Steadying The NITROAA Ship : The Story Of Mr. Gary Krishnan
If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.
This quote by John Quincy Adams clearly shows the essence of true leadership. Mr Gary Krishnan is such a leader who inspires and drives everybody to achieve their goals. He is an alumnus of 1972 batch NIT Rourkela (erstwhile REC Rourkela), Bachelor of Science in Engineering (B.Sc Engg.) in Mechanical Engineering, is presently the Vice President of NIT Rourkela Overseas Alumni Association (NITROAA). He is leading the NITROAA Scholarship since its inception in 2017, which is established to provide scholarships for financially needy students to complete their education in NIT Rourkela. Owing to his magnanimous contribution to society and with a commendable professional career he pursued, this time he has been selected to be conferred with the prestigious ‘Distinguished Alumnus Award’ in the 18th Annual Convocation of NIT Rourkela.
Team Monday Morning got a chance to catch up with Mr Gary Krishnan for an interview session to garner valuable insights on his life and career. Excerpts:
Monday Morning (MM): Tell us something about your days before joining NIT Rourkela (erstwhile REC). How did NIT Rourkela happen to you?
Gary Krishnan (GK): Before coming to NIT Rourkela, I went to Ispat English Medium School, Sector 20, Rourkela for the classes 9th,10th and 11th (1964-66). My father was a Chemical Engineer working at a fertilizer plant, which is not operational now. My father became a Chemical Engineer in a hard way by doing the correspondence course from London, England. Before coming to Rourkela he was working with the Fertilizer Corporation of India in Kerala, and while doing shift work there, he completed his correspondence in chemical engineering. My father also had an opportunity to visit the USA under the USAID (United States Aid for International Development) Programme.
My father is my role model and in many ways, he inspired me to take the engineering course and in turn choose NIT Rourkela (erstwhile REC Rourkela).
MM: Was Mechanical Engineering always your preferred domain to pursue?
GK: I always had Mechanical Engineering as my first choice. I wanted to study in an area where things are ‘actually’ happening, and I would visualize the different phenomenons. There were only five engineering branches at REC Rourkela, namely Mechanical, Electrical, Civil, Chemical and Metallurgical and Materials engineering. In Electrical Engineering, I could not visualize the processes taking place, and Metallurgical and Materials was a new branch and I saw my father as a Chemical Engineer. So, Mechanical Engineering was the obvious choice.
MM: Share with us your fondest experiences at NIT Rourkela that you cherish forever. How has NIT Rourkela contributed to your accomplishments and has groomed you both personally and professionally?
GK: I love interacting with different cultures. So, REC was a great platform for me. As you see, I grew up in Kerala, and when my father shifted to Rourkela, there were no classes available in the schools for admission. So, I ended up studying in Ahmedabad, Gujarat living with my grandparents and later on returned to Rourkela for completing my higher education. In this way, I was exposed to a variety of cultures and languages at an early age, and I developed a passion for learning different languages and knowing about different cultures. REC gave me a platform to interact with people of different backgrounds.
At my time, the mess system was quite innovative. Two different students were allocated to decide the menu every day. So, every day we used to taste food from different regions of the country.
Experiences like these are immensely valuable and helped me experience different cultures. REC gave me a solid foundation and experiences like these made me broad-minded, and the result is that now I have an open mind who loves to interact with people and share my experiences.
MM: How essential was your M.Tech degree in shaping your corporate career? How much does a higher degree, such as MS/ MBA/ M.Tech, impact a student's growth, considering there are so many options to chalk out?
GK: I decided to do my Masters in the U.S when I was in 3rd year along with a few of my friends, inspired by my father as well. I did my masters in Vibrational Analysis which was also dealt in my field of work. So, the degree helped shape my career, but it was back then 50 years ago. In recent days, most students can change their field to Computer Science or Business Administration which doesn’t make the masters as important as they were back in the days.
