USC Aiken working to create stronger bonds with Indian institutions

USC Aiken is taking steps to greatly expand its exchange program with universities in India, in a move that will create stronger bonds with Indian institutions, enrich the educational and cultural experiences for students on campus, and provide a chance for Indian students to take advantage of the wide array of educational opportunities on offer at USC Aiken.

Students from India have been attending USC Aiken for a number of years, and have contributed greatly to the campus community, says Chancellor Daniel Heimmermann. "What is impressive about so many of our Indian students is that besides being great students, they have been indelible parts of campus life and really involved. They're just fabulous."

To kickstart the new initiative, Heimmermann went on a whirlwind tour of Indian universities last month—five in just five days—visiting institutions in Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore, after 18 hours of travel from Atlanta. "The people we met with were very warm and inviting, and there were even some performances while we were there," says Heimmermann. "We discussed our respective universities and our relative strengths, opportunities for collaboration, and student offerings. It was fairly open-ended."

To kickstart the new initiative, Dr. Heimmermann went on a whirlwind tour of Indian universities last month five in just five days visiting institutions in Mumbai, Pune, and Bangalore,

While there, Heimmermann began the process of setting up exchange programs and crafting the details for long-term collaborations and signed memoranda of agreement with four schools: the D. Y. Patil International University and the MIT World Peace University in Pune; the Lovely Professional University in Phagwara; and the Dayananda Sagar University in Bangalore. USC Aiken is already a partner with the Vidyalankar Group of Institutions in Mumbai. "We've just begun negotiations on how can we work together in support of the missions of our universities, and supporting our students and our faculty as well," says Heimmermann. "I was really struck by the interest that they had in partnering with, not just American universities, but also international universities, to provide opportunities for their students and faculty."

Provost Daren Timmons will play a key role in structuring the exchange programs, and working out details with his counterparts in India. He foresees, to start, an expansion of what is called the 2+2 model now in place for exchange students from India, where students would come to USC Aiken to finish their bachelor's degrees after completing two years of study in India. "It's what we're already doing, but now it will be with additional institutions," he says. "However, the articulations and all of the support behind these programs is what makes it challenging. It requires a whole lot of forethought and a lot of follow through as well. We have some dedicated staff on campus, like Liz Dille, our director of international programs, who is our frontline person." Dille will be managing logistics, like ensuring students get their visas in order, and also interacting with and handling questions from parents in India among other critical duties.

Timmons envisions USC Aiken students traveling to India to study as well, starting with short-term visits, eventually expanding to semester-long study, leading to mutual benefits for USC Aiken students and the visiting Indian students. "It will be a really good way for us to take steps to what we call internationalizing the campus," he says. "We are 85-90% South Carolina students here, and we feel that is consistent with our core mission. But we also have students from around 35 states and 35 different countries as well. We recognize that the world is bigger than South Carolina, and our students are going to be more successful if they are familiar with other cultures and customs."

Preparing students and giving them a leg up in an increasingly interconnected world and job market is also a priority for Heimmermann, who knows something about the benefits of international study, having done significant research in France. As the program progresses, USC Aiken students will have the chance to attend classes in India, but the exchange program gives students in Aiken an international experience here at home. "We talk about what we give students here as 51% academic, and 49% everything else," Heimmermann says. "This is part of the holistic education we provide."

One of the big draws for Indian students to study at USC Aiken are the vastly different educational methods between the typical Indian university and schools in the U.S. Harshi Lodha Jain, a transfer student from Vidyalankar Institute for International Education who will be graduating from USC Aiken in December, says that in India the classroom experience is more limiting. "Things are mostly theoretical there, and here the teaching is practical," she says. "In computer class in India, the focus is on the history and theory of the computer. Here, if I take a data analytics class, I learn how to analyze data. There is a lot more memorization in India, and over here I'm actually working as an undergraduate research assistant for both school of psychology and school of business." Lodha Jain also cited the smaller size of the campus and safety as reasons she opted for USC Aiken over other schools in the U.S.

Bobby Reeves, a South Carolina native who just graduated with a degree in management, became friends with Lodha Jain and worked with her on the Student Advisory Board. Reeves served as president of the board, and was also a Chancellor's Ambassador, among other high-level service positions he held as a student. "Harshi joined the board and just really took off with it," says Reeves. "She was constantly giving us great ideas for events and activities. She rose to the level of secretary and was an absolute rock star. We don't have time enough to talk about everything she's done!"

Lodha Jain is now hoping to pursue her doctorate in the U.S. For his part, Reeves is looking at graduate school, but he's already launched his career in sports management, and is currently weighing options. "I had no idea when I came to USC Aiken that I was going to meet somebody from essentially the complete opposite side of the world," he says, "much less get to be very close friends with them."

For more information, contact Chris Quirk, Wellspring Writing,, 917-648-6686