Limitless potential with India

DELHI—President Mary Sue Coleman’s four-day trip to India helped build on the University of Michigan’s longstanding ties with the South Asian country.

The goal of the delegation led by Coleman was to discuss new research collaborations and expand on existing partnerships. The group also wanted to explore new opportunities for U-M students to study in India and find ways to welcome more Indian students to Ann Arbor. Reconnecting with the vibrant, enthusiastic alumni community was another key objective.

Being engaged with India is vital for universities like U-M that want to have a global impact. The country is the world’s biggest democracy with a population larger than the U.S., Europe and Latin America combined. India has brilliant students, scholars and entrepreneurs searching for partners who want to tackle the world’s biggest challenges.


Coleman first visited India in 1993 and was excited to be back in the country, where she met with dignitaries from several Indian institutions.

“Since becoming the university’s president 11 years ago, I’ve worked with faculty to build our academic partnerships in China, Ghana, South Africa and Brazil,” said the president, who will retire later this year. “I’m proud that we have deepened our work in five countries on three continents because it means deeper experiences for students and faculty.”

James Holloway, U-M vice provost for global and engaged education, said the visit would provide unique opportunities for students. “It will allow our students to engage in global educational experiences that benefit both the people of India and the students who participate there,” he said.

The excitement was shared by Coleman’s delegation that included members from University of Michigan Health System; Stephen M. Ross School of Business; College of Literature, Science and the Arts; Institute for Social Research; Center for South Asian Studies; and College of Engineering.

“There was a lot of enthusiasm and energy among our partners, and we think there will be exciting opportunities for students to work at both Ashoka University and University of Delhi,” said James Penner-Hahn, associate dean for budget at College of Literature, Science and Arts. He explained one of the areas for partnership could be the Innovation project at Delhi University collaborating with the MCube project at U-M.

Alison Blake-Davis, dean of Ross School of Business also felt that energy among the alumni at the Mumbai India Business Conference. “The alums have been telling me about their passion, the emotional bond they feel with the university and it’s great to feel that energy and also connect with our Indian industry partners ,” she added.

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U-M Indian Alumni Association President Ritesh Bawri, a graduate of the Ross School of Business and main organizer of the India Business Conference, said that it is passion for their alma mater that keeps the alumni involved and enthused. “President Coleman is the first University of Michigan president to visit India, and it means a great deal to us. It has recharged us all,” he said.

Day 1: “Do something uncomfortably exciting”

With morning fog giving way to sunny skies, Coleman’s trip began on Nov. 13 with a signing ceremony for a memorandum of understanding with Ashoka University, one of the first private liberal arts universities in India. Under the agreement, the two universities will share opportunities for faculty exchange, innovative teaching methods, opportunities for student exchange and mutual visits of fellows and research scholars.

Coleman said U-M is looking forward to working with Ashoka to create tomorrow’s leaders. “A liberal arts education is an unparalleled foundation for a life filled with creativity and innovation,” she said adding that Ashoka university’s focus on liberal arts is commendable. “Do something uncomfortably exciting,” she added.

Pramath Raj Sinha, founder and trustee of of Ashoka University, said the school is “a collaborative philanthropic vision that aims at providing a transformative academic experience to Indian students.”

After the signing, reporters covering the event were eager to interview Coleman, Holloway and Farina Mir, director of U-M’s Center for South Asian Studies.

Partnership with Ashoka is already taking shape. Ruma Banerjee, Vincent Massey Collegiate Professor of Biological Chemistry has been invited to be a part of Ashoka University’s board of councils and she is already assisting a group of students on their first project studying the life-cycle of litter.

On the way to the next meeting on the itinerary, the delegation got a good taste of Delhi’s infamous traffic jams. But the group arrived on time for an MoU signing with the National Council of Applied Economic Research, the leading survey research institute in India. The council will collaborate with U-M’s Institute for Social Research on large-scale data collections. The agreement also involves the exchange of students, technology and researchers.

“Problems faced in data collection in India in terms of the sheer size of the population and the several linguistic barriers could be a perfect training ground for our students here,” said William Axinn, Director of Survey Research Center at Institute for Social Research.

Day 2: Building partnerships to solve global problems

U-M expanded its partnership on Nov. 14 with the All India Institute of Medical Science, one of India’s top academic medical programs. The relationship involves collaborative research on cancer, genetics, immunology, trauma and disaster medicine.

Coleman began her visit to the medical institute with other dignitaries by lighting an ornate golden lamp – a common ritual that pays tribute to Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge.

