Rajani Muraleedharan Sreekumarid
Associate Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering
To me, Women’s History Month means “Empowerment”: March is the month we as women show our support, love and embrace feminism to empower the world. Every individual goes through roadblocks in some form in their lives, March is a month to celebrate the success we achieved and to lend a hand to ones who are in need and uplift them to the path of success.
I was excited to pursue graduate program at USA but was deeply shocked to see women were still underrepresented in the STEM field. My struggles to have my opinion heard or being recognized for my research and contribution in a male-dominated field was rather challenging. Much to my surprise, I found my female advisor was also going through similar roadblocks, which sadly made me believe this is a norm and to foresee a challenging work environment. I have learnt some life lessons, mainly to never be afraid and seek out help when needed. It matters who you surround yourself with, so I maintain a support network in both professional and personal life that has helped me through my worst times and I celebrate success by being there for people who cannot voice their opinion.
Perseverance is the key to success and it doesn’t come by taking road of success, but one with failures. Learn to take risks, be curious, confident, build a network with like-minded individuals, and let your voice be heard, even if it’s the last! I strongly recommend attending leadership workshops, conferences in your field, gender, equity and diversity training so you can be aware of what is happening around you, how to handle difficult situations and achieve your dream. No matter what the outcome is, be happy, dust-off the setback, learn from the shortcomings and bounce back!
My first step in promoting equity in the workplace is by educating myself in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), understand and improve department climate, identifying department needs that aligns with university mission and ensuring inclusive recruitment and hiring process. I have also mentored and supported women colleagues in their tenure and promotion journey at SVSU. I ensure to include women colleagues in activities outside their department, so they may have cross-disciplinary interactions, as it gives different perspective and seek mentors or role models outside their field. Lastly, I have informal meetings with my women colleagues so one feels at ease to share their concerns and together we find solutions to thrive in academia.
There are many individuals who have inspired and influenced my life decisions. Being a child of a working woman, balancing career and family came naturally to me. My mom is my biggest inspiration and role model – she has inspired me to face my fears, be dedicated, respectful, hardworking and always shine positivity. There are also role models outside of my home, my research advisor (Dr. Osadciw), teaching mentor (Dr. Can Isik) and WiSE mentor (Dr. Bhatia) who made a positive impact in my life. WiSE network at Syracuse University helped me understand the importance of giving back, and when I joined SVSU, Drs. Huntley and Kullgren became my mentors who supported many initiatives to encourage women in engineering, which created a positive vibe and understanding that SVSU leaders care deeply about DEI.
I believe there is life beyond earth, and always fascinated by space exploration. My first visit to NASA Kennedy space center with my students is a memorable day as an educator. A woman figure with whom I would have enjoyed conversing about space exploration is late Dr. Kalpana Chawla. As an educator, I pride in taking my SWE, Robotics and IEEE students’ and underrepresented colleagues to inspire them by having NASA engineer, Dr. Swati Mohan to dine with us.
My hope for the next generation is that they are encouraged throughout their lives to do exactly what they want to do without judgement and that they are afforded the autonomy they deserve separate from expectations of how they “should be.” I also hope that they will have many examples of how they can support one another and understand that another woman’s win is not their loss.