National Institute of Technology is Where I Learned About Unity in Diversity That Now Serves Me Well in Politics
- As a representative, it helps me engage constituents from across the political spectrum with a range of concerns, and colleagues who bring their unique experiences from across the state of Michigan.
The world was put on hold for many of us when the pandemic hit. Legislative responsibilities, the 2020 campaign and the pandemic all contributed to preventing my regular visit to see my family in India. When my parents were hospitalized with Covid in late 2021, I was determined to go before the 2022 campaign season got underway.
Once in Hyderabad, I chose not to make the usual visits; I wasn’t able to schedule a mini-reunion with college friends. But people came to visit us — leading to a chain of events that emphasized the importance of being a NITW (National Institute of Technology, Warangal) alumna. A Telugu journalist came to visit my father; we discovered a common connection — a NITW alumnus in Michigan and fellow writer Nasy Sankagiri. This was followed by an Andhra Jyothi journalist featuring me in Navya and a 30-min program on the ABN TV channel — the film crew even came to my parents’ apartment!
This activated my alumni network and I was invited to dinner with Global Alumni President Prasad Alapati and a few chapter leads. Each of us had graduated in a different decade: the 70s, 80s, 90s and the 2000s. One had worked and lived in different countries, someone else had a daughter settled in the U.S., and yet another had stayed to build a successful career in the region. We took a trip down memory lane, comparing notes about professors, the college campus and what it meant to be part of the NIT experience.
In the 1950s the Indian government started Regional Engineering Colleges in select states to meet the emerging STEM needs of the young nation. These colleges were established as a collaborative effort between the central government and individual states. The one I attended from 1984-88 offered degrees at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate levels in various branches of engineering, science and technology. Over time, more institutions were established (and renamed National Institutes of Technology, now funded primarily by the Government of India). These 31 NITs continue to serve the STEM demands within India and beyond.
Admissions policies for the college were also done with forethought: by design, the student body is pulled from across the country, to create a pan-Indian experience. I succeeded in the state’s highly competitive entrance examination and joined a class of 250 where half the students were from within the state, half were from states and territories throughout India – with a few foreign students joining us too. I had to pull out a map to learn my classmates’ geographical context: Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Assam, Malaysia, Nepal not to mention villages and towns from across Andhra Pradesh (now Telangana and Andhra) and the country. I learned special phrases in a multitude of languages — including India’s 18 official ones.
My Catholic roommate and I went to church and then to a temple together, especially before exams. My buddies from Hyderabad and I formed a quiz team to participate in the various student competitions. I worked with our faculty advisor and met students from other local colleges through the local SPIC-MACAY chapter and dance and music icons while satisfying my interests in the classical arts and interest in service.
Through our reminiscences at dinner, one thing was consistent: we all shared this experience of unity in diversity. Each batch of students was from phenomenally different regions and states of India, with many languages spoken and religions practiced, from a range of socio-economic backgrounds and with a multitude of aspirations.
Over the course of our college life, we found things to unite us: our academic majors, our technical interests, and our extracurricular interests. We also forged friendships and a few romantic relationships — many that stood the test of time, as shown by our numerous alumni reunions, Facebook pages and WhatsApp groups. When we left, equipped with a degree, a job offer, or perhaps a visa to study abroad — we were more prepared for the diversity in the world because of the diversity we encountered on campus.
Today, alumni include entrepreneurs, bankers and business leaders, academicians, writers, public servants — including those in the Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service, and those who entered politics like me — and of course engineers, which is where we all started. Gathering with these key alumni leaders underscored why my Warangal years are critical to me in the political arena. The first woman — the only one in my graduating class — to become a mechanical engineer in the institution’s history, I learned how to engage diversity especially while being in the minority, laying a strong foundation for me to navigate life with a pluralistic approach.
This serves me well, as a representative with constituents from across the political spectrum with a range of concerns, and with colleagues who bring their unique experiences from across the state of Michigan. Who knew that an NIT experience would lay the foundation for an engineer to become a legislator?
(Top photo: Padma Kuppa, second from left, with NITW alumni association leaders at the Taj Vivanta in Hyderabad, in December 2021. From left, K. Mohan Rao, Kuppa, Alapati Prasad (President of NITW Global Alumni Association), Seshu Mangalapalli and Dr. G.V. Prasad.
Padma Kuppa is Democratic State Representative for Michigan’s 41st House District and has been just re-elected for a second term. A mother, an engineer from NIT Warangal, and an automotive and IT professional for over 2 decades, and a civic and interfaith leader for years, she is the first Indian immigrant and Hindu in the Michigan state legislature. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more at ElectPadmaKuppa.com or Kuppa.housedems.com.