February Edition: Alumni Stories

Dear Reader,

This month we bring to you stories directly from IITKGP alumni. 

Dr. Suresh Kulkarni

Born in 1944 in Hyderabad, India, Dr. Suresh Kulkarni got his B.E. degree from Osmania University, Hyderabad in 1965 and M.Tech in Production Engineering from IIT, Kharagpur in 1967. He came to the USA in 1967 to get a PhD in Engineering Mechanics from the University of Denver. After getting his degree in 1970, he returned to India, but could not find suitable employment. He returned to the USA and joined Thiokol Corporation (Now Northrup Gruman) in Promontory, Utah in 1972 as an entry level junior engineer. Appointed as the Vice President of Engineering in 1989 of over 550 engineers to oversee the design, fabrication, testing and launch of the Solid Rocket Motors, which propelled the Space Shuttle into space.  He had the ultimate authority to give the final “GO” for the ignition of the solid rocket boosters at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. His efforts helped launch 55 Space Shuttle flights without a failure over a period of nine years. He retired from there in 2003 as the Vice President of Systems Engineering over all of ATK’s strategic and tactical programs.

Among the many astronauts he has worked with during his professional career were John W. Young, who walked on the moon, and Robert Crippen, the Mission Commander and Pilot respectively of STS-1 (Orbiter Columbia), the first orbital flight of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program; as well as Dr. Story Musgrave who repaired the Hubble Telescope twice. See their photos above. 

Some notable Shuttle missions that Suresh was involved in include: Magellan Spacecraft to Venus (May 1989); Galileo Spacecraft to Jupiter (October 1989); Hubble Space Telescope (April 1990); and the Shuttle-Mir (the Russian Space Station) docking (July 1995). 

He was nominated in 1999 by Thiokol to be on President Bill Clinton’s Presidential Commission known as the Space Launch Broad Area Review (BAR) to investigate commercial flight failures and recommend corrective actions. 

Suresh and his wife, Diane, reside in Perry City, Utah and have two married daughters and two grandchildren. He spends his time doing volunteer work in the local community as well as gardening. He has received accolades as the “Citizen of the Year” in 2009 from the mayor of Perry City, and “Trustee of the Year” in 2010 from the Utah Hospital and Health Systems Association. 

VK Jaitly (1979/E&ECE/RKH)

From Jammu to the Indian Navy via IIT Kharagpur

My schooling was at Jammu and had the option to choose any department in any of the five IITs, but my first choice was IIT Kharagpur because I found that majority of freedom fighters were from Bengal. And so were spiritual leaders, writers and artists. So I just wanted to go to this remarkable land of artists, martyrs, scientists, and spiritual masters that had contributed a lot to our country and to the humanity. 

My first journey by local train from Howrah to Kharagpur was wonderful. Every time, the train stopped at a station, I read the names of the stations in Hindi and then tried to read in Bengali. By the time I reached Kharagpur, I was able to read Bengali to quite an extent. On reaching IIT, the gigantic main building looked very impressive. The words on the main building “Dedicated to The Service of The Nation” got etched in my mind permanently. 

IIT experience is a big leveller. You come across the cream of the nation. I tried my best but always remained among the bottom 10 in the class of about 35. I was no match in sports and cultural activities too. But I started participating in organising Hall and Gymkhana activities/events. I got the Best Fresher Volunteer award of Technology Student Gymkhana in my first year. I became very active with NSS and was adjudged the best NSS volunteer during our convocation.

My popularity enabled me to become G.Sec (Soc & Cul) of TSG and then VP TSG in my final year. We started the Inter Hall Illumination and Rangoli competition (now called Illu and has become a very big event) on the Diwali day. I was one of the rare IITians who joined the Indian Navy to serve the nation instead of going abroad to greener pastures. The Navy sent me back to IIT Kharagpur for M.Tech in Satellite Communication and Remote Sensing in 1983. I got married during my M.Tech days and my wife got very good practice making tea and snacks umpteen number of times. My professors treated my wife like their new bahu (daughter-in-law). 

On completion of M.Tech, and a short stint at INS Valsura, Jamnagar, I was sent to Plymouth, UK, as a part of the commissioning crew of INS Viraat/HMS Hermes. It was my first global experience. I initiated computerization of the Indian Navy with the first Computer Cell on the ship and then installation of the first LAN in the Indian Navy onboard INS Viraat. While in UK and then on Viraat and Valsura, I made about 100 video documentaries.  I developed the first multimedia of India way back in 1991. My family consisting of my wife Neetu and two lovely daughters Megha and Manasvi and my parents had a great time during my two tenures at INS Valsura at Jamnagar, Gujarat. Incidentally, my parents stayed with me at IIT Kharagpur too at Gokhale Hall during my M.Tech.   

After about 23 years in the Navy, I took premature retirement and became Dean of a University, then President of two companies. I revived Delhi Chapter of TAA North India, and became the Founder Board Member of PanIIT, India. Presently, I am on the Board of IIT Bhubaneswar, and am an Advisor with three departments including Advisor in Partha Ghosh Academy of Leadership. I was awarded DSA in 2016 and then DAA in 2021 by IIT Kharagpur.

While at IIT, I trekked from IIT Kharagpur to Jamshedpur in my 2nd year and then cycled all the way to Jagannath Puri in our 4th year. I was the Leader for an All India Motor Cycle Expedition and drove 12000+ Kms in 31 days to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of INS Valsura, Jamnagar. I drove from Kanyakumari to New Delhi in 1999 as the Officer-in-Charge of the Navy Team for a Tri-Services Car Rally. 

I love to trek, play Golf occasionally and devote some of my energies for promoting education in the bastis and tribal areas through ‘Sewa Bharti’ and ‘Ekal’. I have given talks in about 250+ academic institutions including some IITs, IIMs and three universities in China. Presently, I am an author, a corporate trainer and a motivational speaker. I am also the National Co-ordinator of Youth4Nation that strives to instill the spirit of ‘Nation First’ among the youth of India. My books ‘We Can! We Can!’ and ‘Safalta ki Udaan’ and YouTube channel ‘ExcellenceGuru’ have made a difference in the lives of many. My third book: “100 Great IITians: Dedicated to the Service of the Nation” will hit the stands by end March, 2024. Work on my next book, “100 Great Global IITians” has also started. 

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