MM: What challenges did you face initially during the early 1970s USA, while pursuing your M.Tech at New York Institute of Technology in terms of lifestyle changes or culture?
GK: The first challenge I faced was the food which is a big hardship until you cook yourself. It's hard to find a staple diet; therefore, pizza and coke became my staple diet as it was easily available. The second challenge was to earn money as I had enough for my first semester but not to continue my second semester.
In the first semester, I solely focused on studies to get straight as to reimburse my fees. In the second semester, I went up to do different part-time jobs like a car wash and grocery shop for almost 8-10 hours as no one cared about the green card and your background earlier in those days. From the second semester onwards it went like this as I managed my studies along with the jobs.
MM: You retired in 2010 after working for 35 years in the commercial nuclear power industry. Enlighten us about your professional journey that has been so wonderful.
GK: I completed my Master's in the year 1974. While I was in my final semester, I found a job as a numero graphic engineer. Back then, it was a very high-tech, leading-edge area. I was interviewed for this job, and I had asked them if they could sponsor me, as that was one of my big goals. They agreed to that and later did sponsor me. Unfortunately, the work they were doing in the Computer-Aided Design (CAD) was not a winning proposition. The product that our company was providing was numerically controlled tapes or punched tapes. Even though they had big names as customers like General Motors, General Electric, and others, they could not make profits. This concept was considerably new, and they could not charge more than the conventional design methods. Ultimately they got bankrupt.
So in 1975, when the entire country was in a bad recession, I had to look for another job. I had applied to more than 200 job openings but didn't get any of them. Somehow, I had this opportunity to work with an architect & engineering firm designing nuclear power plants. They were looking for someone who understood nuclear power vibrations, and I got the opportunity. And that was my entry into the nuclear power business.
In May of 1975, I started working with Ebasco Services, and since then, I have been in the nuclear industries till my retirement, for around 35 years. I have worked on designs of several nuclear power plants. And the one that brought me to Texas was Comanche Peak Nuclear power station, of which we were doing the analysis some 1400 miles away in the New York City office.
The company realised that an onsite analysis group had to be set up. And that's when I was sent here to set up a python stress analysis group to analyse changes at the site. It was for a brief 18 months period. However, I ended up staying here. I have worked in design, engineering, start-up support, operations support, maintenance support, procurement engineering, project management and engineering training departments.
MM: You have had a great experience and have worked in various posts in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) for many years. Please share your experience while working there.
GK: I had a great experience working for ASME for many years. I was part of ASME in the non-technical area. There are local chapters as well as regional chapters of ASME. I started with the local chapter level. I held various positions in the local chapters. The next level is the regional chapter, where many local chapters are part of the region. I was part of the region called Great International and Southwest Region X. We had many programmes like K-12 for the high school students that helped increase their interest in the STEM courses.
MM: We also came to know that you have been a Toastmaster. Kindly share your experience in the Arlington Toastmasters Club.
GK: The ability to express yourself is the skill everyone needs. I wanted to improve my communication skills. So, I always wanted to become a Toastmaster. I nearly became a Distinguished Toastmaster which is the highest rank.
I recommend everyone to join a public speaking or the communications club. What you learn is important. But, what is really important is how you can express your learnings with your peers and colleagues. So, I recommend everyone to participate in various speeches, discussions and debates to improve your communication skills.
MM: When was the last time you visited NIT Rourkela? What are the significant changes that you observed since the time you graduated?
GK: I visited the campus in 2016 after 44 years of graduating in the year 1972. After my masters, I was consumed by life with the work at the nuclear plant and married life that I never had a moment to stand and look back to my alma mater. In 2014 in an alumni convention at Charlotte, Prof. S.K Sarangi invited everyone who hasn’t visited the campus in the last 10 years and I was blown away by the massive changes in the campus and the city. This visit impacted my decision to do something valuable for my alma mater.
MM: You are one of the founding members of NIT Rourkela Overseas Alumni Association. How did you get the idea about commencing such an association in the first place?
