The Tale of Charismatic Persona:  Prof. K.K Khatua

The Tale of Charismatic Persona: Prof. K.K Khatua

Being a favourite among the student fraternity, this man never fails to make the learning process a delight while exploring the subject more in-depth. Hailing from Cuttack, Prof. KK Khatua from the Department of Civil Engineering, the recipient of the Best Teacher Award for the session 2020-21, had a journey full of ups & downs and beat hardships with his diligence and dedication. Besides having a keen interest in research and teaching, he is also a strong proponent of new ideas. 

Team Monday Morning caught up with Prof. KK Khatua, where he shares the myriad experiences of his journey from childhood to the present day of being a faculty in this renowned institution.

Monday Morning (MM): Tell us something about your early life, schooling, and graduation?

Prof K K Khatua (KK): Natively, I am from Cuttack, Odisha. My father was also an engineer; he did a job in Balangir, so I spent most of my childhood there. I did my primary, secondary and senior secondary education at Balangir itself. I was a very bright student from the beginning. Also, my teachers were highly encouraging, and they motivated me throughout. I did my B. Tech in Civil Engineering from Veer Surendra Sai University of Technology (VSSUT), Burla.

MM: Share with us some of your fond experiences at college.

KK: I was very fond of watching movies and listening to music during my college days. Apart from hanging out with my friends, I was quite skillful in various sports activities. I used to love playing cricket and was a chess champion as well. I was deeply interested in mathematics and used to solve a lot of problems. At that time, ragging was widely prevalent in my college and I had an experience of that. I felt like my college life advanced fast; the semester started, we had to cope with our academics and extracurriculars, and we used to have two mid-semester exams. All this panned out way too fast.

MM: How is the curriculum of VSSUT, Burla similar or different from that of NIT Rourkela?

KK: At that time VSSUT, Burla, and REC, Rourkela both were the most prestigious universities of the state and had almost the same curriculum. Only the infrastructure and faculties were different, other than that academically everything was similar

MM: Why did you choose to pursue Civil Engineering? What was it that attracted you to that stream?

KK: My father is a Civil Engineer and he was my inspiration to pursue a similar path. I used to visit construction sites, dams, and rivers with my father. These visits instilled a sense of affection towards the field of Civil Engineering. It was then that I made up my mind to be a Civil Engineer. 

Mechanics and mathematics are my favorite subjects, and they are also associated with Civil Engineering. That was also one of the deciding factors for me to pursue the stream.

MM: You have so far been interested in the field of Water Resource Engineering. How did you develop an interest in this field?

KK: As my father is a Civil Engineer, he did projects related to dam construction, flood management, and more; I had a keen interest and wanted to grow more in this field. The nation spends a lot of money on disaster control management, and I wanted to contribute to the nation’s development by working in this field and presenting new ideas for disaster control.

MM: Why did you choose to pursue the field of teaching and research as opposed to going into the corporate world?

KK: After graduation, I tried getting a corporate job, but that didn’t happen. I struggled a lot during that phase. I got a job offer from the Railway Sector but was medically unfit for that. I started teaching school and college-going students. I was very loved and popular among my students. Those who weren’t able to pay fees, I used to teach them for free. Before joining NIT Rourkela, I also started a Coaching Center in Cuttack.

During my school time, one of my teachers used to share inspirational stories of great scientists and researchers. That led to a significant impact on my mind for the research sector. Doing Research is an excellent contribution to society that is irreplaceable, and fortunately, after joining NIT Rourkela, I got great opportunities to contribute more to this sector.

MM: You have been a part of NIT Rourkela for over two decades now. How has your teaching experience been so far?

KK: I have been teaching Engineer Mechanics for a very long time. I also have been teaching subjects like Engineering Drawing, Computational Flow, Hydraulic Engineering, and many other subjects. I try my best to keep my students motivated. I enjoy teaching a lot, and my students also feel very affectionate towards me. Apart from that, I also visit slum areas, orphanages, and hospitals with my students. I believe that those who contribute to others are the happiest.

I was also in charge of NSS. It's been around two decades of me associated with this institute academically and non-academically; all this feels very special.

MM: You are very popular and loved among your students for being helpful and interactive. How does that overall help in your approach to teaching?

KK: If we help others and when there is a liking and appreciation for it, the efficiency of teaching increases. Students can freely ask their doubts, problems and all the things will be very easily solved. In this way, the output increases, and genuine interest is developed for the subject. Even the complex topics become easier to study with this kind of interaction. So, every subject can be read with love if taught well in this interactive mode.

MM: With your completion of 20+ years in the Institute and being awarded the Best Professor Award, how does it feel?

KK:  I feel very proud, happy, and motivated for being appreciated and complimented on the 15th of August, 2021. No matter how much we love helping, counseling, and motivating our students; this kind of appreciation motivates us, and eventually improves the teaching quality.

MM: With the introduction of the Online teaching mode due to COVID-19, what were the challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?

KK: Initially, I  tried to manage all the classes anyhow. But eventually, I have seen that online mode is also one of the best things and has no less weightage than offline classes.

In online classes, students get properly recorded videos, online ppts, study materials that are missing in offline classes. Each of them has its charm. In my online classes, I ask my students to switch on their cameras to get the vibe of offline classes.

I only worry about conducting examinations online since it's not trustworthy and questions the honesty and integrity of the students appearing in the examinations. Also, the laboratories are not efficiently conducted in online mode.

MM: What are your plans on establishing better industrial partnerships with the Institute related to research collaborations and setting up funded labs in the Institute?

KK: There are labs, and we have already collaborated with the United Kingdom, France & United States. I have taken my students to visit the labs, and one of my students has got the Raman Charpak fellowship. This kind of interaction is required, and it increases the quality of studying through knowledge sharing, and it helps a lot.

