Deepak and Sunita Gupta: Champions for Student Success
During a trip to the United States, Deepak Gupta and his wife, Sunita, stopped by Carnegie Mellon. Deepak is Chairman of the Romav Group, a privately held, Singapore-based business focused on shipping and property. We had an opportunity to talk to the couple about their motivations for endowing the College of Engineering's First-Year Experience Program.
Deepak Gupta (BS ChemE, '89) vividly recalls his early days at Carnegie Mellon. As an international student from India, his flight to Pittsburgh marked his first trip to the United States. He was somewhat intimidated, "It was a new country, a new university, a new life, a new everything." His parents, who accompanied him, stayed long enough to buy their son winter clothes and get him settled in, and then they left.
Deepak was alone and faced with a choice. "When you are thrown into the deep end of the swimming pool, you learn to swim or you sink. I swam." But it wasn't easy. He, like most first-year students, had to manage multiple challenges on both an academic and personal level. His courses were rigorous, and outside of class, he had to develop new friendships. He was immersed in a different culture, complete with new foods and customs. Even Pittsburgh's weather was foreign to him.
Looking back on his first year in the College of Engineering, he says, "Dealing with the transition from high school to college is difficult. You have a lot more freedom, and some kids don't know how to handle that." New students must take in large amounts of information in a short period of time. "You have to make quick decisions on everything, whether it's which courses to take or which clubs to join. So much happens that first semester, and a lot of stuff whizzes by you because you don't have time to handle it."
"When I saw this program [The First-Year Experience] I saw a chance to correct things I thought were flaws in my freshman experience. One of which was not having the time to take advantage of everything that was offered to me." Deepak and Sunita advocate that young people need time and access to activities that will help them make informed decisions about scholastic and social issues.
An area of particular concern to the couple is the process by which students select their majors. "I think a lot of kids don't know what they want to do when they are in high school. When they land at college, they have to decide what they want to study for the next four years. It's very easy to make the wrong decision" he says. "It is important that students talk to people—faculty, peers, people from industry—and learn about different majors." This is an essential component of the First Year Experience Program and one that "really excites" them.
"Students nowadays develop ideas very soon about what they want to be and that is unfortunate because they don't explore enough. Keep everything on the table until you are absolutely sure about what you want to do," he says. "You have to be open minded. Don't close the door to anything," adds Sunita.
In this vein, Deepak continues, "If I were to go back to school, I would work hard at building relationships. Students need to network." The Guptas believe that it is easy for undergraduates to stay in their comfort zone and not mingle with those outside of engineering. "I would tell anybody today, go out and talk to people. You never know who you will meet. You could meet someone who becomes your best friend or someone who can tell you about a job opportunity."
When Deepak was at Carnegie Mellon, he double majored in Chemical Engineering and Industrial Management, which was uncommon in the 1980s. But even back then, Carnegie Mellon was a university that afforded opportunities for personal growth. Deepak's workload was intense, "but I made a lot of effort to get out of my comfort zone. I was the president of the business club, this required me to interact with Pittsburgh based business people, on campus administration, students from other majors, and other college chapters in the USA. I was on a faculty-supervised undergraduate student research project, I met faculty members, staff and students from other CIT departments and learned the reality of team work. On a more general note, I engaged in sports, on campus events and many road trips, all of which enabled me to meet persons of different backgrounds and experiences having various post-college dreams. I stayed active. You got to do things or you will go crazy if all you do is sit with your coursework."
"You have got to explore. You've got to find your niche," concludes Deepak. "And whatever you do, you have got to push the envelope. That is when you learn what you are capable of."