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Fall 2009
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Inaugural Class of Indian Agriculture Students Will Take Their Expertise Home

By Krishna Ramanujan

Visiting Indian plant breeding MPS students
Lindsay France/University Photography

Visiting Indian plant breeding MPS students, from left, Pranjal Singh, Chiranth C. Rajashekar, and Supriya Shahilearn learn new lab techniques in Stocking Hall.

The launch of two dual-degree programs offered by Cornell with India’s Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) means that 13 Indian students who arrived in Ithaca in early June are now part of history.

They are the inaugural class of new Master of Professional Studies (MPS) programs in plant breeding and food science—the first agricultural life sciences degrees to be offered by a U.S. university specifically for Indian students. They will study at Cornell until December and then complete their degree requirements at TNAU in Coimbatore, India, to graduate next summer with an MPS degree from Cornell and a Master of Technology (M.Tech.) degree from TNAU.

The students plan to apply their new expertise about state-of-the-art lab equipment and the latest processes taught at Cornell to Indian agriculture and industry.

“This program is the first of its kind to be offered in India’s state agricultural system and offers students exposure to courses and experience that cannot be gained in India,” says
K. V. Raman, Cornell professor of plant breeding who helped create the degree programs.

For example, Kriti Saxena in the food science MPS program wants to better understand product development and marketing to bring the wide variety of mango products available in India—including concentrates, juices, oils, pickles, chutneys, and dried slices—to the global market.

Chiranth C. Rajashekar in the plant breeding and genetics program plans to learn such genetic techniques as marker-assisted selection for use in India. “I can learn some modern techniques in plant breeding that I can use in Indian crops to develop new varieties,” Rajashekar says.

From Cornell’s facilities and infrastructure to punctual buses and a vast library system, the students are impressed. “You can take out 400 books” at a time, and “every department has its own library,” remarks Saxena.

The program is funded by a five-year, $3 million grant from the Navajbai Ratan Tata Trust through the Cornell-Sathguru Foundation for Development, and a matching contribution of up to $1 million from the foundation.