Rajagopal Raghavan Echambadi, the Chennai-born engineer turned educational innovator and masters in business administration (MBA) recipient, has taken in his position as the 10th president of the Illinois Institute of Technology. Although at the time of writing we are waiting for the official inaugural ceremony, the booming enthusiasm he showed for meetings with students has been exuberant. TechNews sent his office a request for an interview on August 31, 2021, and we got an email back the next day. Initially, it was scheduled for a Zoom interview but Echambadi had us put in for an in-person interview. Awaiting his inauguration, the president has been doing a lot of research on the community and the students of Illinois Tech to raise the standards of education, with one of his major goals being to ensure an equitable education for all Illinois Tech students alike.
The only technological institute of Chicago, Illinois Tech accepts Echambadi with a warm welcome. Hailing from the southernmost part of India, Echambadi completed his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from the College of Engineering, Guindy, a constituent college of Anna University. Working at Tractor and Farm Equipments of India (TAFE), Echambadi had a desire for expanding his business intelligence, so he then completed an MBA from Anna University. Though separated by decades, I could relate to this, being a graduate from Anna University myself. His thirst for knowledge was not quenched, though, which made him pursue a PhD in marketing from the University of Houston. A Magna Cum Laude student, Echambadi did not stop there. He then served at multiple professional chapters and companies as a driving force, but soon landed in academia again. He served as the Alan J. and Joyce D. Baltz professor and the senior associate dean of strategic innovation at Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; he was the leading force for delivering the iMBA program, an affordable online business degree to provide access to students from across the globe. His accomplishments are not limited to that, but also include highlights from his time at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, where he served as the Dunton Family Dean at D’Amore-McKim School of Business. One of his major goals there was in creating a feeling of belongingness for the first-generation students with his creation of the Office of Student Engagement, Affinity, and Inclusion (OSEAI). Mimicked after the Tamil word “osai,” meaning voice, he created a platform for students to voice out their opinions, interactions, and inclusions on professional and cultural engagements, keeping the prime motto of creating a structure where students could participate, learn and include themselves to get the sense of belonging achieving his ambition to create a diverse organization and inclusive society.
His note to the new students arriving from various communities astounded me. When asked about his advice for incoming students at Illinois Tech, he said that “opportunities, inclusion, culture, and collective learning bring true cultural agility, so be a risk-taker.” His idea inspired me, as he told me that to be a successful person we have to be a risk-taker and an explorer. Reminiscing about his days back when he arrived in the United States, he told us even he had some days where he felt the hardships, but this mindset is what kept him going. He exclaimed, “America is a salad bowl, where separate ingredients are good, but collectively they get along to provide the best food,” resounding to his prime idea of creating an impactful, inclusive, and diverse group of engineers and professionals for the world. Amplifying student centricity is what he keeps in his mind when he talks about Illinois Tech, as he reminded students, “You are an integral part, you own the university.” He wants to create a student-empowered institution where everyone is accountable for their efforts and contributions.
At the start of his tenure, Echambadi is setting out to create an empowered institution where the strengths of individuals can be amplified and resonate with the world under the banner of Illinois Tech. He wants to construct a human-centered and thoughtful technical institution, where technology is consummated with the appropriate skills and efficient networks. Not just constricted to his plans on Illinois Tech, he wants to create a community-wide impact. Illinois Tech being an opportunity engine, Echambadi wants to reimagine education for the future, redefine student experience to be purpose-driven, and create value for the Bronzeville community. The question on Echambadi’s mind was on how he can integrate the students of Illinois Tech with the community and how we can train the community with a holistic approach for future jobs. Illinois Tech being a leading pioneer in technological education, he wants to create permeable boundaries that can create a tailor-fit experience for students to provide the return on the mission they set out to explore. His quote for the students at the end of our interview was, “explorers expand their boundaries to enhance their mindset, create, make, and innovate to impact communal and societal progress to turn out to be ethical leaders and an impactful person.”
Other than that. Echambadi was a fun person to talk to! He very much liked sports, as he is a constant follower of cricket and chess, which are extremely popular games in India, and his approachable nature was astounding. He wants to be approachable to every student so we can rise as an elite institution, for which he says his door and phone are always open for student interactions.
Concluding my article, I wish I had more time to know Echambadi, as he is an inspiring person with booming words of motivation. But still, we have more time together, as the president has a hopefully long tenure ahead of him, where we can talk to him and approach him with our voices; nonetheless, he is the one who created “osai,” remember!