Humans of the Keweenaw: Interview with Gowtham S

One of my professors in my master’s program, Dr. Sharath Ananathmurthy, connected with Dr. Pushpalatha Murthy at Michigan Tech... I had a chance to meet and chat with her in Bangalore. My life changed forever during those 30 minutes.

July 27, 2017

This is the fifth in a series of planned interviews highlighting humans in Houghton and Keweenaw Counties who are working to improve our community’s quality of life.

Interview conducted on 7/24/17 by Kyle Krym
Photos provided by Gowtham S

 

Please, tell us a little about yourself.

I’m somebody who loves any team I’m a part of, whether it’s Michigan Tech, the community, or the U.P. in general. I want to support whoever is a part of my team. And whoever is against us, I want to make sure they wish they were part of our team too.

In other words, I’m competitive. I want to be better tomorrow than I am today, while fully understanding I can’t be at my best every day. I want my average to be better than most people’s good or better. That’s what drives me on a daily basis.

I’m currently both the Director of Research Computing (designing, building, managing, and showing researchers how to use the high-performance computing infrastructure we have at Michigan Tech) and an Adjunct Assistant Professor in Physics and Electrical and Computing Engineering at Michigan Tech with teaching, research, and administrative responsibilities.

 

What are you researching right now?

My current research involves high-performance computing, specifically given x amount of resources and y amount of researchers, what are optimal and innovative ways to go about spreading those resources around.

 

How did you originally come to study at Michigan Tech?

While I was completing my bachelor’s and master’s programs at Bangalore University in India, my academic advisors encouraged me to continue my studies in the United States. I couldn’t ask my parents for the funding, however, so my high school principal and his family took it on themselves to look for places to apply on my behalf. One of my professors in my master’s program, Dr. Sharath Ananathmurthy, connected with Dr. Pushpalatha Murthy at Michigan Tech, and she knew Dr. Ravi Pandey well. I had a chance to meet and chat with her in Bangalore. My life changed forever during those 30 minutes. She brought my application back with her and later I received an invitation to attend Michigan Tech, where I earned a PhD in Engineering Physics in 2007.

 

What would you like to share with us about Bangalore?

There are three groups of people I need to mention:

  • My mother and a handful of my relatives who were hell-bent on making sure I got the education I needed by making countless sacrifices that I’ll never be able to repay;
  • My teachers that went way beyond the normal call of duty to give me academic resources and training I needed that I wouldn’t have normally gotten;
  • And my close circle of friends who helped me by being there for me and occasionally by sacrificing some one-time opportunities of their own for my benefit.

For example, while I was completing my Master’s program, I wanted to take an exam called the UGC-CSIR. If you passed, you became eligible for a college and university level faculty position as well as earning a Junior Research Fellowship at any leading research institute. I didn’t have the money to pay for the application fee, however, so one of my buddies who just barely had enough money to take it himself claimed he wasn’t adequately prepared, even though I think he probably was, and gave me the money instead. I was able to take and pass that exam thanks to him. I still think about that a lot.

 

After finishing your PhD, you moved to Middletown, NJ and worked as an application developer for AT&T. You returned home to Michigan Tech a little over a year later. What does Houghton have that Middletown didn’t?

There were four reasons why I moved back. The first reason was the people. While New Jersey has the highest density of population in the United States, when you look closer, the percentage of people actually willing to open their doors to you there is very, very small. In Houghton, it’s nearly 100 percent. Secondly, here I live in the middle of nature, so I don’t have to go searching for it like I did in NJ. Thirdly, the work I was doing wasn’t very challenging. I did more challenging work at Michigan Tech during my graduate studies than I ever did at AT&T. It was hard to justify not doing a lot, and the lack of job satisfaction on a day-in, day-out, week-in, week-out basis was difficult to deal with. And lastly, I also wasn’t able to teach, and I like teaching a lot. Returning to Michigan Tech satisfied all of my requirements.

 

How will your students one day change the world?

My students are my number one priority. A lot of the underlying concepts and lessons I’m trying to teach my students focus on learning how to become a better human being. I want them to know their strengths and their weaknesses and know how to ask for help. And when they have developed their strengths and are at the top of their games, I want them to look around for those who need help like they once did. In my mind, that has a lot of potential to change the world and make it a better place.

