Logo: University of Southern California

High Marks for USC-IIT Kharagpur Exchange Program

India’s summer exchange students spent eight weeks working on a variety of cutting-edge research projects

July 16, 2008 — Thirteen engineering juniors from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Kharagpur concluded an eight-week summer exchange program of hands-on research on July 15 and packed up their belongings to head home for their last year of undergraduate training.

They called the chance to study at USC a “perfect window of opportunity.” For some who had never been outside of India, it was a
IMG 0072
2008 IIT-Kharagpur Scholars, faculty advisors and research colleagues in Archimedes Plaza July 15 for grand finale luncheon and research presentations. Faculty include 1. Sr. Associate Dean Cauligi Raghavendra, 2. Martin Gundersen (EE-E);  3. Urbashi Mitra (EE-S); 4, Anupam Madhukar  (CMS/BME); and 5. James Moore II, (ISE)
chance to see popular Los Angeles sites and experience American culture as much as it was an opportunity to get some practical experience in their fields of study.

The practical nature of their research is critical to juniors who are trying to decide if they will pursue advanced engineering degrees or find jobs after graduation, said Komath Naveen Kumar, an instrumentation engineering major at IIT-Kharagpur.  

“The IIT-Kharagpur-USC student exchange program, I feel, gives an undergraduate student the insight into the modern research methods that can help shape his career in a decisive way,” Kumar explained.  “It gives us a fair idea of the immense scope of a research career, which we would not otherwise have been exposed to through courses only.”

Kumar focused on speech signal processing this summer, working in the Signal Analysis and Interpretation Lab under the guidance of Shrikanth Narayanan.  His work in “disfluency detection” involved using articulatory data and searching for “junk words,” like uhh or uhm, and modifying a speech recognition program to identify and discard those meaningless words.  

Pankaj Ranjan, who is working toward a technical degree in mechanical engineering, worked on a small heat exchange system to turn toxic fumes into breathable air. Under the direction of Paul Ronney, professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering, Ranjan spent most of his time in Ronney’s combustion lab on the second floor of the Petroleum and Chemical Engineering Building.  
Goldy Kumar Wave Tank Cropped 2
Goldy Kumar, right, and Kevin Courtoy, left, a mechanical engineering graduate student, simulate waves in a wave tank in the RAPP Geotech Lab. 

“I had an excellent research experience here,” he said.  “I was quite amazed to see the flexibility that the professors provide to their students, and also the enthusiasm with which my professor discussed results and doubts I had while carrying out these experiments. This program helps in building the experience that is needed for one’s further graduate studies.“

Other IIT-Kharagpur students could be found in Mike Zyda’s Gamepipe Lab, Peter Beerel’s Asynchronous Lab, and Adam Fincham’s Wave Tank Lab in the basement of the RAPP Building. Pramit Kumar Bhuyan, a junior majoring in computer science, spent his summer working at USC’s Information Sciences Institute (ISI) in Marina del Rey.
At the final luncheon and afternoon presentation, the students were awarded certificates of appreciation for their research projects.  Some said the experience had  convinced them to pursue graduate studies.  Some said they wanted to do their Ph.D. work at USC.      

“In spite of being set in the center of such a busy city like Los Angeles, the atmosphere inside USC is just perfect for research,” said Kumar, who wants to obtain a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and work in research. “The graduate students and research scholars who work so diligently inspired me.”  
Pankaj Ranjan Combustion Lab Cropped
Pankaj Ranjan built a small heat exchange machine to convert toxic fumes into breathable air.

Goldy Kumar, a mechanical engineering major who spent his days measuring waves created in a wave tank, had never had the hands-on experience in India.  “This is so valuable because it lets us apply our knowledge,” he said.

He’d also never been to Southern California's beaches, so his research included visits to Malibu and Venice beaches to observe wave behavior.  “We don’t have beaches in India,” he laughed.     

The Viterbi School’s summer exchange program with IIT-Kharagpur has been a resounding success in the four years that it has been operating. The program has become a model for additional research and exchange collaborations, including the Viterbi School’s exchange program with Tsinghua University, China, and USC’s Summer Research Internship Program, which sends a select group of Viterbi School students abroad for a few weeks of summer research.   

This summer’s IIT-Kharagpur group was the fourth group to study at USC since 2004, when the Viterbi School signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the prestigious Indian technical institution to sponsor student research internships each summer.  The USC-IIT partnership has been supported by InfoUSA, which was founded and is operated by Vinod Gupta, CEO and IIT alumnus.   

Since its inception, the partnership has focused on building collaborative projects in the areas of research, distance learning programs, and student and faculty exchanges.  The program has grown rapidly from hosting just two internship students in its first summer to hosting this summer’s group of 13.  And there’s plenty more who’d like to participate. With an undergraduate engineering enrollment of approximately 2,700, IIT-Kharagpur is considered the “oldest, largest and most diversified” of the IIT campuses.
IIT Himanshu Agrawal Cropped
Himanshu Agrawal worked with Epstein Department Chair Jim Moore on a national interstate cost analysis project.

Each spring, IIT faculty hand-pick the best engineering students in the junior class, then match them with USC faculty according to their areas of interest, said Margery Berti, associate dean of doctoral programs. Her office organizes the exchange program.  

“This summer’s group worked on a wide variety of research projects in mechanical engineering, language translation, games, computer science and electrical engineering,” Berti said.

The internships fulfilled a requirement in the IIT-Kharagpur undergraduate engineering curriculum that students gain some practical work or research experience, either in an exchange program or in industry, before they graduate, she added.

“The ultimate goal of this program is to bring these students to the Viterbi School and get them interested enough in the research opportunities here that they will want to return for their Ph.D. work,” said Cauligi Raghavendra, senior associate dean for strategic initiatives and head of the Globalization Program.

If their answers in an exit questionnaire were any indication, some of these students may be returning.  They described the experience as “fun,” “rewarding,” “excellent” and “valuable.”
Mayank Mishra Geotech Lab Cropped
Mayank Mishra worked on soil analysis experiments in Kaprielian Hall.

“I received guidance not only from my professor, Shrikanth Narayanan, but also from the other Ph.D. students working in the lab,” said Komath Kumar.  “The atmosphere was friendlier than what I could have hoped for, working for the first time in a lab with people from so many different ethnicities.  

"I appreciated the help and guidance I received from Ma'am Margery Berti and Professor Raghavendra, and I am probably going to remember that for a long time,” he continued. “In spite of the fact that many of the things that I was witnessing seemed new to me, I did not even once feel like a stranger here.”

Pramit Bhuyan, who wants to work in artificial intelligence, wrote:

“I think the program is a very good one, which gives many students the opportunity to see what it’s like to work in a lab at a good institute.  At this stage, there is generally a big dilemma as to what should be one’s career after graduation.  It’s really helpful to work with PhD students and see into their life  while working during the internship. It almost makes the decision for one whether to join or not the PhD program in the future.  Moreover, it gives the interns an opportunity to see a country far away, its people, cuisines and lots of other things of interest.”