CLEMSON — South Carolina is broadening its connection to the world’s second most populous nation with the help of Ratan Tata, who has been called the father of modern industry in India and is funding fellowships that will pay for five Indian students to work toward automotive engineering degrees at Clemson University.

Tata, the chairman emeritus of Tata Sons, received an honorary Ph.D. in automotive engineering from Clemson last year and left so impressed that he has agreed to fund the fellowships through Tata Trusts, the nonprofit charity where he is now chairman.

Ratan Tata, center, received Clemson University's first honorary Ph.D. in automotive engineering when he visited in February 2015. He is pictured with Clemson Board of Trustees member David Wilkins, right, and Robert Jones, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost.

Ratan Tata, center, received Clemson University’s first honorary Ph.D. in automotive engineering when he visited in February 2015. He is pictured with Clemson Trustee David Wilkins, right, and Robert Jones, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost.

The fellows will arrive from India’s PSG College of Technology in time for fall semester and will be studying in a state that has sought to strengthen economic ties with India, the world’s seventh-largest nation by gross domestic product. Several Clemson officials see the fellowships as a way of widening the portal, providing new economic and educational opportunities on both sides of the globe.

Each fellowship recipient will be a master’s or doctoral student in Clemson’s automotive engineering department and receive $26,500 a year toward tuition, books, housing and other expenses.

“Investing in education is a legacy bequeathed by our founder and an important part of our philosophy,” Tata said. “This partnership with Clemson University promises to benefit both our countries and prepare professionals who are passionate about automotive engineering to offer their expertise to Indian industry.”

The collaboration is taking a step forward this week as Subramanyan Neelakrishnan visits the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research. He is the head of the department of automobile engineering at PSG College of Technology and will be meeting with Clemson officials to discuss details of the Clemson-PSG College of Technology collaboration.

Clemson University President James P. Clements said the collaboration is an important step in expanding the university’s presence around the globe.

“Through the fellowships, we’re leveraging personal relationships to expand the portal that connects South Carolina to India,” he said. “India has a young population and is a fast-growing global and regional power.

“As a top public university, we want to engage in the most meaningful research and offer a highly relevant educational experience. Much of the 21st century growth will be in India and other fast-rising nations. This collaboration and others that stem from it will make students in both nations more competitive.”

Robert Jones, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost at Clemson, said the collaboration is part of a larger effort to establish connections between Clemson and fast-growing parts of the world, such as India.

“Many of the grand challenges of the 21st century are inherently global as the world becomes more interconnected,” Jones said. “Students who develop global awareness will be better positioned to innovate and have a positive impact. Collaborations like this will help innovators in both countries remain at the forefront of technology.”

The collaboration’s linchpin, Brij Khorana, was a highly regarded physics and optical engineering professor and a founder of several innovative initiatives at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Indiana. His brother used to run a Tata Motors plant in India.

Khorana, who has since retired in Greenville, played a central role in bringing Ratan Tata to CU-ICAR in February 2015.

When Tata visited, he received Clemson’s first honorary Ph.D. in automotive engineering. It was the first time Clemson awarded an honorary degree off the main campus and at a time other than a traditional commencement.

In a single day’s visit, Tata toured the CU-ICAR facilities, met with automotive engineering students and participated in a roundtable discussion moderated by Keith Crain, chairman of the publishing conglomerate Crain Communications.

Several people who were involved remember Tata leaving impressed.

“His main comment during his visit here was, ‘This is a unique facility in the world, and I would like to see all of the automotive engineers in the world educated and trained like they are being educated and trained at Clemson’,” Khorana recalled. “That was his main takeaway.”

After the visit, Clemson officials began seeking other ways to collaborate with Tata and asked Khorana to spearhead efforts. He made two trips to India in search of a college that fit well with Clemson’s automotive engineering program and one that Tata Trusts held in high regard.

Khorana, who is now scientific adviser for technology partnerships in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, visited several engineering educational institutions and identified PSG College of Technology.

It was perfect, with its top-20 rankings and established connections to Tata-related companies. Both PSG College of Technology and Clemson have automotive engineering programs and close connections with industry.

Officials on both sides are already exploring other opportunities to collaborate, including a faculty-exchange program, although nothing has been finalized.

Zoran Filipi, chair of the automotive engineering department, said he looks forward to helping the PSG College students further their educations at Clemson.

“This is an excellent opportunity for the automotive engineering departments at both institutions to expand their global footprints,” Filipi said. “We look forward to a long, fruitful collaboration.”


Additional comments:

L. Gopalakrishnan, managing trustee at PSG College of Technology:
“This represents a milestone in the department’s efforts in enhancing its program and is a positive sign for PSG Research and the automotive sector. I congratulate professor Brij Khorana and his team at Clemson for all the efforts taken in making this partnership possible.  My best wishes to all concerned.  I also take this opportunity to thank the jewel of the Indian auto industry, Sir Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus of the Tata Group, who has come forward to sponsor our students to pursue higher studies and also strengthen our automotive program to be the best in the world.”

R. Rudramoorthy, principal of PSG College of Technology:
“The demand for exclusive automobile graduates led PSG College of Technology to start the bachelor’s program in automobile engineering in 1999. Since then, the department has grown to be one of the best in the country with a number of centers of excellence and partnerships with leading automotive industries. Our alumni, now in automotive industries, have made us proud and represent our strength. The memorandum of understanding with Clemson University — pioneers in the automotive field — marks a unique partnership in strengthening our program and also paves the way for collaborative research in specific areas, such as battery storage/management, hybrid/electric vehicles and automotive materials/manufacturing, to name a few.  This has been possible because of the efforts of the doyen of the Indian auto industry, Sir Ratan Tata, who has come forward to sponsor five students for the master’s/doctoral program.”

P. Radhakrishnan, director, PSG Institute of Advanced Studies:
“PSG College of Technology lays significant emphasis on providing international exposure to the students as this opens up several opportunities to meet and interact with students from many countries, leading to increased cultural awareness and self-confidence. The automobile engineering program started in 1999 has evolved from offering an undergraduate program to postgraduate and doctoral work. It is nice to note that the department is associating with one of the leading automotive programs worldwide offered by Clemson University’s International Center Automotive Research (CU-ICAR). The support extended by Tata Trusts under the exemplary vision of Sir Ratan Tata for five students to pursue master’s and Ph.D. degrees at CU-ICAR is commendable. I foresee that this partnership will open up new avenues for collaborative research and yield rich dividends for all concerned, and I wish the initiative all the best!”

Fred Cartwright, executive director of the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research:
“We’re honored to collaborate with Tata Trusts and PSG College of Technology. The bridge we are building will benefit students and the automotive industry in the United States and India. We see the potential for these fellowships to be just a start of a fruitful collaboration that lasts many years.”

Srikanth Pilla,  assistant professor in the Clemson University automotive engineering department:
“Each student comes with impressive credentials. Of the five, two are female. All are well-positioned to excel in their studies at Clemson and start this collaboration with success.”

Taufiquar Khan, director of international initiatives and global engagement at Clemson:
“Clemson has an automotive engineering program that is top notch. The students are going to help make Clemson known throughout India.”

Matthew Long, global engagement program manager for the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences:
“Students from India and the United States will be working side by side in world-class facilities as part of a world-renowned engineering program. By learning from each other, they will all be more globally aware and better able to compete in the global economy. We look forward to finding new ways of broadening the collaboration.”