president and chief research and innovation officer; Aimée Surprenant, dean of the Graduate School; Azim Eskandarian, mechanical engineering department head and the Nicholas and Rebecca Des Champs Chaired Professor; and Vishwanath Venkatesh, Eminent Scholar and Verizon Chair of Business Information Technology.

A satellite office in India’s Detroit

The Virginia Tech delegation met with leaders of Indian educational institutions and representatives of innovative corporations as well as students and alumni. One of the trip’s highlights was the inauguration of a satellite office in the IIT Madras Research Park — the result of a growing collaboration with one of India’s premier universities, the Indian Institute of Technology Madras in Chennai.

“There is no doubt that Chennai is a tremendous opportunity for us because of the existence of academic, industry, and other partners here,” Clarke said. “By establishing a presence here in close collaboration with IIT Madras and industry partners, we have the extraordinary opportunity to partner in identifying programs focused on anticipated areas of growth for engineering, science, technology, computer science analytics, and decision sciences.”

Set in Chennai, India’s fourth largest city and an emerging epicenter for the world’s automotive industry, Virginia Tech’s new satellite office will be a platform for faculty members to collaborate with the companies, researchers, and industry leaders in the IIT Madras Research Park. The space includes workstations for drone education programs and adaptable workspaces for visiting faculty members and Ph.D. candidates.

“Chennai is the Detroit of India,” Ghosh said. “For Virginia Tech to have a presence in this research park is Provost Clarke’s vision and a testament to the breadth of our research capabilities and the expert knowledge of our researchers. This new center gives us an important toehold in this great city and will help us develop even more partnerships within its education and research ecosystems.”

Eskandarian saw the visit as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship between IIT Madras and Virginia Tech. “Virginia Tech has a very strong specialty in robotics and mechatronics as well as automotive engineering. We are excited about the long-term potential of this project,” he said.

The satellite office is in the heart of the IIT Madras Research Park, which consists of five towers constituting over a million square feet of workspace, meeting rooms, and networking lounges. The towers are connected to each other with skywalks and connected via the Industry-Academia Bridge to the IIT Madras university campus.

Growing partnerships

In 2019, Virginia Tech established a footprint in northern India through a collaboration with the Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology, one of India’s oldest educational institutions and a pioneer in engineering education and research. There, Virginia Tech runs the Center of Excellence in Emerging Materials, located on a newly constructed 7,000-square-foot floor under the leadership of Roop Mahajan, the Lewis A. Hester Chair in Engineering and former director of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science.

Sui and Surprenant visited the center, which aims to be a catalyst to foster deep collaboration between the two academic institutes and to traverse academic boundaries in exploration and discovery at the cutting edge of emerging materials.  

In western India, Virginia Tech has had a partnership since 2020 with Mumbai-based NMIMS, formerly called Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies. Together, the two institutions run two dual degree programs — a master’s program in economics and a 3+1+1 program through which business students can earn three degrees in five years.

“It was extremely rewarding to interact with some of the talented business students in the 3+1+1 program who will be in Blacksburg this fall,” said Ghosh, who has been visiting NMIMS since 2012.

The five-year integrated degree program, facilitated by Outreach and International Affairs, is a joint partnership between NMIMS and the Pamplin College of Business. Upon successful completion of the program, participants will earn a Bachelor of Technology in computer science and engineering (data science) from NMIMS as well as a Bachelor of Science in business information technology with specialization in cybersecurity management and analytics and a Master of Science in business administration with a concentration in business analytics from Virginia Tech.

“Hearing the stories of these students and their families and learning about their aspirations for the future reinforced for me the transformative power of education,” Surprenant said. “It’s not just about acquiring knowledge, but also about unlocking new opportunities and realizing one’s potential. These students are a testament to the fact that with hard work, determination, and access to quality education, anything is possible.”

The impact of partnerships

In the city of Chengalpattu, about 35 miles southwest of Chennai, members of the delegation also visited the Mahindra Research Valley, where they met with the Mahinda Group — a multinational federation of companies producing farm equipment, utility vehicles, information technology, and financial services. Following Clarke’s visit with Shankar Venugopal, vice president of the Mahindra Group, Mahindra signed a joint MOU signifying a commitment to expanded collaboration between Virginia Tech and the Mahindra Technical Academy, a subsidiary of the Mahindra Group.

“Mahindra Technical Academy is very happy to partner with Virginia Tech,” Venugopal said. He added that the programs Mahindra Technical Academy and Virginia Tech run together are “expected to play a key role in shaping up the future of mobility that makes this industry-academia collaborative offering very timely."

Through an existing partnership, Virginia Tech and the Mahindra Technical Academy offer certificate programs in fields such as business analytics and artificial intelligence. After the MOU signing, the delegation met some of the Hokies who have earned certificates through these programs.

These alumni presented research they conducted through the programs and discussed the anticipated impact. For example, one presenter shared that her research around improved filtration systems for combustion engines is anticipated to save the Mahindra Group thousands of dollars. Another said his research could help the Mahindra Group build tractors that are less likely to flip and therefore are safer than current models.

For Sui, hearing the impact of the student research underscored the importance of collaboration.

“I am impressed by the breadth and depth of the ongoing research projects taking place at Virginia Tech in India. The students are fully engaged, working on exciting interdisciplinary research projects related to the development of new materials, water conservation, aerospace engineering, energy harvesting, and data analytics,” he said. “Virginia Tech aspires to become a top global 100 research university, and this partnership is integral to the university’s global strategy. As India surpasses China to become the world’s most populous country, it is very important for Virginia Tech to continue our engagement with the world’s largest democracy to advance research on a global scale.”

With this trip, each member of the delegation saw the university’s momentum in India galvanized, and each made connections with local partners that prefigure future success.

To a crowd of reporters pressing in to learn more about Virginia Tech’s developments in their country, Clarke said: “In India, we have a particularly extraordinary opportunity to advance research and scholarship. This is the right time. This is the right place. And these, indeed, are the right partners.”

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