GK: After the 2014 convention in Charlotte, there were 12-14 of us from the US who thought of making an overseas network of alumni and see how we could help our alma mater. We initially started from 37 members, and now we are almost 780 members over 6 years.
MM: How has been your experience in NIT Rourkela Overseas Alumni Association so far?
GK: The experience has been quite wonderful as we have grown in strength in quite a good number, helping us make more helpful decisions. We had over 5 conferences at different places for the alumni associations.
The 1972 batch of ours raised over 45 lakhs for scholarships for the students of NIT Rourkela. So we thought of doing the same in the NITROAA as well. On March 19th 2019 we made an MOA for scholarships. We had a goal of raising 2 crores by 2022 but we are already running ahead of our schedule and will be sending 1.9 crores by the end of this February.
MM: How important are alumni relations to an Institute like ours?
In my opinion, alumni relations is the backbone of the institute. Being alumni is like being a grandparent. It’s a whole different experience when you become a grandparent. And I feel alumni relations with alma mater is something similar to that. It can not be explained, you have to experience it. Especially when the alumni return to visit the campus. All of a sudden, your teenage lifestyle comes back to you even though you maybe 70 years old (chuckles).
As far as the institute's growth is concerned, it is a development source that cannot be ignored. The more connected the institute becomes with its alumni, the better for it and its brand. If a person is well accomplished or is a leader in a field and the people associated with him don't know the college he went to, then that university is missing out.
MM: What steps do you wish to take as the Vice President of NITROAA for the overall development of the Association?
GK: Apart from providing scholarships that are a way to give back to our alma mater, we are now working on other areas. One of the key areas that I will be working with the institute is providing guidance to the 3rd and 4th year students. We will be discussing the benefits and drawbacks of higher education here in the US and Canada.
However, before we get to that stage, we are working on mentoring and providing access to internships for students present here pursuing their masters or PhD programmes. We are putting together a mentoring programme to help them get better prepared for internships and interviews. I'm leading this effort, and we will be rolling it full strength for summer internships 2021.
The next initiative we are planning is to reach and guide alumni working in the industry here for some considerable time like 1-10 years. We will try to help and guide them. We also plan to help those who want to do startups.
There are many other benefits that one can avail. We organise monthly 1-hour long seminars on various topics for our members. During annual conventions, we offer sponsorship for students to attend the convention for free. This way, they can meet and interact with other alumni who are established here and have the opportunity to get mentored. In the Dallas convention, our goal is to sponsor 30 students. All they have to do is pay for their travel. Their registration, accommodation and food would be arranged. From Nobel laureate to NASA astronaut, we have had some eminent personalities as keynote speakers at the annual conventions.
MM: You have been recognised as the recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award of NIT Rourkela. You will be receiving the award from the Honourable President of India at the 2021 Annual Convocation. What are your thoughts on receiving this award?
GK: I am extremely proud and excited. I am just hoping that I will be able to come and receive. Unless I get both doses of the vaccine, I won't be able to come. It looks like it is at the end of March so there is a good chance that my vaccinations will come through by then. Looking forward to making it.
MM: What piece of advice would you like to give to the present students here at NIT Rourkela?
I would advise the students to live to their fullest in their college life, make a handful of friends and develop good communication skills as it goes a long way. Also, remain connected to your alma mater after you graduate. Another advice is to always be grateful to the Professors, they might seem unfair to you at some point in time but they always give their best to help you out. The most important advice is to have a plan and work on the plan. Start preparing for the job hunt from day 1. Have a diary and jot down every project and thing you work on beside extracurricular which will help you stand out in the interview in the final round as you provide details about the project you did.
Team Monday Morning wishes Mr Gary Krishnan very good luck for the remaining tenure as the NITROAA Vice President and hope that his tenure is as successful as his career. We congratulate him again for being the recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award of NIT Rourkela and hope that his story proves to be an inspiring read for our readers.