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UC Davis to name lecture hall after Indian American alumni

Dr. Ravinder and Kamaljeet Khaira have donated $1 million to UC Davis’ College of Biological Sciences.

Kamaljeet Singh-Khaira and her husband, pediatrician Dr. Ravinder Khaira, stand in front of the University of California, Davis Science Lecture Hall, a building that will soon bear their name. (photo courtesy of Kamaljeet Singh Khaira)

Dr. Ravinder and Kamaljeet Khaira have donated $1 million to their alma mater, the University of California, Davis.

The large donation will support the university’s College of Biological Sciences. In recognition of the donation, the Sciences Lecture Hall will be formally renamed the Ravinder and Kamaljeet Khaira Lecture Hall in the fall of 2023. It will be the first building on the UC Davis campus to carry an Indian name.

In a press statement, the Khairas said they hoped their gift would provide support for the college’s top priorities, and that they feel confident in the leadership of Mark Winey, dean of the College of Biological Sciences, to best utilize the funding to further enhance student success initiatives, faculty excellence and advances in life sciences research.

“I am deeply honored by the Khairas’ trust and confidence in me,” said Winey. “Their generosity and support of our college and campus will have far-reaching impacts on students here today, and on those who will study in the college for years to come.”

“We had always thought about making an impactful large donation to UC Davis,” Kamaljeet Khaira, who received both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at UC Davis, told New India Abroad. “We feel like the university really gave us the tools and resources to be successful in our respective careers.”

“They've given to our daughter Meera, who just graduated. I work there. There's just too many connections to ignore the power of the university and what it's given to us. We want to pay it forward for other young students who come through those halls,” she said.

Students at UC Davis. 

The grant is unrestricted, allowing Winey to direct how the funds are spent. This could include improving lab facilities, sending a promising student abroad to do research, and experiential, hands-on learning. “Anything they need to be able to have the students learn cutting edge science,” said Kamaljeet Khaira.

Her husband Ravinder, a pediatrician, told New India Abroad: “Our intent is solely benevolent. We want the money to be used to promote whatever Dean Winey sees fit.”

I'm on his leadership council, so I spend a lot of time with him. He's an extraordinarily humble and intelligent man, and is quite representative of the values that Kamaljeet and I have as far as promoting education and research and also addressing disparities that may be inherent within the college itself.”

“And I would like to see our culture, our ethnicity, promoted within the university system. Indian Americans can walk by that building and take pride.”

“That's something that they could take ownership of and perhaps they themselves can go ahead — once they become alumni — to make donations as well,” said Ravinder Khaira, who graduated from UC Davis in 1990.

“The school itself is actually a hub of Asian Americans, particularly Indian Americans, of Punjabi and general Indian descent. So we have just a little bit of pride that Indian Americans have made impactful contributions to UC Davis,” he said.

Kamaljeet Khaira earned both her bachelor’s degree and her Master’s degree at UC Davis. She now serves as the Director of CalFresh Healthy Living, based at the University. She is also the daughter of Darshan Singh, the longest-serving public official in San Francisco.

“Public service was really in the fabric of our upbringing. I would be at high school, in high school, and I'd be helping my dad do a blanket drive for the homeless population. He was always organizing things for the community, especially with  Indian leaders in mind to make sure that Indians in San Francisco had visibility and that we were part of the fabric of the community,” she said.

The Khairas also made a substantial donation to the Sutter Health Care system’s newest campus, the Anderson Lucchetti Women's and Children's Center in downtown Sacramento, California. The 8th floor of the building, which opened its doors in 2015, is named for the Khaira family foundation. “We made that donation impactfully to serve the underinsured, at-risk populations, and infants that need higher level of care," said Ravinder Khaira, addressing a question on healthcare disparities, which were brought into focus amid the Covid-19 pandemic.