After four years of focused academics, collaborative research, and an intense class workload for a degree in computational biology, he discovered he had a tuition balance that could prevent him from completing his degree. At the time, it felt like an insurmountable hurdle. Luckily, a professor loaned him enough to finish the semester and walk at commencement.
Naik didn’t just pay that generous loan back. Fast forward 18 years, and he has been on a personal mission to create opportunities for today’s CMU students to extend their education into meaningful work as he did.
To ensure that all undergraduates, regardless of their financial circumstances, can learn and grow from working with peers and faculty on research projects, he established the Naik Endowed Undergraduate Research Fund with the intention to fuel interdisciplinary collaboration through undergraduate research projects.
“This is about funding students who are making a commitment to improving someone’s life,” he says.
Naik describes his initial gift of $35,000 as a type of focused and durable impact, providing students with resources, space and time to explore their interests and accelerate their ideas. His fund will enable students to fully immerse themselves in research as part of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program. This kind of support allows them to focus on research without juggling additional paid employment. It also propels students’ discovery in projects that are part of the Small Undergraduate Research Grant (SURG) program by ensuring that they can get the supplies and materials they need.
Stephanie Wallach, assistant vice provost for undergraduate education, says that this type of support is about more than the face value of the project itself. Research opportunities create a focus on thinking and doing, shaping not only students’ educational paths, but their career direction as well.
“This is a chance for students to delve into an area and establish some expertise,” she explains. “Students have a chance to experiment without much risk and make meaningful, lifelong connections with influential researchers on campus. Supporting undergraduate research is an approachable way to make a big difference in the life of a student.”
While an undergraduate, Naik describes opportunities to conduct research and form connections with CMU faculty, which created a rich educational experience that had a tremendous influence on his career and fueled his passion to make opportunities more accessible to students.
“Research is the heart of the CMU undergraduate experience.” Rumi Naik
“All of us did research. It was a large part of our identity,” he says.
After a successful early career at Intel , he missed the lab work and wanted to teach. He pursued his Ph.D. at CMU and was advised by Professor Robert F. Murphy, head of the Computational Biology Department, before becoming a Lane Postdoctoral Fellow.
Naik says that he still draws on his CMU education and research experience for the discipline, values and spirit he brings to his role as Associate Vice President and Head of R&D Scientific and Digital Innovation, at the pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur, where he is leading a team working on developing a better flu vaccine.
Naik has challenged fellow alumni to support opportunities for undergraduates to participate in dedicated research and discovery by helping to grow the fund – expanding its reach and securing resources for the scholars and inventors of today and tomorrow.
“Research is the practical joy of learning,” he explains. “This is about investing in something that really matters … I want others to know that they can create a moment in a bright person’s life.”