“We know that we have much to learn about India,” she said. “India is at the forefront of wrestling with many pressing problems in health. We know we don’t have all the answers. And we’re convinced that many of the solutions involve partners working across cultures and borders on innovations that to date have eluded us.”

Joining medical staff in purple surgical gowns, Coleman toured the institute’s trauma center, the focus of the first agreement U-M signed with the Indian medical program in 2012. Improving trauma care is a serious challenge in India, where traffic accidents kill more than 150,000 people each year on increasingly congested highways and byways. Many people die because they don’t get treatment in time.

Discussing the significance of the agreement with U-M, Mahesh Misra, director of AIIMS, said his institute “will benefit immensely from our collaboration in gastroenterology, liver, pediatric surgery, acute care surgery and organ transplantation. Our efforts are to jointly attract national and international funding.”

Dr. Joseph Kolars, the U-M Medical School’s senior associate dean for education and global initiatives, said, “We’re aiming to develop a robust platform for collaboration that will facilitate research on diseases common to both our countries and the education that will strengthen our abilities to improve health.”

Back in Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Health System is already thinking of ways to get its partnership with All India Institute for Medical Sciences on the ground and running. “I met with our delegation that traveled to India, and we are already discussing how to translate some of the research from our UMHS labs to clinics in India,” said Kolars. In the works are ways to exchange lab samples and grants that will allow the two institutions to work together.

Later in the day, Coleman spoke at a major higher education conference organized by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, one of India’s largest and oldest business groups. Coleman said she was impressed with India’s commitment to its universities and research institutes, which have an extraordinary purpose.

“A university exists to promote a limitless marketplace of ideas—a marketplace in which ideas are tested, refined and sharpened by competition. That is why we matter. We embody the aspirations of a society that turns to us for solutions, cures, and answers,” Coleman said.

Her talk was received with great enthusiasm and several people in higher education approached her after the conference to take pictures, chat or collect her business card.

Day 3: Going on a “rise of knowledge” train journey

On Nov. 15, Coleman and her delegates went to a viceregal lodge in New Delhi, the same venue where the British held their meetings in colonial times. The lodge is now the office for the vice chancellor of the University of Delhi, one of the oldest and biggest universities in India.

The agreement with Delhi University provides opportunities for collaborative research. It will also allow U-M students to participate in a unique program involving long train trips across India. The educational journeys are inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, who rode the rails as a way to reacquaint himself with his homeland when he returned after living in South Africa for two decades.

“I am very excited that U-M students will be able to take the train journey. There are some experiences that cannot be learned by reading about it,” said Coleman.

Coleman, who recently donated $1 million for global scholarships for U-M students, believes that international-learning experiences are vital. Exploring new ways for students to study or do internships in India has been a key mission of her visit.

The new agreement with Delhi University was praised by Dinesh Singh, vice chancellor at the institution, which has 400,000 students. “We are excited to be a partner with the University of Michigan. Our partnership must be in the same vein as the partnership between both the countries,” Singh said.

Mir, the director of U-M’s Center for South Asian Studies, added that a global education has become central to student learning. “Our world is increasingly globalized and our partnership with Indian institutes will provide opportunities for experiential learning for our students,” she said.

The partnerships also will allow Indian students to conduct research at U-M.

The delegation then flew to Mumbai to attend the India Business Conference sponsored by the U-M India Alumni Association.

Day 4: Learning in India just as important as teaching

At the business conference on Nov. 16 at the Taj Palace hotel, Coleman said the university’s students, scientists and researchers have been involved with the South Asian country for decades.

“Today, we have doctors in Delhi learning about trauma and emergency care,” she said. “Our law students and faculty work with their peers at Jindal Global Law School. Michigan nursing faculty are teaching and learning at Salokaya College of Nursing in Delhi. Medical students are traveling between Ann Arbor and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.”

Ross Dean Davis-Blake, who was on a panel about investing for impact at the bottom of the pyramid, said there was vibrant discussion. “We discussed if we should still have bottom on the pyramid or move beyond it,” she said.

The alumni also welcomed the collaborations with Indian institutes and hoped that it will strengthen the ties between India and U-M.

Coleman’s last dinner in India was hosted by Sanjay Reddy, a Ross alumnus and managing director of Mumbai International Airport Pvt. Ltd., where a vibrant dance performance entertained the diners.

While Coleman was in Delhi, her delegation from College of engineering met with members of Indian Institute of Technology, premier science and engineering institute in India. Krishna Garikipati, a professor in mechanical engineering at college of engineering was part of the delegation. He felt there was great potential and possibility of a partnership. “We want to have longer and deeper partnerships in India,” he said.

For more information about U-M’s activities in India, check out Global Michigan’s interactive map.