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All 14 junior classmen-level undergraduate engineering students, their faculty advisers and Viterbi School administrators crowded into a second-floor conference room in the Hughes Aircraft Electrical Engineering Building for one final meeting and a special appearance by Dean Yannis C. Yortsos. After receiving certificates of appreciation from the dean, they spent the afternoon presenting highlights of their summer research to fellow students.
“This is great exposure for us, a glimpse of the great research going on at the best laboratories in the world,” Sakya Sarkar, a junior majoring in biotechnology and biochemical engineering, wrote on the questionnaire he filled out before departing for India.
Summer interns from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Kharagpur pose with Dean Yortsos in front of Tutor Hall. – Irene Fertik photo.
“It’s simply fantastic (here) because as students, we got such a different environment for research,” wrote Srimoyee Bhattacharya, a biotechnology and chemical engineering major. “At IIT, we are busy with academic studies, but here, I got a chance to learn the art of research.”
The Viterbi School has had strong ties to India and its engineering community for many years through alumni, faculty and its own student body, but the IIT summer research program has cemented those institutional ties. The program has become a model for additional research and exchange collaborations, which is part of USC’s Strategic Plan to stress globalization in all of its academic and recruitment efforts.
IIT junior Farooque Munshi, left, and Michelle Tsigaridas, Viterbi School doctoral programs coordinator, center, talk with Dean Yortsos during lunch. -- Irene Fertik photo
This summer’s IIT group represented the third wave of IIT summer internship students 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 14. 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.
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. She and Michelle Tsigaridas, doctoral programs coordinator, organized the exchange program.
“This summer’s group was by far the largest, and students worked on research projects in a range of fields, such as mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering, petroleum engineering, civil engineering, 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, Berti 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.
If their answers were any indication, some of these students may do that. Tailored to provide them with a stimulating and challenging research environment, the program was described with superlatives such as “highly stimulating,” “excellent,” “outstanding,” “cutting edge,” “a golden opportunity,” and “practical.”
“The study atmosphere here is amazing,” Bhattacharya added.
“I’ve learned a lot new concepts here which will be applicable in various fields of engineering,” wrote Saikiran Vajrapu, a biotech/civil engineering major. “Hence I am really satisfied that I’ve achieved something more than expected.”
Standing at left, Margery Berti, associate dean of doctoral programs, played an instrumental role in the students' visit. -- Irene Fertik photo
After digging into a sumptuous buffet of chicken and egg plant curries, rice, several salad choices, pita bread and dessert, Dean Yortsos arrived to congratulate the students and wish them well in their academic pursuits.
“Engineering, as you know, is changing in dramatic ways, and globalization has made alliances with institutions around the world very important,” he explained to them. “We hope to expand these programs in the future so that we can introduce many more promising young engineering students like yourselves to USC.”