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By Erin Bland ’13, UNC College of Arts and Sciences 

Tilak and Aruna Shah standing in front of the Old Well
Tilak and Aruna Shah

A strong affinity for UNC and a profound belief in the life changing influence of education inspired Nikin ’05 and Rashmi ’05 Shah to establish the Tilak and Aruna Shah Biomedical Engineering Scholarship in the College of Arts and Sciences in June 2023. The scholarship fund, named after Nikin’s parents, aims to support aspiring biomedical engineers who will go on to make significant contributions to the field of health care, medical devices and research.

The Shahs’ journey is deeply intertwined with education and family legacy. Born in India, Nikin’s father Tilak was one of 10 children and moved to the United States to pursue additional higher education. From there, he began at Upjohn, a chemical and pharmaceutical company, before embarking on an entrepreneurial path later in life with the founding of Polyzen, a medical device company, in 1991. Polyzen specializes in the contract development and manufacturing of specialized polymer components used in medical devices.

Nikin shared, “My dad, a pioneer in the medical device industry, always emphasized the transformative power of education.”

Nikin and Rashmi’s story began in 2001 after meeting at UNC orientation. Nikin, originally from Cary, went on to graduate with a B.S. in business administration, while Rashmi, from Goldsboro, majored in political science with a social and economic justice minor before becoming a double Tar Heel, graduating from UNC Law in 2008.

The Shahs feel immense appreciation to UNC for shaping them into the people they are today and helping them create a network of friends, mentors and colleagues. After Nikin and his brother acquired Polyzen following their father’s retirement in 2017, they worked with a team of engineers, many of whom were graduates from the joint biomedical engineering program, and witnessed the high caliber of students in the program. This unique collaboration between NC State University’s College of Engineering and UNC-Chapel Hill’s College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Medicine provides students with an in-depth and dynamic experience in biomedical engineering.

After the sale of Polyzen in November 2022, the Shahs felt a strong desire to give back to the community that had played a crucial role in their personal and professional success.

The Tilak and Aruna Shah Biomedical Engineering Scholarship will provide access for students pursuing biomedical engineering degrees at UNC, enabling them to focus on their studies and research without the added stress of financial constraints.

Nikin and Rashmi Shah with their three children in front of a UNC sign.
Nikin and Rashmi Shah with their three children.

Paul Dayton, chair of the department and William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor, shared, “The Shah family’s entrepreneurial story and their contributions to the design and development of medical devices are inspiring to biomedical engineers and exemplify the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship in BME. We are extremely grateful for Nikin and Rashmi’s gift of scholarship, which will provide additional opportunities for undergraduate students to pursue their degree in BME while reducing the financial commitment of higher education.”

Rashmi emphasized the point that “education opens doors and opportunities,” and this belief forms the bedrock of the Shahs’ philanthropic vision. “A student can lean into their passion more and take more risks when they know there are people there who support them.”

By investing in the education of talented individuals, the Shahs hope to contribute to advancements in health care and technology, ultimately benefiting society at large.

“As you look around the classroom today, it could be one, it could be 10 or it could be 100 who are going to go on and create some amazing products and impact how we think about things tomorrow. That’s exciting to us,” Nikin expressed.

In addition to this investment, the Shahs also give back by serving as mentors to current students and teaching classes at UNC, inspired by Tilak who continues to enjoy sharing his 50 years of polymer knowledge and more about his journey with future generations. Nikin said, “Curiosity and passion are key, and we continue to double down on those values that have benefited us and how we can share that with others.”

College of Arts and Sciences Dean Jim White said, “The Shah family’s commitment to learning, innovation and community service exemplifies the transformative potential of giving back. The Tilak and Aruna Shah Biomedical Engineering Scholarship will serve as a testament to the enduring legacy of education and the power it holds to shape a better tomorrow.”

In gratitude for all who have supported them and their alma mater, Nikin and Rashmi are proud to help illuminate the path for aspiring biomedical engineers at UNC to pursue their dreams and make lasting contributions to the field of biomedical engineering.

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