$7 million gift from the Shiv Nadar Foundation bolsters undergraduate research and women in EECS

Gift will help establish the Vamasundari Devi Fellowship Fund to provide financial support to graduate students and the SuperUROP program, which provides undergraduates with two-semester research opportunities.

The MIT Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) recently welcomed a $7 million gift from the Shiv Nadar Foundation.

“Both Shiv Nadar and Roshni Nadar Malhotra share our commitment to excellence in education and in entrepreneurship, and the gifts we are celebrating today are extraordinary examples of that commitment,” said MIT President L. Rafael Reif in a celebratory Zoom gathering on Nov. 3, which was attended by Nadar, Malhotra, and top MIT leadership to celebrate the Shiv Nadar Foundation’s gift to MIT.

The gift will support two causes close to the donors’ hearts: the education of women, and quality research opportunities for undergraduates. Of the gift, $4 million will establish the Vamasundari Devi Fellowship Fund, which honors Nadar’s late mother (Malhotra’s grandmother) by providing fellowship support to MIT graduate students, with a preference for the support of women. The remaining $3 million will support SuperUROP students engaged in hands-on research, through the Shiv Nadar Undergraduate Research Fund.

“The Vamasundari Devi Fellowship Fund begins a wonderful legacy that will provide invaluable support for talented women scientists and engineers,” said Reif, “and the Shiv Nadar Undergraduate Research Fund will allow us to strengthen one of the most essential features of an MIT education: opportunities for students to partner with faculty on important research projects.”

“This gift is so meaningful to the entire department of EECS,” added department head Asu Ozdaglar, the MathWorks Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “It aligns with, and affirms, our highest departmental priority: supporting our students. I wholeheartedly believe that the impact will be felt for generations to come, from Cambridge to Chennai.”

Anantha Chandrakasan, who serves as dean of the School of Engineering and is also the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, agreed. Addressing both Nadar and Malhotra, he said, “Speaking on behalf of the MIT School of Engineering, it is our privilege to recognize your tremendous commitment as a powerful tool for social and individual change.”

Nadar, founder of the HCL Group, has given close to $1 billion in total to philanthropic causes through the Shiv Nadar Foundation, with a focus on transformative education to drive social change. In addition to this latest gift to the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Nadar has supported efforts to establish early intervention and enrichment programs (such as SHIKSHA Initiative, a tech-based literacy outreach); K-12 schools (the three-location Shiv Nadar School); STEM-focused colleges (SSN Institutions, the Chennai-based institution for higher education Nadar founded and named in honor of his father, Sri Sivasubramaniya Nadar); philanthropic multidisciplinary research institutions (Shiv Nadar University Delhi-NCR and Shiv Nadar University Chennai); and arts organizations (Kiran Nadar Museum of Art). Nadar has also served on the boards of multiple business and technical schools, and advocated for relationship-building between higher education organizations in India and their foreign counterparts.

For her part, Malhotra has become a leading figure in the world of tech and in philanthropy. She succeeded her father at the helm of HCL Technologies Limited in 2020, becoming the first female chair of a listed Indian information technology company. A passionate environmentalist, Malhotra is also the founder of The Habitats Trust, a coalition supporting work to sustain lesser-known endangered species and habitats, and is a trustee of the Shiv Nadar Foundation. Additionally, she is the chairperson of VidyaGyan Leadership Academy, a pair of free schools in rural Uttar Pradesh focused on identifying and nurturing gifted students from rural India into leaders of tomorrow.

Both Nadar and Malhotra point to the influence of Shiv’s mother, Vamasundari Devi, in their development as philanthropists. “She was a great person, extremely focused, progressive, and immensely inspiring,” said Nadar. “Her efforts led me to what I am today, and led Roshni to what she is today.”

Nadar also described how Devi’s influence was pivotal in his development as a philanthropist, pointing out that after his initial successes with HCL allowed him to consider which causes he might support, it was Devi who reminded Nadar that he’d been supported by a merit scholarship during his own education, and suggested that he pay the gift forward.

When, many years later, Nadar met President Reif, the philanthropist and the Insitute leader discovered they shared a common vision for expansive, inclusive education. “It was clear we saw eye-to-eye on many issues of vital importance to MIT,” recalled Reif at last month’s event. One of those issues, he noted, was the persistent gender gap in STEM, specifically in computer science and electrical engineering, where women earn only about three out of every 10 advanced degrees. The Nadar gift dovetails perfectly with the MIT Department of EECS’s commitment to improving gender representation within the field, a commitment recently commemorated by the launch of Thriving Stars, a comprehensive program designed to foster the success of women in EECS, from application through graduation and beyond via increased fellowship support, information and coaching sessions, and a wide variety of internship and career networking opportunities.

The celebration included thought-provoking research presentations from several current MIT students working on topics as varied as image noise reduction, better videoconferencing, and advance warning of mental health declines. “We [at Shiv Nadar University] also started undergraduate research, which is quite unique for a university in India,” Malhotra explained. “By supporting the program which is already in existence at MIT, for us as a foundation and as a young university… it’s a great opportunity for knowledge sharing and exchange.”