I also hold my students to higher standards by treating them as I think they can or will be rather than as they are now. I reward students who earn an “A” grade on their own efforts, make *me* better by improving my explanations or finding mistakes in my coursework, and who help someone else in the class earn a better grade than they could have on their own. I hope these higher standards can induce a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

Besides being short for Gowtham, is there another reason everyone calls you “G”?

Yes, actually. It came from my days playing for the Michigan Tech Physics Department softball team, Team Fiziks. Everyone on the team had a t-shirt with a name of their choosing. I just picked a lowercase “g”, the symbol for acceleration due to gravity. It was big and easy for everyone to see, and the name just stuck.

 

On your website, you list photography, sports, and running as three of your passions. Why does photography appeal to you?

For me, photography is a way of documenting history and telling stories. Plus, all of the underlying physics that go along with photography makes it a natural draw. Two people can see the same photograph and think about it entirely differently based on their respective schools of thought. I see images from a mathematical point of view but someone with an arts background may analyze it in a totally different way. Photography is an area where mathematics and science and arts can interact and admire the same phenomenon, and it helps me relate to arts better.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, photo by Gowtham S

 

You’re a part-owner of the Green Bay Packers but also a huge fan of the New England Patriots. How does that work?

It’s one of those “being a fan” things that doesn’t have a rational answer. I like Green Bay for historical reasons and for being community-owned. Vince Lombardi is also someone I model my life after. On the other side, I know the Patriots have a lot of issues and aren’t everyone’s favorite team, but given the way the NFL is set up right now with free agency and salary cap, to be that consistent over a very long time is a good model to learn from as far as resource management. In the end, I also want to be happy as a football fan, and together they give me a roughly 50% chance to have a team in the Super Bowl and a happy feeling at the end of a season.

 

Along with Vince Lombardi, you cite Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya as someone you adore and idolize. Who was he?

Sir MV was knighted as a Knight Commander of the Indian Empire by King George V for his contributions to the public good.  An engineer, scholar, and statesman, he lived a life of service, discipline, and hard work. Very well liked and admired by the people, his life was always purposeful, and reading about him has been very influential in how I’ve tried to lead my life and interact with my teachers.

 

You aspire to be a runner and a triathlete. What fueled this passion?

I had a couple of bad experiences mentoring students. It was very frustrating to go through. I felt they weren’t listening to me even though I only had their best interests in mind. Around the same length of time, friends from the Keweenaw Running Group had been encouraging me to run with them. I realized they also only wanted what was best for me despite there being no benefit to themselves. I wondered if it could be karmic that my students weren’t listening to me, and that if I tried listening to others who were trying to help me, maybe my students, in turn, would listen to me. So I started running.

 

If those mentoring experiences are what you’re running from, what are you now running to?

I’m running to achieve a better and calmer state of mind. I think running improves my ability to think outside of a computer. While running, I can think through a problem without Googling or Wikipediaing the answer. I also get the chance to think of those who need help and those I need to thank, and I usually run out of distance before I run out of names, hence the need for longer runs.

 

Who in the Michigan Tech community would you like to thank?

I can’t possibly thank everyone individually in this interview. I do want to take a moment to thank Dr. Ravindra Pandey, the Department Chair in Physics, someone I highly respect and adore, for providing me with a model for how to work on a day-to-day basis to try to help and satisfy someone’s needs before they even identify them. As previously mentioned, I want to thank Dr. Pushpa Murthy, the current Dean of the Graduate School, for carrying my application for graduate school back with her from India. She knew I didn’t have the money for postage, so she brought it herself. I need to thank Dr. Max Seel in the Physics Department for giving me an opportunity and bringing me back to Michigan Tech the second time around in 2009. And I want to thank Dr. Warren Perger, Dr. Greg Odegard, Dr. Craig Friedrich, Dr. Dan Furhmann, Dr. Sean Kirkpatrick, Dr. Chandrashekhar Joshi, my colleagues in IT, Michigan Tech athletics, and Michigan Tech’s entire executive team (and their families) … I have a lot of thanks to give.

*****

For more information on Gowtham S, visit his website HERE.

Through philanthropic services, strategic investments and community leadership, Keweenaw Community Foundation helps people support the causes they care about, now and for generations to come. For more information on Keweenaw Community Foundation and how to give, explore our website at www.keweenawgives.org.

Contact: Gowtham S g@mtu.edu or Kyle Krym kylekrym@gmail.com.