From Dreaming of Airplanes To Flying High: The Nandhini Story

It’s incredible how hard life still is for women in this ‘progressive’ world we have today. Imagine a bank that says ‘Bank loans available for everyone except women’. How does that even make sense?

Thankfully, we have things like scholarship programs to help people realize their dreams regardless their age, gender or where they come from.

Meet Nandhini Raju, a lady who works in IITM as a Project Associate in the Mechanical Engineering Department. Looking at her credentials, it is almost too easy to assume she is living the life, doing everything she once merely just dreamt of doing.

Yet, it wasn’t always like this.

Nandhini is a girl from a little town in India called Gobichettipalayam in Tamil Nadu. The younger of two girls born of a school teacher mother, she lost her father while in junior school. Nandhini always had dreams about airplanes and these dreams led to questions. “I always wondered why I hardly ever saw planes outside our home and even school. I thought this would change once I got into high school – but it didn’t.”

Moving to Chennai was the next thing, to increase her knowledge by way of a Bachelor’s degree and she got a scholarship for the whole four years, thinking that would be enough time to sate her curiosity about the aerospace. To her surprise, however, the four years barely scratched the surface of available knowledge and Nandhini’s curiosity only increased. “The Velt Tech Mahatma Gandhi National Merit Scholarship’ helped me for four years but I just had to know more!” she says.

So she applied for Aerospace Engineering at NTU-TUM Asia. But the moment she got out there, the story changed. “The bank loan that had been financing my education got cancelled – and the reason was I am a girl, and my family doesn’t have steady income’.

How disappointing for Nandhini, who just wanted to understand airplanes and aerospace and use her knowledge to benefit her society and community. In spite of this major setback however, she was still determined to study all she could, so she reached out.

Fortunately Nandhini found Mr. Sankar Raman who was studying for his Civil Engineering exam at the time. He had complete faith in her, often saying “I believe you will do something great in the field of aerospace engineering’. Not only did this man pay her first semester fees, he also convinced her mother to let her leave to further her education.

Then, Buddy4study provided her with another sponsor; Mr. Chandra Sekar who also gave her moral and emotional support in addition to paying her second semester fees. “He was with me all through the ups and downs. Up till the time I finished my course we never met. We only communicated via email, yet he was there to help whenever I felt down.”

People from NTU also pitched in to support her dream; people like Dr. Narsimalu Srikanth, Senior Scientist and Programme Director of ERIAN at NTU. He came to know about Nandhini’s situation and came forward to pay her third and fourth semester fee. “Face your studies, focus with a clear mind’ he always said to me,” says Nandhini. “He gave me lots of advice on presentations and paper-writing skills. He molded me a lot; he was so keen about improvements in my studies.” She lived with this kind man and his family for one and a half years.

Nandhini is grateful for the support of all these kind people. “Who can believe – who would have believed I would be in Singapore completing my Master’s Degree? It’s a dream come true – something that was once only my imagination, now reality.”

She credits her mother as the source of her inspiration. “Mother was a teacher and student at the same time when I was in secondary school. She was always writing exams and studying and teaching at the same time. She never stops studying; she has more than four degrees in different areas of interest. She taught me how important education is; how important it is to have a goal in life and to achieve it. She keeps me grounded, keeps me focused!”

As at the time of writing, Nandhini has been selected to present technical papers concerning the tomographic reconstruction of a supersonic jet at AIAA and SATEC 2016, she has already had a presentation in San Diego, USA and plans to go on to a PhD after the presentation. “I have already received some offers concerning a PhD from different universities in the USA and I am looking forward to accepting an offer this August. I am so excited!”

It’s hard not to be happy for Nandhini, another person living her dreams of flying high thanks to a scholarship programme. “There are lots and lots of people like me in the same programme from India – like me. Most of them have financial constraints and have to work part time to meet their expenses. I too did, for a time. I notice people come here for their internship even though they have no interest in it, and when I ask why they tell me; ‘We’re getting good pay’. We all came here for something better; to get a Masters of Science and we will leave here to get a job or PhD position anywhere in the world. So I advice my juniors to start with finding their real love and interested subject only. Don’t go for positions either intern or thesis just because they pay well. Search for the subject of your passion and prove to yourself that you did well. The struggle ends when you can say; ‘Yes, I am master of a subject or research area. This is an opportunity to find your real interest – don’t miss it because you’re looking for money.”

Good advice anyone with a dream to fly high can learn from.

Nandhini also has a message for NGOs government organizations about helping underprivileged students by providing scholarships for higher education to needy students.

‘There are lots of help and opportunity for city-based schools. Teachers and students of these schools know about these opportunities and regularly avail themselves of them. But the rural part of India is mostly forgotten about or ignored when these opportunities come! There are lots of needy children who have to go through all sorts of wrong things like child marriage and child labor. Please, whenever you make scholarships and programs available for students, also make sure rural schools and students benefit from these things. Thank you.”

Buddy4Study is helping. Join hands and let’s create a better world.