Through industrial collaboration, the subjects and theories we teach will be elementary to understand through industrial experiences. Our young students are not knowing correctly and are not that motivated. So, the alumni at significant positions support and motivate the student community, and we are trying a lot to get their support and help. We are building many centers, Chair Professorships, student awards, and distress management. It's a blessing for the students and the NITR community to have such a rich alumni network.

MM: As a part of the Diamond Jubilee Celebration, there were a lot of plans to arrange for science & technology-related activities at the departmental level for each department. Would you please give an insight into how much of that has been done?

KK: I joined the responsibility of Dean Alumni Relations in July amidst the pandemic. We are conducting various activities like a series of lectures, webinars, Nobel Laureate talks, and many other scientific activities at departmental levels. Due to the pandemic, we cannot conduct many activities since the students are not on campus. We will be summarising all the activities and will be giving a formal report at the end. For example, I recently conducted the Hydro 2020 (Link), which included many scientists and researchers all over the globe and was much appreciated. 

Recently, we have created committees for conducting various activities and have proposed to extend the dates & will ensure to complete the things that have not been done due to the COVID pandemic.

MM: Can you give us an update about the Alumni induction program, which was supposed to be held from the month of April?

KK: I took the responsibilities of Dean AR from the month of July.

Due to covid, we weren’t able to execute many activities that we have planned earlier. So we have extended the dates till August 15, 2022, and will try to achieve the set goals. We want the induction program to be held offline, but if the situation won’t permit that, then we would go for offline inductions.

MM: A Global Alumni Meet is going to be held as a closing ceremony for the Diamond Jubilee Celebration. How are we planning to conduct it?

KK: Recently we had conducted a meeting with Director, Registrar, and some other Admin officials. A lot of discussions are going on regarding the Global Alumni Meet and committees have also been formed for that. Due to covid, we have decided to shift the meet till August 15, 2022. I also had a talk with some overseas alumni and they also want to postpone it.

MM: Can you please elaborate on how and in what ways the alumni funds have been used to benefit the student community?

KK: The alumni funds are mostly deposited as fixed deposits & we use the funds for various awards, scholarships, laboratory setup, center establishment, and many such things.

MM: What steps have been taken to improve student-alumni relations?

KK: 

We are planning to establish the student alumni relation cell, which will overall improve the relations with alumni.We are lacking strength, and whenever the student alumni cell is created; we will be able to function better and will be able to highlight things correctly.

MM: What has been the worst and best experience in this Institute, to date, as a professor? 

KK: The worst phase for me was during the initial years of my career where I had to give various interviews for job promotions. Those times were very stressful. Also, the worst time for me was when I, unfortunately, come across any bad incidents about our students and other professors. People go through some unforeseen problems and it's very disheartening to witness. Celebrating the success of my students is what makes me the happiest. Motivating my students is the best experience for me. Motivation and encouragement help my students. My best experience is when my students get to pursue Ph.D. in prestigious universities and institutes.

MM: What are some of the prestigious projects/publications you have worked on in this field?

KK: I have already guided 12 Ph.D. students in my department, more than 80 M.tech students, and innumerable B.tech students. We have completed the UK-India project in which I was appointed as a Project Investigator. I also did some projects in collaboration with the Department of Science and Technology (DST). Recently, I was informed that a new project of around 75 lacs has been approved. I have also completed many projects in collaboration with universities based in the USA, France, and Japan.

MM: What do you feel about the present scope of the Department of Civil Engineering at NIT Rourkela?

KK: The department of Civil Engineering is one of the best departments of NIT Rourkela. Similar to me, many professors are very hardworking and talented. This department has immense scope. Hardworking students and professors can interact and gain success together. 

MM: What improvements do you think NIT Rourkela needs to make in all aspects?

KK: The number of international collaborations is still less in comparison to other reputed colleges. Though I am doing a lot in improving the scenario, I still feel like in comparison to me, others lack international collaboration.

I think interest and motivation for international collaboration should be developed amongst the professors. Industrial interaction is also required to be enhanced to understand the real application of the subjects. Motivation to the faculty is also required. Especially if it's something through the alumni, it would be great. 

MM: Apart from your apparent interest in research and academics, what are some other things you like doing? How do you manage to have a work-life balance? 

KK: I love teaching, spending time with my students. Apart from that, I also like indulging in research work because we are developing society through this noble work, and we get appreciation. I like to help people through social service because it gives me utter pleasure to see happiness in others. I was also a part of NSS so I got a lot of opportunities to do the same. I love to explore nature. Sometimes I like visiting the mountain which is situated near the NIT Rourkela campus. I also meditate during my free time which helps me to strike a perfect balance in life.

MM: What would be your final message to our readers?

KK: I have a 5P formula that all my students know.
First P stands for Practice; as a student, you must practice without thinking about the result.
Second P stands for Physical Activity; i.e. how essential extracurricular activities are. If you are physically fit, you will be mentally healthy since both are related to each other.
Third P stands for Prayer. By prayer, I mean meditation, connecting with God relieves us from the stress and prevents negative thoughts.
Fourth P stands for Positive Attitude. For example, Corona also has some positive points like everyone's whole family came together; online payments are easier now, pollution is less. Negative points are of course there but we must always look at the positive aspect of life.
Fifth and the final P is Patience. People often get disappointed after some unexpected negative results.

I always tell my students that just like conservation of energy and conservation of mass, there is always karma; what you do never gets wasted. We should just keep working and not care about the result. If you succeed, you will be happy, if you don't, you will learn. 

Team Monday Morning congratulates Prof K K Khatua for his success so far and wishes him good luck for his future endeavors ahead.

Designs by – Ashit Kumar Sahu

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