Chatham University

Innovation and Research

Chatham’s India-Pittsburgh Connection

Prajna Parasher, Ph.D. is part of the region’s innovation community

Prajna Parasher, Ph.D. is associate professor and director of the Film and Digital Technology Program at Chatham. During the recent visit of Indian Ambassador Meera Shankar to Pittsburgh, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development featured Dr. Parasher as well as other members of Pittsburgh’s Indian community, and their contributions to the region.

Ten of the Pittsburgh region's 25 largest minority-owned companies are owned by individuals who are from India or of Indian ancestry. This may be a surprising statistic to some, but the fact of the matter is that the region's globally recognized economic transformation, spanning the past 30 years, has been significantly influenced by Indian knowledge workers and innovators.

The groundwork for this influence was laid when Indians began their migration to Pittsburgh in the 1970s, responding to Westinghouse Electric Company's recruitment of engineers from the subcontinent. As the years went by, more and more of their countrymen and women were attracted to work for large Pittsburgh companies, to study at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) and to engage in research at the growing University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).

Since then, many of those engineers, computer scientists and researchers who initially were just passing through chose Pittsburgh as the place where they could turn their ideas into enterprises, and those enterprises into job generators. Sunil Wadhwani is one of them. In the 1970s he earned a master's degree at Carnegie Mellon, and never left. He co-founded IT/business solutions firm iGateCorp., the largest Indian-owned business based in the region in terms of employment, with more than 8,000 workers worldwide.

Similarly, Venkee Sharma and his father have been trailblazers for the India-Pittsburgh connection. The elder Sharma immigrated to work for U.S. Steel, but struck out on his own some three decades ago to design industrial water treatment systems. Venkee Sharma has seized the opportunities in the Pittsburgh region to expand that company, Aquatech, from serving primarily steelmakers to a spectrum of industrial customers worldwide. Headquartered in Canonsburg, Washington County, Aquatech now employs more than 200 people, and continues to grow. Many leaders among Pittsburgh's Indian community contribute at the university level, and in a big way. Raj Reddy, computer science professor and founder of Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, has earned the prestigious A.M. Turing Award – the computer science equivalent to the Nobel Prize. Pradeep Khosla is dean of the university's school of engineering and founding director of CyLab, one of the largest university-based cyber security research and education centers in the United States. And Priya Narasimhan is president and founder of YinzCam, Inc., a CMU spin out focused on mobile live streaming and experiential technologies for live events. A die-hard hockey fan since her move to Pittsburgh in 2001, Dr. Narasimhan has garnered national acclaim for providing Penguins fans with engaging new in-game experiences on their smartphones and on displays in arena suites.

Born in Shimla, India, award-winning artist and scholar, Dr. Prajna Paramita Parasher was educated in Paris as a filmmaker before coming to the United States to pursue a Ph.D. Today she calls Pittsburgh home as director of the Film and Digital Technology program at Chatham University as well as an associate professor of art, film and cultural studies. Her highly-acclaimed, visionary achievements have been presented at world-class venues including the Smithsonian Institution, the Nehru Center in London and the Tagore Center in Berlin.

Vijay Gorantla is a surgery professor for the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and administrative medical director of UPMC's Reconstructive Transplantation Program. In April 2011, he hosted a team of medical professionals from one of India's most revered teaching hospitals, the Government Stanley Hospital, who will launch a similar program back home in Chennai (formerly Madras) based on what they learned in Pittsburgh.

Bilateral partnerships like these have increased trade and investment and are strengthening vital economic and cultural ties. Indian and American innovators, entrepreneurs and workers – here at home in the Pittsburgh region or half a world away – have benefits to reap from the Pittsburgh-India connection.

Reproduced with permission of the Allegheny Conference.

 

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