It was in 2013 that the first Kulkarni Foundation Summer Fellowships were awarded. Through the generosity of Dr. Ashok (PhD '76, Computer Science) and Mrs. Ranjana Kulkarni, each year four doctoral students (and former Indian Institute of Technology graduates) are awarded a Kulkarni Summer Research Fellowship to support them as they work on a summer project that helps them progress through their program. The Kulkarni Foundation also supports a Final Semester Assistance Award for Ronald E. McNair scholars.
This week some of the Kulkarni Fellowship recipients had a chance to meet their benefactors. Proloy Das of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Pranava Jayanti of Physics, Surabi Rani of Nutrition and Food Science, and Saurabh Saxena and Gaurav Kumar of Mechanical Engineering spoke at length about their research areas and their interest in community service. Each student was grateful for the chance to have the extra funding to do research.
In establishing this fellowship, The Kulkarnis wanted to give back to two public institutions - the Indian Institute of Technology and the University of Maryland. "We wanted to do something for universities that were open to all students," said Dr. Ashok Kulkarni. "As I completed my graduate work, I received some scholarships and it was incredibly precious to have this kind of support. I had very little personal funding to complete my studies - I even had to take a loan in India to do so. I wanted to give back to the institutions that helped me pursue the exciting career path that I eventually found. Not only did I learn research and problem solving, but a whole cadre of other important skills that served me well in my life," he added.
"We realized the importance of somebody else's contribution to Ashok's education. And we wanted to give back in the same sense. Someone else's donation is helping the Kulkarni Fellows, and we want to encourage these students to give back in the same way. We would like to inspire the fellows to not only support others financially but also in terms of participating in service. Time and money are both equally precious - and even if not right now, we hope the scholars in time will be inspired to give back," added Mrs. Ranjana Kulkarni.
The fellows share this hope. Jayanti spoke about his recent visit to India and working at the Blue Cross in Chennai. "Since I was young, I was very interested in animal rights, and hope to pursue this kind of service while I am here in the States," said Jayanti. Rani sees herself potentially contributing in the school nutrition space. Kumar shared his extensive experiences with the National Association for the Blind in India. "I basically helped students prepare for the Chartered Accountancy (CA) exam by dictating parts of the study materials to them," said Kumar.
Saxena for his part hopes to return to India once his PhD is completed. "People in India are keenly interested in electric cars right now. I think there is potentially some good we can do with discarded electric car batteries. There is a possibility that we can recyle or repurpose them," said Saxena. Mel Vallimyalil, the first School of Public Policy Kulkarni Fellow, "would be interested in working on projects on energy deprivations in rural areas of the country, particularly distributed energy sources, microgrids and clean cooking fuel access."
Das was a volunteer in the National Service Scheme (NSS) during his undergraduate days. Coming from rural West Bengal, India Das was always keen on giving something back to his home community. "Being a NSS volunteer showed me a way to accomplish that. I was involved in the regular and local NSS activities, such as awareness rallies, and getting necessary amenities for the area underfunded schools. During my graduate work, I am unable to participate in these activities directly, but I am able to help organize the annual camps by donating as much as I can. Additionally, I often bring books for the young children in my village, and help meritorious but poor students there with their tuition fees," says Das.
This summer marks the seventh cycle of the Kulkarni Summer Fellowship and with that a total of 27 recipients. "I think this is a remarkable milestone, and a time to think about creating a Kulkarni Fellows alumni community. These scholars have gone on to do great things, and we need to both celebrate their achievements, and offer a way to connect them to one another," said Jeffrey Franke, Assistant Dean of the Graduate School.
(Photos: Anna De Cheke Qualls/Available also on the UMD Graduate School's Flickr)