“Why India Matters” Remarks by Ambassador Richard R. Verma at Carnegie Mellon University

Man speaking to audience. (Embassy Image)Introduction

Good afternoon. Thank you so much for the invitation to speak to you today. I am thrilled to visit one of our country’s most distinguished universities, a place that is so emblematic of the relationship between the United States and India Your graduates find themselves in the highest ranks of business, of education, and of government and public life, both here and abroad. You have produced not just the world’s best engineers and scientists, but inventors and innovators, the very people who are bringing new energy to the U.S.-India relationship.

It’s also quite special to be back in Western Pennsylvania, the place where I grew up. I am very proud of my ties to this part of the country, which has such a rich immigrant tradition, not to mention the best professional sports teams. Modern Pittsburgh can trace its roots to the many Italian, Irish, Polish, and other waves of immigrants, who arrived in this great state in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Of course, the founder of this university, Andrew Carnegie, was himself an immigrant. Born in Scotland, Carnegie arrived in Pittsburgh in 1848, and got his first job working in a cotton mill at age 13. As is well known to you all, Carnegie spent the next fifty years transforming himself into one of the all-time great American success stories. In many ways, he epitomizes the classic narrative of the American dream – the ideal that with a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck – anyone can make it here, no matter how humble your beginnings.

Pittsburgh’s rich immigrant tradition extends far beyond the settlement of European communities, however. Over the last fifty years, Western Pennsylvania has been a magnet for many Asian families, who, like others who came before them, have settled here in search of better opportunities for themselves and their children. And, as has been true since the days of Andrew Carnegie, education has played such an important part in many of these immigrant stories over the generations. I’m proud that my own family is part of this tradition.

Education: The “Great Equalizer”

The South Asian community here has grown exponentially over the last forty years, fueled in no small part by the strong pull of the excellent academic institutions that are found in this part of the country. My own father spent over forty years as a professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown. My mother was also an educator, and school teacher for many years as well.

Whether here in Western Pennsylvania or beyond, education is such a vital part of the immigrant story. For good reason, education is seen by many as society’s “great equalizer.” No matter where you come from, access to education can be the ladder that helps you climb from one social class to another, the ultimate key to achieving the American dream. This was certainly a defining ethos in my family, as I know is the case for so many other newcomers to our country.

At its core, the story about the U.S. and India is a story about personal connections and shared values. It is about the bonds between our people, our cultures, our shared commitment to learning and innovation, and our democratic ideals that knit us more closely together. Carnegie Mellon is, in many ways, representative of that story, and is symbolic of the strong people-to-people ties that define the U.S.-India relationship, enriching both of our societies.

The Carnegie Mellon Story

That story starts at the very top of this esteemed institution, with President Suresh, who was born in Tamil Nadu in Southern India, and was first in his class at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, one of India’s great academic bastions. I recently had the honor of visiting IIT Madras, and was immensely impressed by the quality of research and learning I observed there.

Like my father, Dr. Suresh also came to the United States first to study in Iowa, earning his master’s degree from Iowa State University, spending time at many other esteemed institutions, before being selected by President Obama to lead the National Science Foundation. Dr. Suresh’s contributions go beyond the pages of academic journals, however, as President Obama also recognized that “he has 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.”

Under his leadership, Carnegie Mellon has continued its great tradition of fostering innovators, bringing together people and technology to address urgent global challenges and opportunities. I applaud the university for its recent agreement with the Indian government, which provides that over the next five years, $2.4 million in fellowships will be made available so that outstanding students from India can pursue advanced studies in math, science, and engineering at CMU. Carnegie Mellon also has partnerships with two universities in Chennai, through which it seeks to enhance training opportunities for India’s homegrown IT community, and provides courseware to help develop the next generation of Indian software engineers.

In addition to finding partners in the government and academic communities, you all have done an outstanding job of developing relationships with the private sector. A glowing example of this is the recent gift of $35 million from the India-based Tata Consultancy Services to the university, which will be used to build a state-of-the-art 40,000 square foot research facility here on campus, as well as to help make a CMU education more accessible to deserving students through endowing additional fellowships and scholarships.

