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IIT ALUMNI HIGHLIGHT | DR. PRABHAT HAJELA
IIT-Kanpur Alumni, Provost at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Meet Prabhat Hajela, Ph.D., an honored IIT-Kanpur alumnus, professor and academic administrator, author of four books and nearly 300 publications, and a philanthropist. In 2003, he served in the US Senate as a Congressional Fellow, responsible for Science and Technology Policy in the Office of Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT).
Dr. Hajela's career started with Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) Kanpur, where he received an undergraduate degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 1977. He then received a Master's degree in Aerospace Engineering from Iowa State University in 1979. In 1981, he received a MS degree in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University, and a Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Stanford University in 1982. Dr. Hajela furthered his career at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) by conducting a postdoctoral research between 1982-1983. He has also conducted research at NASA Lewis and NASA Langley Research Centers, at the US Air Force Armament Laboratory, and was the A.D. Welliver Fellow at the Boeing Company.
"I consider my education at IIT-Kanpur to be at the core of whatever I have accomplished in my career." - Dr. Prabhat Hajela
Today, Dr. Hajela is the Provost at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. In this role, he is responsible for all academic portfolios at the Institute, and, in collaboration with the Vice President for Research, works to strengthen the research missions of the Institute. He also plays a significant role in fundraising and external relations. He is an active board member who is diligently working towards assisting the IIT alumni community in the U.S., and in India.
We recently had the opportunity to ask Dr. Hajela a few questions about his professional journey and things that inspire him.
PanIIT USA: In your opinion, how has the research environment changed in India?
Dr. Prabhat Hajela: "The research environment in India has seen a robust growth, following a commitment by the government to aggressively support research at select universities. For academics committed to research, a healthy level of funding is available today - what must happen now is a culture of research and scholarship develop organically within these institutions. This may require university leaders to strengthen the link of excellence in research to career advancement for academics.
A continuing concern is the limited talent pool that chooses to engage in the research enterprise. With incredibly rich opportunities in the corporate sector available to the best graduates from top institutions, there are relatively few students opting for careers in research. Since this is also the pipeline for developing new faculty, the challenge is even more pervasive. Out of the box thinking is required to bring about a change, including a commitment to seek out academic talent internationally on an expanded scale. Beyond the role of government in overseeing such a transformation, private industry must also be active partners in the support of both fundamental advances and translational research at academic institutions.
PanIIT USA: How important has your education at IIT-Kanpur been as a foundation for your career in the U.S.?
Dr. Prabhat Hajela: I consider my education at IIT Kanpur to be at the core of whatever I have accomplished in my career. The ability to study with pre-eminent scholars and teachers in small class sizes, and to be mentored in research and development as an undergraduate, affirmed my desire to pursue higher education and ultimately a path of research in an academic institution.
"Giving back to society, therefore, in a way that I am best prepared to do, is a source of inspiration." - Dr. Prabhat Hajela
Beyond this, however, participation in co-curricular activities and leadership opportunities at IIT gave room to develop as an individual, open to new ideas and challenges. Yes, I learnt a great deal in my classes, and at a level that graduate education was never a big challenge - but more importantly, it allowed for a new level of confidence to take on pursuits not related directly to my field of study. Of course, I would never understate the credibility factor that an IIT degree adds to my profile.
PanIIT USA: What inspires you on a day to day?
Dr. Prabhat Hajela: In looking around me I cannot help but think about the privilege that was conferred upon me at birth - notwithstanding a background of modest means (both parents were university professors), I look around me and have to believe that I started life with an advantage that so many others do not have. Giving back to society, therefore, in a way that I am best prepared to do, is a source of inspiration. Whether it is about helping a single struggling student, or increasing access for disadvantaged groups to pursue their dreams for a more secure life, or about creating programs that develop graduates who are sensitive, aware, and capable of addressing the global challenges confronting society, the life of an academic administrator is filled with challenges and opportunities.
PanIIT USA: Is there a specific project that inspired you, the students?
Dr. Prabhat Hajela: My role as an academic administrator has given me the opportunity to pursue student centered projects with broad ranging impact. I always felt the importance of for bringing together residential life and the academic portfolios. We built a living and learning community, Vasudha, that allowed students with a personal commitment to Earth and the Environment, to live and study together in a structured format. The community has been in existence for over ten years now, far longer than what I had anticipated, and has become the focal point for environmental advocates on our campus. The need for programs that touch our social conscience is more today than ever before. Our students should and do realize the need for action and I'm happy to see Vasudha persist a strong community of learners and activists for this important cause.
PanIIT USA: What advice would you give to the young adults that are ready to jump start their career?
Dr. Prabhat Hajela: Pursue something that they are truly passionate about. I think it is worthwhile to ask how one will add value to society by pursuing a particular job.
It is also okay to take risks as one discovers things about themselves that are not readily apparent - most people in their generation will change jobs several times so one should not struggle to find that ‘perfect' first position. Lastly, do not be deterred if that job is not directly related to you field of study - an IIT education prepares you well and you may surprise yourself by how quickly you adapt.
PanIIT USA: Outside of your responsibilities at work, what other interests keep you busy?
Dr. Prabhat Hajela: I love the cinema and thanks to my wife, have also developed a fond interest for the theater. I have a passion for travel, and have visited different corners of the globe. I believe I have an extended family, my graduate students who are in important professional positions around the world. One of the best aspects of academic life is the opportunity to build enduring relationships with truly smart and caring people - at the end of the day that is really what matters the most.
I have always been an avid participant in sport - I loved competitive sport and participated on both high school and college (IIT) teams in cricket and track and field. My post college passion is a love for the game of golf. I taught myself the game and over the years became quite competitive. The game has been a special source of joy - our son became enthralled with the sport at the age of 4 and became a ranked competitor on the Junior circuit. I had the pleasure of caddying for him in several national and international competitions. A tradition that has emerged from these activities is that my son and I (he is all grown up and a professional with Facebook) always go the final round of the US Open Golf Championships. This is a Father's Day ritual that I wish we will hold on for as long as we can.
Hajela is a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), a Fellow of American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), and a Fellow of the Aeronautical Society of India (AeSI). To learn more about Dr. Prabhat Hajela, please visit his website. (http://provost.rpi.edu/dr-prabhat-hajela)
ABOUT | PANIIT USA
Founded in 2003 by a group of Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) alumni, the mission of the foundation is to support the alumni community in the U.S., with job recruitment, event promotions, marketing and media collaboration to assist with their organization' goals. The foundation has helped companies and/or students with IT recruitment via "IITConnect," an online platform that allows the employers to recruit the best candidate suited for their organizations. The potential candidates are also able to create a portfolio online to connect with the over 30,000 IIT alumni on PanIIT USA's database. Click HERE for more details.
The 2nd IIT Bay Area Leadership Conference (IIT BALC) 2017 to be held at Santa Clara Convention Center.
The 11,000+ member strong IIT Bay Area Alumni Association is hosting the 2 nd IIT Bay Area Leadership Conference (IIT BALC) 2017, on June 17 at the Santa Clara Convention Center, CA, USA. The leadership conference is primarily designed for IITians and their family and guests. Click here for more details.