March 31, 2015

Professor helps attract Indian students to SIU

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A faculty member in the College of Engineering at Southern Illinois University Carbondale hopes some recent agreements and discussions with Indian universities will bring more students here. 

Sanjeev Kumar, chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, recently helped finalize an agreement with Manipal University that opens the door for students to finish their undergraduate degrees at SIU. 

At the same time, Kumar is also working with Chitkara University in the city of Chandigrih to help that university adjust its curriculum to better articulate with SIU’s. 

A native of India, Kumar for years has traveled to his home country for conferences and academic meetings. Often when he is there, he will meet with colleagues and discuss ways they might cooperate to better serve students. 

“This is our job, to help students,” Kumar said. “And if there are students there who want to get their educations in the United States we want to help them do that.” 

To that end, Kumar worked out an agreement with Manipal University that puts SIU in the pool of universities that its students can choose from during their final two years of undergraduate work. Located in the southern part of India, Manipal University’s International Center for Applied Sciences program requires its students to finish their undergraduate degree at another university somewhere outside India. 

“They admit students for two years and after that the students must pick another university anywhere in the world. The program is designed that way,” Kumar said. “They have collaborations with many other universities around the world, so I jumped on that bandwagon.” 

So far the articulation for students is complete for civil engineering only. But Kumar said the core engineering courses required at both universities means other areas – such as electrical, mechanical or mining engineering – can likely be handled as well on a case-by-case basis. 

“With civil engineering we can see exactly what courses transfer, but in other cases we’d just need to look at the transcripts and see,” he said. “The good thing is that our core engineering classes line up very nicely.” 

Kumar said one advantage SIU has going for it is the large and welcoming Indian community in Carbondale, as well as the local city and campus population’s diversity. 

“Carbondale features many important aspects of Indian culture that are important to those students,” he said. “The Indian community here is very welcoming to these students. Every August the families get together and throw a welcoming picnic for freshmen. We just want to bring them together and make them feel at home.” 

Kumar said such an atmosphere can play a major role in international students’ decisions on which university to attend. He remembers well his own experience as a student, leaving home for the first time and attending the University of Missouri-Rolla. 

“Like many such students today, this was the first time I had really been away from home and suddenly I was thousands of miles from there,” he said. “I didn’t even eat for a few days. I didn’t know how to cook! 

“But here in Carbondale, there are many mentors and families and it can mean a lot to a student. It makes them feel better,” he said. 

Kumar also is working with officials at Chitkara University, which is a newer university in India. 

Chitkara has a different model than Manipal, he said, and officials both there and at SIU are looking into the possibility of a dual degree program. 

The engineering programs seem like a good fit already, Kumar said, but there are some issues with humanities classes and other factors. Although that university includes those subjects, they tend to require them at a different point in the student’s career, and they don’t show up the same way on transcripts. 

Visiting there last year, Kumar explained the issues to officials there, who said they would work on adjusting their curriculum to solve the problem.

“They are a newer university in the region and they’ve done a wonderful job with curriculum and infrastructure,” Kumar said. “When I visited last summer I had the chance to tour their labs and they are wonderful. 

“We are looking at students who wants to come here for two years and go there for two years, and after that they would have a degree from both universities, which could be a big advantage for them,” Kumar said. “The ball is in their court right now, and we hope for big things in the future.” 

Kumar is also working with Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University Kakinada to establish a graduate-level agreement that encourages engineering students there to complete their master’s or doctoral degrees at SIU. The university already has an agreement with JNTU Kakinada’s sister university, JNTU Hyderabad, that is paying off big for SIU. 

Carla Coppi, director of the Center for International Education at SIU, said an agreement signed in 2009 between SIU and JNTU Hyderabad has brought in 408 graduate students from India the past five years. That includes 152 last spring and fall semesters alone and another 38 this spring. 

Coppi said she is excited by the more recent agreement with Manipal University, which focuses on increasing undergraduate students from that country at SIU. So far, SIU has admitted three new students from that agreement for fall 2015. 

“Traditionally over the last three decades, our strength in students from India has been at the graduate level,” Coppi said. “So I’m very delighted at Dr. Kumar’s efforts to bring us this stream of undergraduate students from new sources.” 

Coppi echoed Kumar’s view that SIU and the Carbondale community in general is an exceptionally welcoming place for all international students. 

“SIU and Carbondale in general has a long tradition, dating back to the 1940s, really, of welcoming international students,” Coppi said. “The students really feel at home here, and when they talk to their friends and family it’s bound to come up. And it resonates throughout the world.”