In fall 2014, more undergraduate students from India applied to MIT than any non-US country. And MIT’s Alumni Directory lists more than 1,300 MIT alumni who currently live in India, nearly half of whom graduated in the past 15 years.
While the large number of Indian-born MIT applicants, students, and alumni is a more recent phenomenon, the impact of India-born MIT students is not, especially in their home country. Author Ross Bassett traces these stories in his book, The Technological Indian, which examines the role MIT-educated Indian engineers have played in the technological-revolution of the 20th century.
“I was interested in how India had developed technologically, specifically with the IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) that were formed in 1950s and 1960s,” Bassett says. “Those Institutes were modeled after MIT and became a really important anchor for India’s development.”
In his research, Bassett combed through MIT Commencement programs and MIT annual alumni registers to create a database of more than 1,000 Indian-born MIT alumni who graduated before 2000. Most were graduate-degree alumni who graduated with an engineering degree. In total, he spoke to more than 200 MIT alumni and family members.
Bassett’s research also indicated that early MIT Indian students attending MIT were largely from a middle class and well-off background, whose parents studied liberal arts and law at British universities like Oxford and Cambridge.
“These parents wanted their children’s future lined with technology rather than law, and making connections with US rather than Britain,” he says. “India wanted to get out from under the British shadow. They wanted to pursue technology that would not involve the British, and engineering in the U.S. and Cambridge seemed like the best choice.”
The Technological Indian mainly focuses on MIT’s Indian alumni post-graduation, but it include facts and anecdotes from than 130 years of MIT-India history.
“Prominent Indian families sent their heirs to MIT to prepare them to run family businesses,” Bassett says. “Indians used MIT as a vehicle for technological development in India.”
- MIT’s first Indian-born student, Keshav Bhat, was enrolled at MIT from 1882–1884 and again in 1890. “Way earlier than I had imagined,” Bassett says.
- The first Indian-born MIT alumna was Almitra Patel ’58, SM ’59. “Her father had a grinding wheel business and paid for her MIT education, but he made her sign a bond committing her to work for the family business when she was done.”
- Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, visited MIT campus in 1949 and met with Indian students and MIT President James Killian.
- Deep Joshi SM ’77, SM ’77, who attended MIT on scholarship, is a well-known Indian social worker who was awarded Asia’s prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2009.
“Many alumni told me it was the best years of their life,” Bassett says. “MIT still has a very strong place in the mind of Indians who are interested in technology. It’s really served as a model for the country.”