Illini Everywhere: Sikh Illini, Since 1915

Since at least 1915, Sikh students have been attending the University of Illinois. Early Sikh Illini have included agricultural economists, agronomists, animal scientists, chemists, chemical engineers, civil engineers, dairy scientists, electrical engineers, entomologists, financial administrators, geneticists, mathematicians, mechanical engineers, mining engineers, physicists, plant pathologists, priests, and student leaders too.

Read on to learn more about early Sikh Illini!

The first Sikh student might have been Mr. Ranjit Singh Jain, (B.S. Electrical Engineering, 1915), of Delhi. Mr. Jain had prepared at St. Stephens College in Delhi, and the University of California, before coming to Illinois. [1] After graduation, Mr. Jain took a position as an Assistant Engineer at Reliance Electrical and Engineering Company, of Cleveland, Ohio.

The first Sikh graduate student might have been Mr. Charnjit Singh, (B.S. Electrical Engineering, 1916; M.S. Physics, 1921), and he prepared at Khalsa Collegiate High School, the University of Punjab, and the University of California, before coming to Illinois. [2] After graduation, Mr. Singh became a priest at the Sikh Temple (gurdwārā) in Stockton, California, before returning to Illinois to complete a graduate degree in Physics. Mr. Singh was also a member of Cosmopolitan Club, as seen in the image below.

Mr. Alamjit Dhaliwal Singh, (B.S. Chemistry, 1929; M.S. Chemistry, 1930), might have been the first Chemistry graduate. During his senior year and his graduate studies, Mr. Singh worked as a Special Research Assistant in Chemistry, for six months from February through August. [3] By February 1936, Mr. Singh was working as a Chemical Engineering Special Research Assistant at the Engineering Experiment Station. [4] Mr. Singh was also a member of the national Chemistry honor society Phi Lambda Upsilon, as seen in the Illio image below.

While working for the Chemical Engineering at Illinois, alongside Chemical Engineering Professor Henry F. Johnstone, Mr. Singh had filed a patent “covering an improvement in Recovery of Sulfur Dioxide from Ammonia Solutions”, and future patent applications soon followed too. [5] In 1938, the City of Chicago invited Mr. Singh to work full-time on an air pollution study conducted by the Works Progress Administration. [6] Which he completed during the following year and published by Illinois too. In 1940, the previous work on sulfur dioxide recovery was also published by Illinois.

Mr. Ranbir Singh, (M.S. Agricultural Economics, 1930; PhD Agricultural Economics, 1933) worked as an Agricultural Economics research assistant before returning to India where he later took a position as Assistant Secretary of the Patiala State Finance Department in 1937. [7] While on campus, Mr. Singh was a committee member for the 1929 Y.M.C.A. “Stay-Over” party for students who did not leave town during winter break (December 24, 25, 27, and 29), and he was later initiated into the honorary intercollegiate fraternity Phi Kappa Epsilon too (January 9, 1932).

Mr. Singh was also a frequent contributor to the Daily Illini, with one interview commenting on British rule in India (May 11, 1930), an editorial correcting another writer’s views on Gandhi and socialism in India (July 10, 1932), and he later published a poem too (May 8 1932). Mr. Singh was a campus and community speaker too, with at least two talks including a Y.M.C.A. talk “The Aims of Indian Nationalism” (January 6, 1933), and a WILL talk “Place of the Farmers in the Reconstruction of India” (February 2, 1933).

Mr. Bhagat Singh, (B.S. Chemistry, 1933; M.S., 1934; PhD, 1940) published at least one article locally, “India is Using Modern Methods in Developing the Water Power of the Punjab”, in the January 1933 issue of The Technograph (Record Series 41/8/810), before leaving town. Mr. Singh was also active in student life, including membership in the multicultural student organization Cosmopolitan Club, (as seen in the image above), the honorary science fraternity Sigma Xi, and he was club president of the League for World Friendship. Mr. Singh was an invited speaker too, with talks including “A New Constitution for India” (April 20, 1937) for the International Relations Club, an overview of Hinduism (January 21, 1938) for the McKinley Life Guidance Group, and an overview of the Hindi Language (February 19, 1939).

Mr. Kulbir Singh, (M.S. Civil Engineering, 1947) was an athlete and frequent speaker too. Some talks included the partition of India (July 25, 1947) for the local Kiwanis chapter, Indian customs (September 13, 1947) for the Blackford Community Club of Gibson City, Illinois, and American customs (April 21, 1948) for the Champaign Women’s Club. Mr. Singh was an engaged reader of the Daily Illini too, with topics including a letter to staff writer Gene Shalit concerning the misrepresentation of an Indian student, (November 4, 1947), the importance of U.S. supporting antiracist initiatives in the United Nations (November 21, 1947) and the impact of the death of Mahātmā Gandhi on Indians (January 31, 1948). During the following summer, Mr. Singh played singles (July 9, 28, August 4, 10, and 11) and doubles (July 10, August 4, 10, and 11) intramural tennis.

While Mr. Gurcharn Singh, (M.S. Civil Engineering, 1947) might not have left many records behind.

Mr. Gurnam Singh Gujral, (M.S. Mechanical Engineering, 1948), gave at least one community talk “Religious and Cultural Influences in India” (January 10, 1948) for the Champaign First Methodist Church, and his car was driven by Egyptian Illini Dickran Izmirlian during a local spring 1948 carnival parade (May 28, 1948 and August 3, 1948). As seen in the image above, Mr. Singh was also vice-president of the Association of Students from Pakistan and India during academic year 1947-1948.

While Mr. Amritdhari Singh, (M.A. Labor and Industrial Relations, 1949) was the first international student to complete a master’s degree in Labor and Industrial Relations, the Daily Illini reported.

