The Diversity and Inclusion Task Force present Diversity in STEM, with Dr. Ramalatha Marimuthu, retired professor, Kumaraguru College of Technology, Anna University, India.
We are delighted to bring you another discussion on education, overcoming traditional cultural views, and the tremendous impact she has made as an educator.
Dr. Ramalatha MarimuthuWhen I started my engineering undergraduate in 1982, Electronics and Communication were very popular. I was fascinated by physics and wanted to major in that. The speed with which technology develops always gives us something new to learn. I demanded to do my capstone project with an 8085 microprocessor because it was fresh in our curriculum, but it has been obsolete for years. Choosing an education career gave me new opportunities to understand the broader and deeper perspectives of this technical field, giving me a chance to learn about the interdisciplinary nature of technology applications.
As an educator, I always try to encourage my students to learn new technology and applications. I started to work on assistive technology applications when I became aware that engineering has an immediate impact on people’s lives. This has given me a broader perspective on both engineering and engineering management.
Dr. Ramalatha MarimuthuI was the first woman in my community to take up an engineering degree and pursue a career. So my first challenge was getting educated above the school level and then having a job. It has always been considered that a woman’s career is secondary to her family responsibility. My rural upbringing also played an important role in instilling that belief in me and my family members. Even now, it is hard for me to think of a career without first thinking about what impact it would have on my family responsibilities. But slowly, I became aware that my happiness and achievements also count. If it was difficult to convince myself, you can imagine what it would have been like to convince my family and friends. So I would say, changing my thought process, educating myself about the importance of a career, and sustaining that belief was my greatest challenge.
My greatest reward was the outcome of this personal war – I have been able to prove to myself and everyone in my circle that being a fighter is good. I have sometimes failed in my expectations, but I learned to reorient myself and do the next right thing.
Dr. Ramalatha MarimuthuWhen I first started the IEEE Student Branch in the college where I worked twenty-one years ago, I had no idea it held so many opportunities. I learned it by networking with some section leaders who were great mentors. Since then, I have enjoyed every step of the way. When I learn something, I always share it with my colleagues and students, and sometimes, I get great ideas from them. The most rewarding experience from being an IEEE member is that I get support and encouragement for implementing these ideas even though I might not achieve the expected outcomes. This nurturing new idea fascinated me. I am now giving back through my IEEE YESIST12 (Youth Endeavours on Social Innovations through Science and Technology 12), an international talent show organized annually connecting more than 25 countries supporting around 3000 people on their creative journey.
Dr. Ramalatha MarimuthuThere have been many experiences when the IEEE leaders took me under their wing to teach, encourage, and support me. I have been most passionate about service-learning in my education career, and IEEE has helped me establish that firmly. For example, Dr. Karen Panetta, Tufts University, and Dr. S.K. Ramesh, California State University Northridge, helped me establish Assistive Technology in our university and supported me in many different ways. Similarly, in Computer Society, the staff and the volunteers have shown nothing but kindness every time I reach out to them.
When I met with an accident and dislocated my shoulder during my visit to Washington in 2017 to attend the Women in Engineering meeting, the MGA Director for Products and promotions, John Day, took complete control of the situation. Informing the hotel reception to call for an ambulance, he stopped calling the New Jersey office to notify the MGA executive director Cecilia Jankowski and receive the insurance details. During the whole stay, he was a mammoth help, and both Cecilia and he followed up to enquire about my health regularly after I reached India. The entire incident so touched me, and this is a star example of how IEEE practices what it preaches – empathy and humanity.
Dr. Ramalatha MarimuthuI brought in teamwork, interdisciplinary collaboration, service-learning, and cross-border interactions to wherever I worked. I believe in transparent learning, and some of the cross-border interactions with many of the IEEE members and their universities helped me learn new and advanced technologies as they are practiced in developed countries. The service-learning aspect, which I was practicing to encourage my students to enjoy engineering, blended very well with interdisciplinary collaboration. Many of the devices and gadgets my students developed required interdisciplinary knowledge, and the collaboration between other universities worldwide enhanced the projects. The collaborative research work carried out with the faculty from other universities has resulted in several joint publications in journals. The service-learning improved the quality of the work done by the students and resulted in publications and securing prizes in many competitions. But the uniqueness of this activity is that the students were of undergraduate stream, and publishing in IEEE and other reputed high-quality conferences during under graduation is rare. Even the faculty colleagues of my workplace were empowered with the knowledge and the network acquired, so the impact has multiplied manifold.
Dr. Ramalatha MarimuthuSkill development and Attitude development are equally important to have a sustainable and successful career. The engineering curriculum and the classroom environment are designed to develop knowledge in technology and skill development. Still, attitude development is possible only through interactions with multiple communities in multiple environments. Organizations like IEEE and IEEE Computer Society develop the attitude component through their many activities like outreach programs, service learning, and team competitions. From day one of the engineering undergraduate study, it is necessary to join such organizations not to miss the opportunities. Students who have volunteered under the activities of IEEE Student branches and other IEEE activities under me have been mentored by the world’s best technologists and teachers that the career development was never an issue for them. I can proudly say my mentees have never faltered in their focus towards their goals since there will always be an activity for anyone with any skill and strength. My suggestion for the early career professionals would be to join any of their local communities and go through life with the strongest confidence that there is always someone to support and nurture you.
Dr. Ramalatha MarimuthuI have a versatile taste in reading books. I am very much interested in world history and so I have some books on World History by Reader’s Digest, which I relish. Currently, I am reading “The Hindu Way” by Sashi Tharoor and one of the handbooks with a complete set of pieces in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Dr. Ramalatha MarimuthuI got a job as a marketing executive in one of the Television Manufacturing Companies in Chennai as soon as I completed my undergraduate in Engineering. Though I could not learn much about servicing, which was my passion, I learned about office management. Unfortunately, I could not continue since I was struck down with chickenpox and was home for nearly three months. After that, I took a teaching job and continued my journey as an educator for nearly 33 years.
About Dr. Ramalatha Marimuthu:
Dr. Ramalatha Marimuthu has been an educator for more than three decades with vast experience in motivating and training the students on skill development and peer networking through leadership training workshops, international competitions, conferences, and congresses. She also guides the students in developing unique solutions for social problems like inclusiveness and accessibility in day-to-day life for people with special needs. She has delivered lectures on assistive technology in universities and conferences worldwide and Google, Mountainview, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland. Her areas of interest are assistive technology, women empowerment, and effective education. She is the founder and General Chair of Youth Endeavours in Social Innovations through Science and Technology (YESIST12), which encourages students and young professionals to innovate for the benefit of humanity through training and competitions. Her passion for women empowerment has conceptualized into the International Returning Mothers Conference for which she is the Founder Chair.
Based on her work to improve the quality of life for the rural society, she was awarded the “IEEE MGA Achievement Award,” 2008 and the “Life Time Achiever Award” by the Lions Club International, 2009 and the Mentor award by the Secretariate for the Disabled, the Government of Tamilnadu in 2009, IEEE MGA Leadership Award 2012 and Anita Borg Institute (ABI) Change Agent award 2012. She was awarded the “Systers Pass it on Award 2014” by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology. She also won the “WIE Inspiring Member of the Year Award 2016” from IEEE Women in Engineering Committee. She became an IEEE Computer Society Golden Core Member in 2020. This year she received the 2021 Larry K Wilson Transnational Award for the conceptualization of IEEE YESIST12.
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