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Patels gift $12 mn to South Florida university for new college

October 18, 2012 20:24 IST

Dr Kiran C Patel and Dr Pallavi Patel, both physicians and longtime residents of Tampa, Florida, have donated  $ 12 million to the University of South Florida in a new endowment aimed at creating the Patel College of Global Sustainability, expanding on nearly a decade of world-leading applied research to advance sustainability around the globe and improve the lives of the world's most vulnerable people.

Pending approval from university panels, the new college will elevate the work of the Patel School of Global Sustainability -- founded in 2010 -- to a new level that allows it to build on its far-reaching portfolio of projects focused on improved urban systems, water and transportation. The gift is the Patels' latest contribution to the ongoing USF: unstoppable fund-raising campaign.

According to the USF, this campaign is a $ 600 million comprehensive fundraising effort by the University of South Florida system to celebrate the energy, vision and future of one of the country's most exciting and engaged universities.

"Our people and programmes, our ideas, our research and our solutions comprise an ambitious plan to enhance healthcare, science, technology, education, business, the arts and global partnerships," it said.

The new endowment brings the Patels' contributions to USF to $ 25,798,329 through a series of donations and state matching funds in which they have focused attention on sustainable global development and healthcare.

Since 2010, the Patel School of Global Sustainability has served as a graduate-level programme in the education of new engineers, entrepreneurs and environmental managers to lead sustainability projects around the world.

In making the announcement of the $ 12 million announcement, the Patels said, "The Earth is God's gift to humanity and we believe that the current generation must ensure that while meeting our present needs, we do not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs."

Kiran, a cardiologist, and an erstwhile president of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, the largest and arguably most influential international medical association in the country, and Pallavi, a pediatrician, met and fell in love and subsequently married while attending medical school in Ahmedabad.

"The world's rapidly depleting resources and growing population require us to become more efficient and think of new ways to develop sustainable and renewable sources of clean water, energy, food and transportation," said the couple.

"We envision the new Patel College of Global Sustainability will deploy the intellectual capital of the University of South Florida, its professors and students to find solutions to the challenges facing our world today," they said.

The Patels predicted that the new college will create lasting changes that will improve and preserve the standard of living of global communities for many generations to come.

USF President Judy Genshaft commended the Patels for their leadership and influence in helping shape USF, now among the top 50 research universities, with an international perspective that has become a hallmark of its research programmes.

"The new college will give the next generation the tools it needs to build a healthier and more sustainable future for our planet and its people, while developing a global network of leaders to put the most effective new tools and plans to work," she said.

Genshaft declared, "We are inspired by the Patels' vision of a world where all people have a real chance to reach their full potential in a clean and healthy environment. We are humbled that they have entrusted the University of South Florida to be a partner in making the vision of a better tomorrow a reality."

"The Patels' trust in us means as much as the money they give," she added.

While Pallavi was born in India, Kiran was born in Zambia, but his father sent him to medical school in Ahmedabad, and both after graduating immigrated to the US and received their advanced specialisations at the Columbia University, New York, and then moving to Tampa nearly three decades ago to set up their private practices.

After selling their managed-care company they quickly turned their attention to philanthropic endeavours and have earned a reputation for generosity for developing and funding a variety of programmes in health, education, arts and culture. The Dr Kiran C Patel Center for Global Solutions was launched in 2005.

From the Patel Conservatory in downtown Tampa to a school, job training center and hospital in the village in Gujarat where Kiran Patel's father was born to matching donations to tsunami victims in South Asia, the couple has specifically targeted their philanthropy to organisations and efforts that directly touch the lives of those most in need.

Pallavi is known for defining the Patel School of Global Sustainability as a "do tank, not a think tank" in reference to its many projects aimed at applied research that can quickly be employed to improve lives in the developing world.

She said, "There is an enormous need for people to help other people," while Kiran Patel observes philosophically, "To me philanthropy does not end at dollars and cents. We are just a mere spark and the fire is to be provided by other people. But really, our role has been very small but with the hope that it will multiply many folds and create a god impact on the world."

"Our desire to help in the field of education, health and culture -- university participation takes it to the next level, we call it a global foundation to reach the global need. USF can bring them together," Pallavi said.

She said, "When talking about a think-tank vs a 'do tank' the real difference of being able to go in the field, do something and make that theory translate into practice is important. And that's the focus we have; to create an impact at the ground level."

To those ends, the Patel School recently became the first North American university in research and strategy partnership with the UN Habitat Partner University Initiative. USF and UN Habitat agreed to establish the urban futures research hub at the Patel School, which will promote education, professional development and policy advice on emerging cities.

Also, the World Bank has selected the Patel School to help develop and implement its urban water strategy in Africa, including the development of strategic papers for the 'Cities of the Future in Africa' programme. The Patel School's research team is now developing innovative integrated urban water solutions coupled with demonstration activities, for towns and cities in Kenya, Uganda and Cameroon.

Later this year, the Patel Grand Challenge -- an international design competition to build an effective and inexpensive water filtration system that can easily be provide to the most remote and water-challenged areas of the world -- will select its winner. The $ 100,000 prize will allow the inventors -- all from nations in the developing world -- to turn the new device into a reality.

Closer to home, the Patel School has created Resilient Tampa Bay, a multi-year learning and research partnership with water management experts in the Netherlands in an effort to prepare the Tampa Region for urban flooding challenges brought by hurricanes and rising sea levels. 

The programme is now helping guide future development and mitigation efforts to protect areas of the community vulnerable to severe flooding.

The University of South Florida is a high-impact, global research university dedicated to student success. USF ranks 50th in the nation for federal expenditures in research and total expenditures in research among all US universities, public or private, according to the National Science Foundation. Serving more than 47,000 students, the USF System has an annual budget of $ 1.5 billion and an annual economic impact of $ 3.7 billion.

Image: Dr Kiran Patel and his wife Dr Pallavi with former president APJ Abdul Kalam

Aziz Haniffa