Growing up in a home with a large, extended family on limited income, my siblings and I learnt to be satisfied with the meager resources that were available at home. Despite our raise in standards over time, the mindset of living with less has remained a habit to me. One such example is when my grandmother would chastise us for leaving the fan or light turned on in a different room or using more than a bucket of water to take a bath. Her ideals were not based on the passion for environmental sustainability or care for the depleting resources but were forthrightly to reduce the monthly electricity and water bill. It is only in recent adulthood have I understood the paramount importance of that experience. I believe my passion for tying sustainability with engineering derives from these childhood incidences where reducing our carbon footprint was our survival instinct. The ideal situation would be to quickly instill this psychology into the as many people’s minds as possible.
To reduce my carbon footprint, I live a minimalistic life. As the youngest in the family, I rarely got new clothes. The clothes I wore came from my older sisters and cousins. This made me really lax about what clothes I wore. Although, it bothered me at first, I learnt to receive them with happiness. Fast forward to six months ago, I observed a tremendous growth in things I owned. I just had to halt and reflect. Since then, I decided to practice minimalism in numerous ways. I wear only white T-shirts and I own only one pair of slippers, sandals, jeans, bag, etc. The idea is to resist the temptation to own multiple copies of the same object and purchasing only essential items.
Coming from a family of 7 that lived under $200 a month in India and resulting in an American university with plethora of facilities and opportunities, I can say that I understand the importance of privilege in a person’s life. Due to such unlikely exponential amelioration in less than 22 years, is why I consider it my moral responsibility to share this privilege with those who are still residing in the standards of living that I was born into. It is hard to grasp that when the technology has become so powerful that we are coming close to residing on the Mars yet my own friends in different part of the world are struggling to provide to their family. One of my good friends who I grew up with lives in a 200sqf house with his parents and two siblings and their living condition is subpar. Seeing them and learning about their deprivations is arrant melancholy. This is why I created an initiative called Money Spent Right to encourage people to save a percentage of income and perpetuate their privilege as described in the Activities section. Every time I spend an amount out of this 10% of my income that I save for the less privileged, it provides me with an utter gratitude for every privilege that I enjoy in my life. By following this tactic, I can continue to independently bolster the causes that I believe in, some of which include environment, education and women’s rights.
I grew up in a modern society where we may have eradicated the violent oppression against women, however, subtle suppressions still remain. The patriarchal mentality has dug a deep space in our unconscious minds. Due to the same reason, my mum was not allowed to get her PhD or work after getting married, we had to pay a dowry to one of my sisters’ groom’s family or my sisters were not allowed to enter the kitchen during menstruation. These are adverse yet subtle treatments that many in our society have become accustomed to. As an independent adult, I knew that I could not become a victim of this mentality. Rather than indulging in this patriarchal mindset, my empathy towards women and their problems increased. I have developed an immense admiration for the perseverance women exhibit despite being let down on numerous occasions. I demonstrate this respect in my day to day interactions, where I try to be inclusive, empathetic and understanding. For example, many of my female friends are not afraid of being open to me about their personal hygiene problems, such as headaches, stomach aches or nausea.
However, I was not always able to connect with others. When I came to the United States for the first time as a freshman, I was introverted and did not know how to make friends. I spent the first few days obliviously squandering from place to place. Besides talking to my family on phone, I hardly had conversations with anyone. Then, I found a person who was gregarious and genial, and I decided to follow him from day to night. It is through him that I learnt to make friends and made my own friend circle. I made sure that this friend circle consisted of as many international students as Americans. I made surfeits of mistakes – using the N-word, not understanding the American slang and calling out on people’s appearance amongst others. I am really grateful to these friends who disregarded my mistakes and patiently corrected me every time. About 6 months later, I came across a TED talk by Kalina Silverman on “How to skip the small talk and connect with anyone” and this changed my whole perspective about conversations. Instead of asking small talk questions like how are you or what is your plan for the day, I started conversations with what goal are you trying to accomplish today or when was the last time you laughed till you cried? I became so passionate about this topic that I carried out a project with a few friends who were travelling over the summer to learn about strangers. We asked the same big talk questions in Mexico, India, Australia, New Zealand and United States to evaluate the differences in answers and how people connect with each other. This was just a small summer project with a small sample size so we could not make any conclusions. But this project revealed the scientist in me curious about people’s personalities and perceptions, and eagerness to carry out experiments to prove the such.
My role model is Professor Farrokh Mistree because of the utter dedication and integrity he displays as a professor of age 74. One example out of the many unstinting assistances he provides to students is when he fell and fractured his arm and shoulder, and yet video-chatted with me to assist me with a grant application. Professor Mistree’s values have become instilled in me and I want to be a professor. I am trying to develop my social conscience with such a degree of commitment and dedication to help not just students but whoever is in dire need.
As it must be identifiable from the prompt above, I am a multi-faceted person with interests in diverse fields. Being in industry, I doubt if I will be able to deploy all of these different skills. However in a university environment, a professor gets to collaborate from various fields and interests. Two professors at Stanford are a living embodiment of this idea. Dr. Erin MacDonald in IRIS Lab is marrying her social conscience to engineering by combining the fields of product design, sustainability, psychology, computer science and mechanical engineering. One of her current projects is on developing an agent based model to represent how customers choose sustainable measures for their homes. On the other hand, Dr. Lentink is working on three distinct projects in the fields of biology, engineering simulation and mechanical design all tied together under the umbrella of bird flight mechanics. Professors have an intellectual freedom to try medleys of fields to create worthwhile knowledge. (On a side note – I have reached out to the students of both of these labs and they have impressed me with their lab culture and ethics, demonstrating the sound leadership qualities of Dr. MacDonald and Lentink.)
As a young child who grew up in India, I have seen cornucopia of despairs people face from day to day. No matter what I do in the future, I must serve my part to reduce their struggles. This is why, as a professor, I would like to return to India to help my community. There are numerous strategies that I could use such as, starting a 0% APR microfinance organization to assist setting up businesses in really poor places, bringing advanced technology to assist the crop growth rate, creating various wellness programs to improve the rural livelihood, etc. The possibilities of such collaborations at the intersection of technology, business and education are endless. Engineering, in 21st century, is a rapidly evolutionary field, where we must tie it with social sciences, which is what I would like to pursue at Stanford in the mechanical engineering department, preferably with Dr. Erin MacDonald.
About half of India’s population are less than 25 years of age. With such exorbitant amount of human capital, India must create proper college education system that trains students for industry. This currently is not the case as many students out of college find themselves unemployed. I know this from various statistics and personal experience as my friends are going through this stage. Another issue in Indian universities is a lack of a framework to promote research and development in faculties and students. Stanford has a unique research environment in terms of having three pools of faculties – teaching, research and both. I would like to learn more about this educational institution and discover the reasons for its success by participating in it. In the future, I would like to play a role in defining the Indian education system, starting at the university level and then by rising up in authority to affect multiple institutions.
I like to take all of the opportunities that I am fortunate enough to find. My initial reason for applying to Knight-Hennessy Scholarship was verily because it was an opportunity that I discovered on Facebook. It was only after doing some research that I found that their aim is to create a diverse community of excellent leaders to tackle global issues residing in the same area of Denning House. I instantly resonated with this philosophy, as I am personally trying to tackle some of these norms. By being involved in this exchange of ideas, I plan to create a brighter future for myself and my community.