Alumni Spotlight

International Excellence: How the Pathway to Philanthropist Program can Change Lives

Greek mythology teaches that Prometheus took fire from the gods to hand to civilization and that made possible the transformative innovations we have today. Though Rahul Mittal ’21 hasn’t taken fire from Mount Olympus, he is providing a gift to Panthers that will be life changing.

Mittal’s connections to FIU run deep. He was a torchbearer for the 2023 Trail of the Torch, Presidential Scholar, Homecoming Prince, featured in an episode of the Amazon Prime Video series “The College Tour,” featuring FIU, and he co-authored three research papers and one book chapter on artificial intelligence.

He can now add donor to his list of contributions to the FIU community.

After graduating Summa Cum Laude in the spring of 2021 with a major in Computer Science and a Bachelor of Science, Mittal relocated to Austin, Texas, to work as a data engineer at Dell Technologies. He jokingly explained that his job consists of creating PowerPoints, but the role is not so simple. “I am responsible for generating more than a hundred thousand customer-facing reports every week for Dell customers,” he explained, adding that “automation and modeling of the data to add value to our customers” falls under the purview of his work.

“I feel like the job I have at Dell – the things I do – are very different from what I learned at FIU, just because the industry is so fast moving,” Mittal shared. “I like the constant learning and having a problem to solve and figuring out how to solve it is my favorite part.”

As an international student from India, where he went to The Emerald Heights International School, in the city of Indore, Mittal recounted the difficulties of adapting to a new environment while also trying to academically succeed. “I didn’t know how to order Chipotle when I ordered Chipotle for the first time. A lot of my friends who have been here knew how to do that,” Mittal admitted.

“As international students, you’re always afraid of reaching out, of being mocked, but I feel like FIU gave me that safe space that I was never worried about reaching out and asking questions,” he shared. However, as he was adapting to his newfound life, there were academic obstacles to overcome. As he explained, he was introverted and used to speaking Hindi with friends, and he attempted to reinvent himself despite the culture shock.

It was during this time of personal struggle that he received the Tony Menendez Computer Scholarship, which provided funds for him to buy a laptop and changed his life forever.

“I was actually renting a laptop from the library and going to the computer lab to do all my assignments. I had my first internship during my first semester, which I lost… because I didn’t have a laptop, and it was during that first semester that I found out I got the scholarship to get the laptop,” Mittal recounted. “That was a pivotal moment in my trajectory at FIU. The scholarship gave me a high-end laptop, which I really needed for my classes and for my internships, so I felt like it was a godsend.”

Not only did the scholarship provide a laptop for Mittal to excel in his classes, but it fueled the drive for him to persevere and offer the same help to other international Panthers.

“FIU believes in so many people, and the donors believed that this money should go to me and… [it] pushed me even further,” Mittal explained, noting that it “was fuel for me to keep going, so when I graduated and I was in a position to finally give back, I said to myself ‘there’s no other way I would do it.’”

Mittal credits his grandfather, Rajendra Mittal, with influencing and inspiring his ambition to learn and succeed, which was valuable to Mittal while developing his work ethic. To honor Rajendra, Mittal and FIU established the Rajendra Mittal International Excellence Award, which is dedicated to First Time in College international students in STEM fields, with a special preference for those who are enrolled in the Honors College and College of Engineering & Computing.

Rahul Mittal and Rajendra Mittal

“The day I graduated, my grandfather passed away due to COVID,” Mittal shared. “It was a really sad day because he was the one who sponsored my education before the scholarships could, and he was the one who believed in me coming abroad and actually going to school.”

“For me, it’s sad in the sense that he didn’t get to see the fruits of his hard work of me graduating. He didn’t get to see me in a gown and cap, and he didn’t get to see me getting my first full-time job, so for me, I needed a way to thank him,” Mittal added.

Mittal wanted to share with others the gift that his grandfather shared with him. To do so, he chose the Pathway to Philanthropist (P2P) program over creating a traditional endowment.

“Since I’m just starting in my career… it wouldn’t have been easy to start with the traditional endowment and would’ve taken me five or six years to see the impact of the gift,” Mittal explained. In choosing the P2P program, Mittal was attracted to “the perpetuity piece of the scholarship, so this is something that can honor my grandfather’s legacy. It’s something that goes on forever. Even when I’m not there, his name is still out there in the form of this award. I felt like that was something very important to me to put his name out there to make sure that future Panthers also knew who he was and know his values and his impact. It’s not my impact but his impact.”

Abdullah Naveed, a sophomore studying Electrical Engineering with Honors and a minor in Mathematical Sciences, is the first recipient of the Rajendra Mittal International Excellence Award.

Rahul Mittal and Abdullah Naveed

“This will give me a chance to focus more on my studies and my research rather than take an extra desk shift, so I can make ends meet,” Naveed explained. “I can give more time to my educational needs, and I can study harder for my classes and ensure that I meet all of my GPA requirements for my other scholarships.”

Mittal and Naveed had an opportunity to discuss both their personal journeys and the award. As both shared, scholarships have a reputation of being “disembodied.” A donor can create a scholarship and never meet the recipient. With this in mind, Mittal and Naveed felt it was important to meet. To further develop their academic relationship, Mittal plans on undertaking a mentorship role with Naveed, which Mittal says is in the nature of being a Panther.

“I think being a ‘Panther’ [is] having that roaring personality inside of you that wherever you go you have the confidence, you have the care for people, and you have a care for society and community,” Mittal said. “I feel like those are the values I learned being a Panther – that you’re not just concerned about yourself, you’re concerned about the people around you.”

Mittal was drawn to attend FIU because of its “International” appeal, explaining that FIU taught him he could accomplish great feats, and sometimes those feats include lighting the path forward for other Panthers.

“For me, being a Panther is being strong, caring about your community, and doing things with excellence,” Mittal expressed.

With the Rajendra Mittal International Excellence Award, Mittal not only honors the life of his grandfather, but in the true nature of the university, he gives back to his community. By helping a fellow Panther move forward, Mittal continues to drive the excellence that defines FIU because, as he explains, “I owe it to FIU.”

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