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Rupy Sawhney

Center for Global Engagement Helps Build Uzbekistan Collaborations

Keen to build partnerships in Central Asia, Rupy Sawhney turned to UT’s Center for Global Engagement (CGE) to explore opportunities. Reporting directly to UT’s Office of the Provost, CGE works to lead, coordinate, and support the university’s strategies for global education, research, and engagement.

Working with CGE staff, Sawhney was able to develop a series of collaboration-building workshops with the Namangan Institute of Engineering and Technology (NIET) in Uzbekistan, funded by the US Embassy there and administered by the American Council for International Education.

Sawhney, professor and Heath Faculty Fellow in Business and Engineering in UT’s Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, started the process in early 2020 by meeting with Gretchen Neisler, UT’s vice provost for international affairs. His research group has four focus areas: research, industrial collaborations, education, and international networks.

To actively pursue the workshop funding, Sawhney and his team worked with Jamie McGowan, director of the Global Research Office, to create a compelling proposal and to implement the workshop agenda.

“Jamie was a godsend,” Sawhney said. “She took a driving role, helping to identify the opportunity and put the proposal together.”

Ninad Pradhan, postdoctoral research associate and research liaison for the Center for Advanced Systems Research and Education (CASRE) where Sawney serves as executive director, coordinated implementation of the project titled, “Catalyzing Research and Administrative Collaborations with Uzbekistan.”

Initiated in September 2020 and just now finishing up, the project consisted of three webinars. One focused on scholarly research and another on research administration. This month, the final webinar will focus on future plans for collaborations.

“NIET is small but growing, and developing along the lines of institutions such as UT in terms of research, administration and an academic environment with students prepared to transition to the workforce,” Pradhan said. “With Jamie’s help, we presented speakers with expertise most relevant to the faculty and administrators at NIET, including how to develop sustainable funding models and how to engage with local and regional communities.”

In addition to Sawhney and Pradhan, the proposing team included Suresh Babu, UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair for Advanced Manufacturing; Carla Arbogast, CASRE director; Tyson Raper, professor of plant sciences at UT’s Institute of Agriculture (UTIA); and David Ader, research assistant professor and assistant director of UTIA’s Smith Center for International Sustainable Agriculture.

Many similarities exist between UT and NIET, especially those revolving around agricultural research, Pradhan said. In addition, NIET faculty and administrators were interested in how UT develops and funds research.

“So, we brought different individuals to the webinars to explain how they got funded and what to do to develop and leverage resources,” Pradhan said.

For example, Ader spoke about his research related to cotton; Neisler talked about planning for international research and Deborah Crawford, vice chancellor of the Office of Research, Innovation and Economic Development, talked about building the research enterprise and partnerships.

The last webinar has been repositioned due to the enthusiastic engagement generated by the first two webinars. Instead of UT presenting a final conclusion, the plans are for both institutions to work reciprocally on the last webinar to identify real opportunities for collaboration.

In fact, one collaboration has already begun, with UT graduate student Joey Reilman working with NIET faculty member Nurillo Umarkhonov on a project titled, “Skill development across the globe: how universities and industries can work together to help their societies prosper.”

“As we shift our attention to making concrete plans, my advice to others who are interested in building their international research portfolio would be to reach out to Gretchen and Jamie,” Sawhney said. “They are proactive facilitators of international opportunities. Work with them to bring that global perspective back to your own lab.”

For more information on CGE, contact McGowan at jmcgowan10@utk.edu.

The RD Highlights series shares faculty stories about benefits realized by working with RD staff in the Office of Research, Innovation, and Economic Development (ORIED). For more information on RD services, visit the RD website https://research.utk.edu/research-development/or contact avcrd@utk.edu.

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