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Dr. Akhlesh Lakhtakia’s pioneering pathway enables Indian students to pursue Master’s degree at a US University

BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE

An innovative initiative, Collaborative Student Mobility Pathway for Professional STEM Education is further strengthening US-India relations in the field of education. The pathway creates partnerships between United States and Indian Higher Educational Institutions to enable Indian students to pursue a Professional Master’s degree program at a US university with a specialization in high-tech industrially relevant fields.

Designed by Dr. Akhlesh Lakhtakia, a professor of engineering science and mechanics at Penn State University, when he was a Jefferson Science Fellow at the U.S. State Department’s South and Central Asia (SCA) Bureau, the pathway is aimed to equip STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) students with the necessary expertise to excel in high-tech industries that demand specialized skills such as semiconductor processing, photonics technology, 5G-6G communication systems, and more.

Per Open Doors report of the Institute of International Education, 268,923 students from India are enrolled at U.S. Universities, with 84% at doctoral universities. A year earlier, the number of Indian students at U.S. universities was199,182, growing by 35% in one year.

“This growth rate is likely to exceed next year,” Dr. Lakhtakia told NRI Pulse. The reasons, he notes, include the fact that U.S. Government is cognizant of the fact that Indian students enrich U.S. campuses with their perspectives and experience and currently contribute about $8 billion to the U.S. economy each year; the U.S. consular resources made available to process Indian applications for visas are being rapidly expanded; rising prosperity and smaller families in India are financially enabling Indian students to study at universities outside India; U.S. universities led by Indian Americans are naturally attracting Indian students; and U.S. universities are actively wooing Indian students.

The Pathway

Identifying this growth and the global demand for STEM talent in emerging and critical fields, Dr. Lakhtakia was approached by the U.S. State Department to acquaint himself with India’s National Education Policy of 2020, become an expert on the restructuring of post-secondary education modalities in India, and identify ways in which U.S. universities could vigorously engage with their Indian counterparts in both instruction and research from the Bachelor to the Doctoral degree programs in STEM disciplines. He designed the Collaborative Student Mobility Pathway for Professional STEM Education after careful examination of NEP 2020 documents; examination of government and private data on education infrastructure and delivery in India; and interviews with colleagues at Indian, U.S., Canadian, British, and Australian universities. He concluded that twinning and dual-degree programs envisaged in NEP 2020 are attractive to both U.S. and Indian universities.

But a faster track was needed to train talented Indian students to become STEM professionals attractive to both U.S. and Indian high-tech sectors. “This pathway is designed to deliver a 360 view of an emerging and/or critical field and make the student industry-ready,” Dr. Lakhtakia said.

What is the aim of the Pathway?

To enable STEM students to join high-tech industries requiring professional expertise in: semiconductor processing, photonics technology, silicon photonics, quantum devices, 5G 6Gcommunication systems, telemedicine engineering, neuromorphics, additive manufacturing, genetically specific medical drugs, bioprinting, food processing technology, experimental genomics and such.

How does the Pathway work?

An annual cohort of STEM undergraduate students enrolled in a 4-year program at a specific Indian university would be jointly selected by that university and a collaborating U.S. university at the beginning of the fourth year of the undergraduate program, for a 12-months, on-campus, Professional Master’s degree program powered by the U.S. partner.

To qualify for the program, a student must have maintained a Grade Point Average (GPA) of over 3.0 on a 4-point scale before entering their fourth year at the Indian institution. This academic achievement reflects their commitment and aptitude for the rigorous coursework that awaits them.

Shortly after selection, the student must apply to a U.S. Consulate in India for an F-1 visa. Applications are now being considered by the consulates a year ahead of the beginning of the 12-month Professional Master degree program.

The selected students are also required to take one or two elective courses during their fourth year at the Indian university while maintaining a GPA exceeding 3.0. These courses are conducted in traditional on-campus classroom and laboratory settings and are specifically designed to maintain the student’s standing in the program. Collaboration between faculty members from both institutions enhances the quality of these courses.

Upon completing their Bachelor’s degree, the student embarks on a journey to the U.S. university. The 12-months Professional Master’s degree program involves a combination of lectures, hands-on laboratory experiences, and projects directly relevant to the demands of high-tech industries. Successfully completing all program requirements results in the student being awarded the Professional Master’s degree.

Graduates of the Professional Master’s program have the option to apply for a year of Optional Practical Training with a further two-year STEM extension. During this period, students can gain valuable real-world experience by working in U.S. industrial facilities. Notably, participants are eligible for competitive financial remuneration from their employers.

Degrees: The Indian university awards the Bachelor’s degree upon successful completion of the fourth year. Subsequently, the U.S. university grants the Professional Master’s degree upon completing the 12-month program.

Every student in the cohort would be self-funded, possibly through a loan not exceeding $60,000 for the fifth year on the American campus. Financial responsibilities for students include paying tuition and other fees to the respective institutions: the Indian institution during the fourth year and the U.S. institution during the Professional Master’s program. Additionally, students are responsible for covering living expenses, medical costs, and transportation between campuses.

What are the advantages of this Pathway?

Selected students are guaranteed admission to the Professional Master’s degree program, subject to satisfactory performance in the 4th year. Collaborations between faculty members across two nations in the development of 4th-year courses acceptable for entry to the Professional Master’s degree program are expected to lead to joint research, sabbatical visits, and other opportunities.

Example of such Master’s programs include: Semiconductor Packaging at The Pennsylvania State University, Semiconductor Photonics at the University of Dayton, Telemedicine Engineering at the University of Texas at Dallas, and Food Science at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Agreements with IIT Patna, Vishwakarma University, GLA University, Shoolini University, and Vellore Institute of Technology have either been completed or are in advanced states of negotiations.

Last December, Dr. Lakhtakia visited Bangalore University, Christ (Deemed to be University), the University of Hyderabad, Mahindra University, Woxsen University, and IIT Hyderabad. He held meetings with the National Institute of Technology (NIT) Patna, the University of Lucknow, the National Stock Exchange Academy, and GLA University. He also met the Chairman of the University Grants Commission as well as vice-chancellors of seven universities established by the Government of Karnataka in 2023. The Association of Indian Universities organized an interactive session with university leaders in and around New Delhi. His overwhelming impression was that Indian universities are eager to collaborate with U.S. universities on degree programs as well as in research.

A key factor contributing to the greatness of U.S. universities is the international composition of their campuses. Educators and researchers from all over the world gather at U.S. universities, along with undergraduate and graduate students. The diversity of perspectives, objectives and goals ensures that concepts are carefully examined, leading to universal conclusions, especially in the STEM arena. “Indian students will experience this on U.S. campuses, thereby strengthening U.S.-India academic ties,” notes Dr. Lakhtakia.

“Now is the right time for Indian students finishing their third year to urge their universities to find U.S. partners,” he added.

University partnerships between the U.S. and India plays a key role in relations between the two countries creating intellectual bridges through research and scholarship. While students from India go on build impressive resumes across both nations, the U.S. benefits from the syncretic dynamism of diverse Indian cultures brought to U.S. shores by these students.

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1 comment

pemba May 17, 2024 at 11:35 pm

Indian Students Watch out, it is a scam, to pursue the master’s degree from USA Universities, please approach the
Universities directly or contact the USA Consulate in your country. No need of greedy middleman.

Reply

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