COS Distinguished Alumni Award Winner 2018: Rishi Bagga

For alumnus Rishi Bagga, attending UCF was a last minute choice after visiting the campus with his older sister. However, majoring in political science was the obvious choice.

“My first interest in politics came through my dad,” he said. “But the real kicker came when I joined my high school debate team; I loved hanging around with like-minded students, discussing and debating the political problems of the day.”

During his time at UCF, Bagga was heavily involved on campus, serving as captain of the Mock Trial Team, an SGA Senator and the recording secretary for his fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta.

After graduating from the Washington College of Law at American University in Washington, D.C., he moved to Miami where he worked as assistant state attorney. He was also an active member of the South Asian Bar Association of North America (SABA), an organization created to develop a voice for the legal rights of the South Asian Community.

For the last year, Bagga served as the president of SABA, focusing his work on pushing legislative action and legal counsel for the South Asian community in the United States. One of his most memorable experiences was leading a delegation of attorneys to Capitol Hill to lobby with members of Congress to discuss legal issues facing South Asian Americans.

As president, he worked with the American Bar Association and other bar associations to diversify senior positions within the law community.

“Within the bar there are increasing numbers of women and minorities graduating, but many senior positions within the law haven’t reflected that,” Bagga said. “SABA has tried to take a leadership role.”

In May, they hosted a nationwide naturalization drive, offering free legal counsel to people from the South Asian community with the help of volunteer lawyers. In the two months prior to the event, they worked to make sure the volunteers had all the training they needed to provide assistance to the attendees. Many of the volunteers work with law firms or the government and are looking for a way to give back to their community.

“This was a tremendous service we were able to provide. Several hundred qualified to become American citizens but didn’t know how to do it so we helped them do that,” Bagga said.

Apart from his work as an attorney and president of SABA, Bagga has also been active with his alma mater since returning to Orlando in 2014. He is the former chair of the College of Sciences Alumni Chapter, where his goal was to bring together the different disciplines and interests within the college. He fostered relationships through things such as networking events for engineers and businessmen, who don’t interact often but benefit from collaborating.

“We have such a wide variety among departments and alumni who do so many different things, lawyers and scientists and folks into marketing,” Bagga said. “The most important aspect for me in that role was making sure the events we had were interesting and that they would appeal to people of all different backgrounds.”

Currently, he’s working to further the efforts of the India Center. The India Center was established in 2012 and moved to the political science department in 2014. The Center’s goal is to expand awareness and understanding about India. In the past years, the India Center has sponsored various events such as speakers and panels; organized an annual India forum and encouraged academic and professional exchanges with institutions in India.

Bagga hopes to attract younger alumni to be involved with their alma mater and to target recent graduates who are enthusiastic to give back but don’t know how. Earlier this year, he hosted a happy hour that provided a small donation to the Center, which he hopes to turn into a series of events. He also encouraged more partnerships with Indian-American groups in Central Florida such as the Indian-American Chamber of Commerce.

When Bagga graduated in 2003, people at his law school hadn’t heard of UCF, now he’s proud of how far the school has come and his involvement in helping that happen.

“I graduated at a time when we were on the cusp of being well known,” he said. “It was a tremendous development to be part of that process in any way, meet so many unbelievable people as UCF alum, I’m really proud and lucky to be engaged with the community that way.”

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