As a first generation immigrant to this amazing land of opportunity, I have an interesting diversity story to tell. It is no different, in plot or theme, than any other immigrant’s story, but I share it with you because, embedded in my story, as in any other, are the lessons of experience. My four key beliefs on diversity and how we need to deal with it, as individuals and organizations, are shaped, inevitably and uniquely, by this experience.
In this edition of this blog, can we touch upon the first of these lessons and beliefs? Okay, here we go..
I went to undergraduate school in New Delhi, India, at the Indian Institute of Technology, to study civil engineering. This is the school that was profiled on 60 Minutes and written up in Businessweek as having a 0.1% admission rate for undergraduate work. More than 40% of its graduates are accepted for advanced study at top US institutions, and these graduates are estimated to have contributed billions of dollars to the US economy. I went to college on an academic scholarship, graduated in the top 10% of my class, scored in the 90+ percentile range on the Graduate Records Examination, and, like most of my peers, applied for admission and financial aid to Master’s programs at multiple US universities.
All this with limited talents and average smarts, but unbelievably disciplined, unremitting, and committed work effort, by the way.
So it was that in the fall of 1984, 28 years and half a lifetime ago, with hope in my heart and hair on my head, I found myself at Rice University in Houston,Texas, studying for my Master’s degree in Structural Engineering under the guidance of the leading authorities in the field. I had only $1000 in my bank, but a fellowship offer of full tuition and a cost-of-living stipend in my bag. And I had turned down a more lucrative offer from Vanderbilt University.
Please do not misunderstand. I do not mean to boast or brag about these accomplishments. In American myth and legend, they are legion. I state them, instead, as matters of fact that, hopefully, will generate the following question in our minds.
How does a scrawny kid, with an average IQ, living halfway around the globe from here, coming from a family income of $100 a month, with an accent you could cut with a knife, gain access to one of the best graduate engineering educations in the world for free?
Let’s stop and think about that question for a minute, for, in its answer might be embedded a lesson for all of us. And the lesson might be this.
We have, with awesome prescience and precision, engineered a post-secondary academic system in the United States in which competence counts. It is the biggest weapon in our arsenal against bigotry and prejudice, and it is the most overlooked.
That’s Lesson #1. Hope it resonates with you. It has been a fundamental lesson for me that has engendered the following simple belief, strongly held.
As diverse individuals with personal accountability for our success, I believe we should do this for ourselves first and foremost:GET EDUCATED.
Stay tuned for the next installment of the story and Lesson #2 in later editions of this blog. Talk to you soon!