Our Efforts to Promote U.S.-Indian Educational Collaboration

Furthering educational linkages is a crucial aspect to so much of the work we do at the Embassy. Our consular team helps to facilitate travel for the over 100,000 Indian students studying abroad annually in America – with about 1,300 of them right here at Carnegie Mellon. As was the case for both my father and Dr. Suresh, the connections made while studying in the United States can be the first step towards a lifelong engagement, with continued benefits for our business and academic communities, and the strengthening of our deep people-to-people ties.

The Fulbright-Nehru exchange program is another route through which we are building lasting connections. Since 1950, nearly 10,000 Fulbright scholars have traveled between our countries with a vast array of research interests, ranging from cutting-edge solar technology to traditional Indian music.

Carnegie Mellon has long-standing ties with the United States-India Educational Foundation, or USIEF, which administers the Fulbright-Nehru exchange program. Through a special fellowship between USIEF, the Confederation of Indian Industry, and the Tepper School of Business, 164 Indian business managers have participated in a specially-designed 10-week management program at CMU over the last 20 years. This fellowship was highly successful in instilling leadership qualities and global business perspectives among Indian industry professionals.

Given how important education is to the fabric of the U.S.-India relationship, there are many other ways we seek to expand educational collaboration between the United States and India The Indo-U.S. 21st Century Knowledge Initiative is one such program. Through this initiative, we aim to foster institutional linkages between universities in the U.S. and India. This includes the development of junior faculty through exchange programs and research collaboration in priority areas such as food security, climate change, sustainable development, and public health. We recently announced eight institutional partnership projects for the fourth year of this program.

Similarly, through our EducationUSA Leadership Institutes, we are supporting sustainable engagements between American and Indian institutions. This program provides training so that Indian academic leaders can better understand the U.S. higher education, while helping them develop tools to build capacity within their own systems. American leaders also learn about how to best collaborate with their foreign counterparts, so that there can me more sustainable and successful engagements between U.S. and Indian educational partners.

I am also proud that community colleges have played an increasingly central role in our academic collaborations. Each year, the Embassy’s Community College Initiative Program sends about 30 students to study for one year in a U.S community college. We are also working closely with our partners in the Indian government to develop a network of community colleges in India, and to improve India’s technical education institutions.

I am pleased that a growing number of Americans are choosing to study abroad in India, with over 4,000 students studying in India during academic year 2012-13. I want to see this number increase, as these students can share important lessons learned at Indian institutions when they return back home.

In addition to our large-scale educational initiatives, our Embassy is also experimenting with many smaller programs to promote educational collaboration. Our American Center in New Delhi recently partnered with Professor Michael Goldberg of Case Western Reserve University to host its first Massive Open Online Course. This MOOC was focused on how to build a start-up, and we hosted around 150 aspiring Indian entrepreneurs for lessons on topics such as how to create a pitch and how to access angel investors. Our consulate in Kolkata also held a MOOC last year, and more are being planned around the country

In April, we held our first “hackathon,” in collaboration with Harvard University’s Center for International Development. In this “PolicyHack,” more than 100 of India’s top coders convened at our American Center for 48 hours straight in an effort to develop solutions to challenges in five different policy tracks. It is often through these kinds of programs that our collaboration is most effective, where we get bureaucratic processes out of the way and let innovative thinking flourish.


In closing, I note that we have had a lot of success in building educational bridges, but there is much more we can do. I look forward to the day when U.S. and Indian universities are collaborating even more closely, including the establishment of branch campuses of leading U.S. universities, and with Indian universities increasingly involved in educating American students.

I also hope that many of you, when you graduate, will consider ways to strengthen the U.S.-India relationship, through promoting business, governmental, or personal ties.

These connections have brought our countries closer together in ways governments alone cannot achieve, and with lasting effects we cannot fully measure. This is the real story of the U.S-India relationship – a story that is so well illustrated by the work being done on this very campus.