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Becoming a leader: Engineering student unites Indian students at State

India native Devansh Singh will remember his years of graduate study in Brookings as a time of independence.

“This time in Brookings is when I’m learning about life on my own. I’m kind of branching out and learning how to become a leader and communicator away from all of my family members, which is something memorable,” said Singh, noting Indian families typically remain closely bonded with each other throughout their lives.

Although Singh, a mechanical engineering graduate student, enjoys the path he’s forging now, he plans on returning to India. “I eventually want to live close to my family again,” said Singh, whose family lives in Kanpur, a city in northern India. “We are very close and video chat everyday.”

But that day is not yet determined. After he graduates with his master’s degree, Singh would like to work in the automotive industry in the United States. “There’s a good chance I will earn my doctorate degree, but I want to work in the engineering field first and see where things take me.”

ISA president
At State, Singh’s path has led him to his role as president of the Indian Students’ Association. When he came to SDSU, Singh immersed himself in the association and after a year in the group, ran for and was elected its president in fall 2015. He said he’s taking his leadership role to a new level.

Students involved in the Indian Students' Association gather monthly to enjoy Indian food, music and conversation.

“I’m trying to engage all of the members, which can sometimes be a challenge with more than 170 of them,” Singh said.

Because of India’s diversity in regard to language, religion and social celebrations, Singh consults with people from different parts of India to make sure their practices are celebrated and acknowledged.

Sandeep Kumar serves as the association adviser. “If a member of the group has a problem or feels homesick, we get together and talk. We often gather in small groups and create an Indian environment, enjoying Indian food, music and movies,” Singh said.

India Night
Holidays and events are always celebrated grandiosely in India, and replicating that here is important, according to Singh. India Night is the group’s largest festival, which will be held Apr. 17 this year. The event features a multitude of cultural presentations and entertainment, each exploring Indian traditions.

Each year, India Night guests dine on traditional foods including samosa, matar paneer, naan, gulab jamun, tandoori chicken and mango ice cream.

The festivities include dances, cultural shows and skits. A traditional dinner features dishes including: samosa, a fried pastry with a savory filling; matar paneer, a spicy curry; naan, a flatbread; gulab jamun, a sweet dessert; spicy tandoori chicken; mango ice cream; and more options.

Chandradhar Dwivedi, professor emeritus for the College of Pharmacy, started the Indian Students’ Association when he came to State in 1987. He said the group initially merged with the other international groups due to low numbers. As the number of international students has grown, the groups now have enough members to operate independently.

According to Dwivedi, the group hosted the first India Night in 1990—marking this year’s event as the 27th annual.

“Typically, we entertain 350-400 audiences during India night every year,” Singh said. “It’s great because students from different regions of India showcase their cultural traditions. We try to engage the entire Indian community and encourage people to show their talents. We prepare different foods and try to make the evening better each year.”

Ideal upbringing
According to Singh, because his culture gets together and celebrates in groups, it’s imperative to uphold that in Brookings. Those group celebrations played a part in making Singh’s childhood ideal. His father works as a cop and his mother is a homemaker. He has three older sisters.

Members of the Indian Students' Association host India Night each year, which draws 350-400 people.
Members of the Indian Students' Association host India Night each year, which draws 350-400 people.

“My friends and family allowed me to enjoy my life,” he said. “My parents taught me to strive and do anything I want in life, but walk in the good path. My dad was quite supportive of me and allowed me to follow my dreams.”

With that support, Singh chose to pursue his education in the U.S. After he earned an undergraduate engineering degree in India, he worked for an automotive company in Delhi.

After a year and a half of that, he decided to look into graduate schools in the U.S. Singh said he loves the curriculum and professors within the Department of Mechanical Engineering. He works as a graduate teaching assistant for David Aaron and his graduate adviser Jeffrey Doom. Singh is also devoting time to complete his thesis.

Comforts of home
But it’s not all work for Singh, who had the chance to spend the monthlong holiday break back home in India. “I hadn’t been home since 2014, so my first day in India was different and interesting,” he said. “I enjoyed the delicacies that my mom cooked for me. I also had a lot of fun meeting up with my sisters and friends.”

Singh, who is on track to graduate in December, said he hopes his parents can make it for the ceremony because they’ve never been to the U.S.

“I would like them to see the place I’ve been living for the past couple of years,” Singh said. “This campus is the place where I’ve learned a lot about myself and discovered how to be an independent leader.”