$1 Million Gift Brings India Center Endowed Chair Closer to Reality

Interim President Thad Seymour, left, and Raj Toleti.

An endowed chair position for UCF’s India Center continues its march toward reality with a new $1 million pledge.

The pledge comes from Raj Toleti, ‘93MS, and family, including his wife, Aparna Toleti, ‘95MS, and brings the total for the fund to $2 million of a $5 million goal. Their generous commitment to the success of the India Center was recognized Wednesday at a reception attended by influential members of Central Florida’s Indian community, College of Sciences Dean Michael Johnson, Ph.D. and Interim President Thad Seymour.

In remarks after receiving the key to the university, Toleti looked back at his early days as an entrepreneur. The encouragement and mentoring he received as a new business owner supplied him a platform to grow and take chances. He chose to invest in the India Center because he sees it as an opportunity to spur innovation and provide a similar support platform for students.

“These generations of students need infrastructure to grow their global social responsibility. That is a fundamental value, and I see the India Center as a valuable conduit for developing that,” Toleti said.

The Raj Toleti Family Speaker Series at the India Center will play a key role in increasing the India Center’s national and international visibility and impact. New partnerships will be forged, and existing ones deepened, by inviting renowned speakers to UCF and Orlando to engage with students, faculty and the community and speak on Indian-American relations, said Kerstin Hamann, Ph.D., director of the School of Politics, Security, and International Affairs, and interim director of the India Center.

Similarly, the endowed chair will provide the intellectual and scholarly leadership that will put the India Center on the academic map among scholars of India. An endowed chair communicates to the international academic community that the study of India is of recognized significance among donors. Funding from this gift boosts the reputation of the India Center, and makes it possible to expand its programming under the leadership of an expert on India, Hamann said.

Interim President Thad Seymour praised Toleti’s commitment to growth at UCF, and pointed to the importance of community partnerships to UCF’s success.

“I am strongly committed to this center because I see the tremendous opportunity it provides us to connect with our larger community – here and abroad – to drive new ideas and to create business and economic opportunities,” Seymour said.

Johnson echoed Seymour’s gratitude, and shared that Toleti’s vision for innovation is already underway. A UCF delegation visited the Indian state Madhya Pradesh in 2018 and drafted a groundbreaking agreement to support seven “smart cities” in the state. This talent pipeline between India and UCF will strengthen the development of new technology.

The vision and leadership of a full-time India scholar as the endowed chair— made possible by Toleti’s gift — will keep that momentum going, Johnson said.

“…We see the India Center as a national leader in the formation of U.S.-India partnerships among universities, government and nongovernmental agencies, and businesses – fostering innovation in fields such as technology, politics, economics, government, medicine, security, and more,” Johnson said.


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