Mr. Radja Singh, (1948-1949) might not have left many records behind, except for a photo, as seen above in the Cosmopolitan Club group photo from academic year 1948-1949.

While Mr. Gujral Singh, (1948-1949) might not have left many records behind either, except a photo, as seen above in the Society of Automotive Engineers group photo from academic year 1948-1949.

Of course there were many more graduate students too. Some early Sikh Illini graduate students have included Giri Raj Singh (Plant Pathology), Guru Din Singh, (M.S. Agricultural Economics, 1954), Indar Singh Luthar (PhD Mathematics, 1957), Madan Mohan Singh, (M.S. Mining Engineering, 1957), Anand Pal Singh Dhariwal, (PhD Agronomy, 1958), Uma Shanker Singh (M.S. Agronomy, 1958), Sardar Singh Verma, (M.S. Agronomy, 1958), Rajinder Singh (PhD Mathematics, 1960), Zile Singh, (M.S. Entomology, 1959), Krishan Piara Singh (PhD Civil Engineering, 1962) Amarjit Harnamsingh Singh, (M.S. Physics, 1961; PhD, 1967), Mahavir Singh Surana, (M.S. Electrical Engineering, 1961), Balbir Singh Narang, (B.S. 1961; M.S. 1964; PhD Mining Engineering, 1967), Sundar Singh Saluja, (M.S. Mining Engineering, 1961), Dalip Singh Malik, (M.S. Agronomy, 1962; PhD, 1968), Gurdip Singh, (M.S. Civil Engineering, 1962), Ajit Singh Virdee, (M.S. Civil Engineering, 1962) Harinder Pal Harnam Singh (M.S. Mechanical Engineering, 1962), H. Devendra Singh, (Research Associate in Animal Science, 1962-63), Balwant Singh, (M.S. Horticulture, 1963), Sharda Nand Singh, (PhD Finance, 1963), Daulat Singh, (M.S. Agricultural Economics, 1964), Gurcharan Singh Tahim, (PhD Electrical Engineering, 1965), Harmohindar Singh Gill, (PhD Plant Pathology, 1965), Bir Bahadur Singh, (M.S. Agronomy, 1965; PhD, 1967), Jaswant Singh, (PhD Plant Pathology, 1966), Maharaj Singh, (PhD Agronomy, 1966), Surjit Singh Malhotra, (PhD Agronomy, 1966), Amarjit Singh, (EdM, 1967), Dharam Singh Dhindsa, (PhD Animal Science, 1967), Balbir Singh Narang, (PhD Mining Engineering, 1967), Dalip Singh Malik, (PhD Agronomy, 1968), Gurdial Singh, (M.S. Electrical Engineering, 1968), Dileep Singh Sachan, (PhD Dairy Science, 1968), Surjit Singh Khurana, (PhD Mathematics, 1968), Surjan Singh, (PhD Dairy Science, 1968), Hari Lal Singh Tandon, (PhD Agronomy, 1968), Janak Singh Sharma, (PhD Agricultural Economics, 1968), Arjun Singh, (PhD Genetics, 1969), Chida Singh, (M.S. Agronomy, 1969), Balram Singh Rajput, (PhD Mathematics, 1970), Laxman Singh, (PhD Agronomy, 1969), Gyanendra Singh, (M.S. Chemical Engineering, 1970), Lakhvendar Singh Cheema, (PhD Mechanical Engineering, 1970), Suman Singh, (M.S. Statistics, 1970), and Yogendra Singh, (M.S. Electrical Engineering, 1970), to name a few.

For over one century, Sikh students have been choosing Illinois and succeeding in their chosen career paths. While many early Sikh students were members of many different student organizations including those affiliated with other South Asian Illini, in 2001, the first Sikh Student Association was established. For nearly twenty years, the SSA has organized to raise awareness of Sikhism and to build bonds between Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike. Every year, the SSA organizes annual celebrations of holidays including Diwali, Gurpurab, and Lohri. In fact, every spring, in keeping with the Sikh practice of community kitchens (also known a “Langar”), a large, community kitchen of free food and community is offered and open to all.

Are you a Sikh Illini? Do you know someone who is? We’d like to hear from you! Please send us a message or leave a comment below. We want to include you and your story, as we celebrate the first 150 years of the University of Illinois.

Happy First 150 everyone!

 

(A special thank you to the 2018-2019 Sikh Student Association members for inviting me to their events and sharing some of their stories too.)

References

[] As always, a special thank you to all students and staff whose tireless work for student life and publications (many of which are available at the University Archives) help preserve the memories of Illini everywhere.

[] The author acknowledges that it is quite possible that Sikh students have been misidentified, since archival research strategies used the surnames “Singh” and “Kaur”. While those surnames became traditional surnames for Sikhs in the 1700s; there are other people with those names too. There are publicly available Wikipedia articles with concise histories of the surnames “Singh” and “Kaur” respectively.

[1] “Ranjit Singh Jain”, The Semi-Centennial Alumni Record of the University of Illinois, Edited by Franklin W. Scott, page 582.

[2] “Charnjit Singh”, page 697.

[3] Meeting of the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, March 12, 1929, page 153, Record Series 1/1/802; October 17, 1930, page 113.

[4] February 22, 1936, page 551; May 27, 1936, page 699; August 2, 1937, page 408; September 27, 1937, page 521; April 27, 1938, page 726.

[5] September 30, 1936, page 53; October 26, 1936, pages 89-91; May 13, 1937, pages 263-264; April 27, 1938, page 788; July 15, 1938, page 20; July 14, 1939, page 374.

[6] December 17, 1938, page 177.

[7] September 29, 1931, page 456; December 21, 1932, page 163.

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