Student Spotlight with Pratham MIttal

Pratham Mittal

Mark Stehle

IT’S IN THE FAMILY: Pratham Mittal, a junior who is double-majoring in systems engineering and political science, hails from a family with close ties to education. His father, Ashok, and his mother, Rashmi, are the chancellor and pro-chancellor, respectively, of Lovely Professional University (LPU), a private institution located in Punjab, India.

NEW RULES: Mittal explains that around 2003, the Parliament of India passed a law allowing private universities to set up shop in the country. Mittal’s father founded LPU in 2006. Before the rule change, all universities were run by the government, which dictated everything, including school fees, course offerings, and teacher recruitment.

PENN INFLUENCE: Mittal says LPU is different from other universities—and attributes many of those innovations to ideas he’s shared with his family about Penn. “Whenever I go back [to India] during the summers or winter break, I take all these ideas back,” Mittal says. “I just brainstorm with my parents as to what systems that are inherently in the system at UPenn can be reciprocated in India.”

BEST IDEAS: The most groundbreaking idea he introduced to his family that is now in practice at LPU is the flexibility with which students declare their majors or courses of study, and the classes students can take to fulfill the major. “In India, when you enter a university, you have to declare a major at the time of admission. You have to stick with that for the four years you are there,” Mittal explains. “There’s absolutely zero flexibility.”

FOR FUN: Mittal says his parents’ university has also adopted the idea of having student-run organizations. Today, there are between 50 and 60 student groups at LPU, from business to theater. They’re also trying to form “an Indian equivalent of an Ivy League where the private universities come together and have their sporting events.”

CULTURAL DIVIDE: Not all policies or programs are transferrable to India, Mittal says—and not everyone is happy to see a rethinking of the traditional university system. “You can’t pick Penn up and put it on LPU. You have to make all these small, small changes and make it more relevant to the culture of India,” Mittal says. “But once you’ve decided that you have to change the system, you have to change the system.”

FUTURE PLANS: Mittal is weighing his options post-Penn. He is launching a start-up business this winter and if it is successful, he may stick with it. He could work for a couple of years in the United States and then head home to help his father with the university. Mittal is also considering graduate work in political science or systems engineering.

Originally published on January 19, 2012