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IIT Mumbai alumnus gifts $1 million to Cornell

Last updated on: July 25, 2012 15:27 IST

IIT Mumbai alumnus gifts $1 million to Cornell

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC

Rajiv L 'Raj' Gupta, erstwhile chairman and CEO of the global specialty materials giant Rohm & Haas – where he worked for 38 years in three continents -- has endowed a gift of $1 million to his alma mater, Cornell University, in memory of his parents.

Cornell said that Gupta's gift of the Phool Prakash and Rukmani Sahai Graduate Fellowship in the "growing Department of Biomedical Engineering," would support several of the university's priorities, including "supporting students from India."

Lance Collins, the Joseph Silbert Dean of the College of Engineering, said Gupta's gift "will have a profound impact on our BME programme by enhancing the resources and ability to attract and develop the most promising new scholars in this critical field of study and practice."

Gupta received a Master's degree in Operations Research and Information Engineering from the College of Engineering at Cornell in 1969.

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Image: Raj Gupta (file photo)
Photographs: Courtesy, Rohm and Haas

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Gupta arrived in Ithaca in 1968 as a newlywed with little experience with US culture, and credits Cornell with giving him a strong education and the opportunity to start his career in America on a sound foundation.

Cornell said, Gupta, who retired in 2009 from Rohm & Haas, and his wife, Kamla Varshney, "have a deep gratitude to Cornell for how their experience in Ithaca shaped their lives."

"Gupta believes that the greatest gift you can give a person is education. This thought motivates his philanthropy. His parents, who are deceased, valued education and ensured that their six children were raised to be independent and well-rounded. Gupta says this gift recognises them and serves as a 'token of appreciation,'" Cornell said in its statement.

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Photographs: Courtesy, Rohm & Haas

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The Fellowship is funded through Gupta's family foundation, UJALA, which has a philanthropic focus in health care and education. The Department of Biomedical Engineering brings together these two interests, and Gupta is enthusiastic about supporting an interdisciplinary programme.

Mike Shuler, the James M and Marsha McCormick chair of biomedical engineering and Samuel B Eckert professor of chemical engineering, said, he hopes to "grow this department which links engineering, life sciences, and clinical practice, allowing students and researchers to view human health problems from the bedside as well as the lab."

The Department of Biomedical Engineering was founded in 2004 and has rapidly risen in the national rankings. It is currently stands on the 15th position. It has plans to increase the number of graduate students, expand the faculty, establish an undergraduate programme and recruit the very best Ph.D students.

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Image: Cornell University
Photographs: Courtesy, Cornell

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"Cornell is uniquely positioned to accelerate innovation and provide the best education in this burgeoning field, and the generous commitment from Raj and Kamla comes at a critical time when we need to support the top graduate students in this field who help ensure that we attract and retain the top faculty as well," Shuler said.

Gupta in an interview with rediff.com, said he was prompted to make this gift because of the home Cornell offered him when he first arrived in the US, and subsequently, which laid the foundation for his nearly four-decades career with Rohm & Haas where he finally climbed to the top of his major conglomerate as its chairman and CEO.

"Cornell is where I arrived in January 1968 on a fellowship to do Master degree in Operations Research and Computer Science after graduating from IIT Bombay in Mechanical Engineering in June 1968. This was my induction to US culture, education system and start of my married life -- I was 22 and Kamla was 19," he recalled.

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Photographs: Courtesy, Cornell University

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Gupta said, "I owe Cornell a lot for providing me the education and confidence to receive five job offers-- IBM, Burroughs, Kodak, St Regis Paper and Scott Paper- in summer 1969 when the job market was pretty challenging and I was on F1 student visa."

"It was also my first exposure to multidisciplinary curriculum—that is Computer Science and Finance," and therefore, "I can only reiterate how we feel truly grateful to Cornell for the strong foundation they provided for our life in the US on multiple fronts."

He said, "My parents were both well educated--my father graduated from Thompson College of Civil Engineering at Roorkee, UP and rose to become Chief Engineer in UP Irrigation and my mother graduated from Punjab University."

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Image: Raj Gupta with his wife Kamla
Photographs: Courtesy, Rohm & Haas

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Gupta said that "a few years ago we established a scholarship at Drexel--where I completed my MBA--for undergraduates coming from India in the name of my mother. In short naming the fellowship in the name of my parents is a token of our appreciation for what they meant to us."

Asked why he had endowed this fellowship in biomedical engineering, Gupta said, "I am a strong believer in science education and a multidisciplinary approach. Today and in the future innovation, problem solving will come from folks who can synthesise art and science and many disciplines of science rather than a narrow specialisation.

"Health care and education are two particular passion of mine and our family foundation UJALA is exclusively focused on these two fields with interest both in India--through (his older daughter) Amita and Johns Hopkins initiatives in India and through Academy of Natural Sciences and The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia area.

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Image: Gupta completed his MBA from Drexel Univeristy
Photographs: Courtesy, Drexel University

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After retiring from Rohm and Haas in March 2009, Gupta has been involved in a number of business activities with public and private companies in a wide range of industries -- Hewlett-Packard in information technology, Delphi in Automotive, Vanguard in Financial, Tyco with fire and security, Avantor with speciality chemicals, IRI Symphony with marketing and Stroz Friedberg with cyber security and fraud detection.

"This keeps me busy and I haven't missed being the CEO for 10 years," Gupta said, but added, "Having said it the most rewarding and fun have been two activities-- first-three grandsons, and second-UJALA Family Foundation which was set up in late 2009 with a singular purpose of focus on education in science and health care.

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Image: Raj Gupta with his wife Kamla Varshney
Photographs: Courtesy, Cornell University

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We have been active since 2010, and contribute annually through Johns Hopkins in the range of $ 500-600,000 to many organisations with focus in the US, while directing good part to their India initiative and the two Philadelphia institutions--ANS and the Franklin Institute," he noted.

Gupta is an ex-chairman of the American Chemistry Council, and the Society of Chemical Industry -- America Section. He also sits on the board of trustees for The Conference Board, and is a member of the boards of several multi-national conglomerates.


Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff Archives

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