Rajesh Kavasseri has a doctorate in electrical engineering; not the background one would expect to find in a cheerleader.
But in some ways, that is the job of the new associate dean of research in the Jerome J. Lohr College of Engineering at South Dakota State University.
After an 18-year career in electrical power systems at North Dakota State University, Kavasseri has shelved his own research efforts. Now, “my primary goal is to help others succeed,” said Kavasseri, who began his SDSU position June 22. Since July 2018, he had been a professor and graduate coordinator in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at North Dakota State University in Fargo, North Dakota.
Kavasseri succeeds Steve Gent, who held the position on an interim basis after Dennis Helder retired June 21, 2019.
In simplest terms, Kavasseri’s duties are to assist with research and economic development activities for the College. Implicit in that is to grow research as it is measured in external funding and in academic prestige and to help the college expand its economic development activities, he said.
Wants to increase use of research labs
For Fiscal Year 2019, the college’s external funding and research expenditures were just over $4 million. External funding had been near the $5 million mark the previous two years.
External factors, such as availability of federal funds for research, affect those marks, but Kavasseri said the college has excellent facilities that could be better utilized.
He cited such facilities as Daktronics Engineering Hall’s clean room for micro and nanoscale device fabrication; the manufacturing and robotics labs in the mechanical engineering department, the Lohr Structures Lab in Crothers Engineering Hall as well as the renowned image processing lab for geospatial analysis and satellite calibration.
Then there is Kavasseri’s research area—bulk electric power systems, which forms the nation’s backbone for electricity.
Less than a month into his job, Kavasseri was already gaining a grasp of the research taking place in the college and working to develop a dashboard that would provide that information at a glance. “Even if we can grow that research by 10 percent every year, that would be great,” Kavasseri said. “I want to help these groups find the right synergies to expand on their research, which is becoming increasingly collaborative and multidimensional.”
Envisions national caliber research
He also wants communities to see the college as a partner, citing examples in other cities where university-developed technologies were adopted by civic and municipal entities to improve the quality of life.
What are the biggest challenges to make these goals a reality?
Kavasseri said, “Getting the critical mass in each area. At a land-grant university, everyone is doing everything. You can get a little diluted. But we can build up one group and then the next. I plan to identify the top three research areas in the college and get them to a national level; to get them to the national level will be a challenge.”
But it is a challenge he is up to, according to Dean Bruce Berdanier.
“Dr. Kavasseri rose to the top of an impressive field of candidates in our interview process. I view him as a thoughtful leader in his concepts for creating collaborations through public and private partnerships as well as the advances in research that can be accomplished at the interfaces of different areas of technical expertise.
“He has had a distinguished academic career … and he is recognized as a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers,” Berdanier said.
Family still in Fargo
Kavasseri holds a doctorate in electrical engineering from Washington State (2002) and master’s and bachelor’s degrees in electrical engineering from India (1995, 1998). He became an assistant professor at North Dakota State in 2002 after spending four years as a research assistant at Washington State University in Pullman. He also spent summer 2009 as a visiting professor in India.
Kavasseri’s spouse, Prabha, is also an electrical engineer working for a consulting firm in Fargo. Their son, Padmanabha, is double majoring in computer science and computer engineering at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles but he has been home since March, when the pandemic hit. Their daughter, Abhijna, is a freshman at Fargo North High School.
At this point, Kavasseri commutes to Fargo on weekends, where he spends time gardening, teaching yoga, and making short films.