(May 29, 2022) For decades, Indians have been known for their accomplishments in the areas of engineering, medicine, or even business and entrepreneurship. The diaspora is becoming increasingly recognized for proving its mettle in education and academia. From Harvard Business School to Johns Hopkins and Stanford University, recent years have witnessed several Indian-origin educators take the helm of some of the biggest and most renowned universities across the globe.
By some estimates, Indian Americans have led, or currently lead, more than a dozen top Universities in the United States alone. For a community that represents a mere one percent f the U.S. population, the figure is a remarkable one. Global Indian takes a look at the some of the biggest Indian names in the global education sector currently.
Dr. Arun Majumdar, Stanford University
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay in 1985, Dr. Arun Majumdar did his MS and then a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in the same discipline. He spent the early part of his academic career at Arizona State University and University of California, Santa Barbara.
For his research on the science and engineering of nanoscale materials and devices, especially in the areas of energy conversion, transport and storage, Dr. Majumdar was appointed as the member of the US National Academy of Sciences, US National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In October 2009, the Indian-origin educator was nominated by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate as the Founding Director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), where he served until June 2012. During his tenure, he helped ARPA-E become a model of excellence and innovation for the government, with bipartisan support from Congress and other stakeholders. Between March 2011 and June 2012, he also served as the Acting Under Secretary of Energy, enabling the portfolio of Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Office of Electricity Delivery and Reliability, Office of Nuclear Energy and the Office of Fossil Energy, as well as multiple cross-cutting efforts such as Sunshot, Grid Modernization Team and a number of other initiatives.
Dr. Majumdar was recently named the inaugural dean of Stanford University’s new school that focuses on climate change and sustainability.
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Professor Rakesh Khurana, Harvard College
Born in India and raised in Queens, New York, Rakesh Khurana became the Danoff Dean of Harvard College in 2014. A professor of sociology and organizational behaviour at Harvard University and former Faculty Dean of Cabot House, he is a founding team member of Cambridge Technology Partners. The Indian-origin educator spent a little over a decade, between 1998 and 2000, teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
A great teacher who is loved by his students, the Dean received his B.S. from Cornell University, and began graduate studies at Harvard University in 1993, earning his Ph.D. in 1998 through a joint program between Harvard Business School (HBS) and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS). He is also the author of the book, Searching for a Corporate Savior: The Irrational Quest for Charismatic CEOs and related academic and managerial articles on the pitfalls of charismatic leadership.
His 2007 book, From Higher Aims to Hired Hands: The Social Transformation of American Business Schools and the Unfulfilled Promise of Management as a Profession (Princeton University Press) received the Max Weber prize from the American Sociological Association’s Organizations, Occupations, and Work Section and was the Winner of the 2009 Gold Medal Axiom Business Book Award in Career, Jenkins Group, Inc. and the Winner of the 2007 Best Professional/Scholarly Publishing Book in Business, Finance and Management, Association of American Publishers and the Finalist for the George R. Terry Award from the Academy of Management.
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Professor Nitin Nohria, Harvard Business School
The tenth dean of the Harvard Business School, Professor Nitin Nohria stepped down in 2020 after a decade in office. Born in Nohar, Rajasthan, Professor Nitin earned a B.Tech in Chemical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, graduating in 1984, and then received an MBA from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies at the University of Mumbai. He earned a PhD in Management from the Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1988.
Before taking over as the dean, Professor Nitin served as co-chair of the Leadership Initiative, Senior Associate Dean of Faculty Development, and Head of the Organizational Behavior unit. As dean, building on input from faculty, students, staff, and alumni, the Indian-origin educator identified five priorities for Harvard Business School: innovation in the School’s educational programs; intellectual ambition to advance ideas with impact in practice; continued internationalization, through building a global intellectual footprint; creating a culture of inclusion, where every member of the community could do their best work in support of the School’s mission; and fostering a culture of integration within HBS and across Harvard University.
Currently, Prof Nitin is working with fellow HBS professor Rakesh Khurana, the World Economic Forum and the Aspen Institute to create a business oath, like the MBA Oath, that might be used globally.
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Professor Renu Khator, University of Houston
In 1973, when a young Renu moved from Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh to Purdue University for her masters in political science she was very nervous. However, with time she realised her potential and subsequently earned a doctorate in political science and public administration in 1975 and 1985, respectively.
Beginning in 1985, Renu embarked on a 22-year career affiliation with the University of South Florida. She served in various positions, culminating in her position as provost and senior vice president of the university. In 2007, the Indian-origin educator emerged as the sole finalist for the vacant dual-position as chancellor of the University of Houston System and president of the University of Houston. She is the third person to hold a dual position.
As chancellor of the University of Houston System, Renu oversees four institutions of higher learning serving close to 71,000 students. The University has undergone an extensive era of construction under a $1-billion campus construction program, resulting in the 40,000-seat TDECU Stadium, increased student residence hall capacity to 8,000, and an $80-million expansion and renovation to the student center.
Renu was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame, she received the Excellence in Leadership Awards from the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and was conferred the President of the Year Award from the Association of College Unions International, and the President’s Award from the National Association of Student Affairs Administrators. She was awarded the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman from the President of India, Dr Pranab Mukherjee, which is the highest honour given to overseas Indians.
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Professor Subra Suresh, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
An alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Prof Subra Suresh received a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Iowa State University in 1979. After postdoctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, he joined the faculty of engineering at Brown University in December 1983 as Assistant Professor of Engineering.
For his contributions in the field, Prof Subra was selected by the White House to receive the NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award. The Indian-origin educator also received the 1982 Hardy Medal “for exceptional promise for a successful career in the broad field of metallurgy by a metallurgist under the age of 30,” and the 1992 Ross Coffin Purdy Award from the American Ceramic Society for the best paper published in the Journal of the American Ceramic Society in 1990.
In June 2010, then-President Barack Obama nominated Professor Subra as Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), which was unanimously confirmed by the US Senate in September 2010. The NSF is an independent federal agency with an annual $7-billion budget. Commenting on Suresh’s departure from NSF, President Obama stated, “We have been very fortunate to have Subra Suresh guiding the National Science Foundation for the last two years. He has proved himself to be a consummate scientist and engineer – beholden to evidence and committed to upholding the highest scientific standards. He has also done his part to make sure the American people benefit from advances in technology, and opened up more opportunities for women, minorities, and other underrepresented groups. I am grateful for his service.”
Currently, Prof Subra is the President of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and has launched an initiative to turn the NTU campus into a “smart” campus, with eco-friendly buildings, greater use of robotics, and driverless electric buses.
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