By Julee Cobb
Engineering technology professor Raju Dandu, who has been a faculty member on the Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus for almost 20 years, has been named the recipient of the 2016 Rex McArthur Family Faculty Fellow Award.
The McArthur distinction, which annually recognizes a Kansas State Polytechnic professor for teaching excellence, a commitment to research and honorable service to the university, college and community, was presented to Dandu during the campus’s Faculty and Professional Staff Showcase in September. Dandu was chosen for the award because of his leadership in several national engineering organizations and his involvement with the local engineering industry; but his selection is primarily because of the experience he provides his students, which is a mixture of professional knowledge and practical life lessons.
Dandu came from humble beginnings in Andhra Pradesh, India, a state on the country’s southeastern coast. His parents were only able to achieve a fifth grade level education, so he believed the responsibility of being a successful student fell solely on his shoulders. Dandu became committed to his education and graduated from high school – which stops at 10th grade in India – at the top of his class. While most students then go on to what is called intermediate school, Dandu skipped ahead and entered Andhra Polytechnic, an institute similar to a community college in the United States, for a three-year program in automobile engineering.
While the common next step was to land a job as a vehicle inspector in his state, Dandu was ambitious in his pursuits and driven to be different. He applied for a national study abroad competition in India, which gave its winners the opportunity to continue their education in a new country with all expenses paid. Dandu says his friends and classmates made fun of him for believing he had a chance at being chosen, but he proved them wrong.
After being selected as one of about 100 students from across the country for an interview, Dandu boarded a train by himself and traveled 36 hours to Delhi to make his case for entrance into the study abroad program. Dandu’s good grades, strong work ethic and enthusiasm impressed the judges and he was awarded a fully paid scholarship to study mechanical engineering in what is now Bratislava, Slovakia.
For five years, Dandu worked on his master’s degree at the Slovak University of Technology, first studying general engineering and then specializing in thermal and nuclear power engineering. He next moved to Tripoli, Libya where, for four years, he was employed at a nuclear research facility. Dandu spent time in reactor maintenance and then was promoted to chief engineer for the radioactive waste management facility.
After living on three continents, Dandu was ready for his next adventure. He first went back to Slovakia to marry his wife, Kamila, whom he had met at the university in Bratislava. They applied for immigration to Canada, Australia and on the advice of a friend, the United States too. Dandu and Kamila ended up in Fargo, North Dakota, where he went to work on his doctorate in mechanical engineering. After completing his degree and teaching at North Dakota State University for a year, interestingly enough, Dandu was not finished traveling.
Receiving an opportunity to pass on his passion for engineering, Dandu and his family moved to Puerto Rico where he was tasked, along with four other American professors, with building an engineering program for the University of Turabo. Dandu gave the project four years of his expertise, eventually helping it to become accredited with the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, or ABET.
Because of how welcoming the people of Fargo had been to Dandu and his wife, when they moved back to the United States, he wanted to land somewhere in the Midwest. Dandu applied for an open position in the engineering technology department on Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus and was hired in 1997. Since that time, he has made it a point to include the lessons he has learned during his travels as part of the industry-relevant curriculum he provides.
“In all of my life pursuits and journeys, I have never been fearful of what lies ahead because I know that each new person, place or culture I have encountered is an opportunity for growth, knowledge and understanding,” said Dandu, who, through those world travels learned to speak several languages, including Telugu, English, Slovak, Czech, Spanish, Arabic and Hindi. “One of the messages I want to get across to my students is how important it is to be receptive to all life has to offer. Do not be afraid of the future, go into it with an open mind and embrace it.”
Dandu, who teaches mechanical engineering technology courses related to product design and development as well as senior project classes, also gives students the chance to apply their knowledge by working with local companies to solve real industry challenges. And students are able to successfully collaborate with professionals and build their skill level because he first instills in them confidence and drive.
“I strive to make learning easy and purposeful,” said Dandu. “Once you see purpose, it awakens your inner desire to learn and you become self-motivated. I want students to be inspired by their own ideas and believe it is possible to make them happen.”
Along with teaching bachelor’s level courses, Dandu helped start the campus’s graduate program in 2010 and served as its director for three years, from 2013 to 2016. Dandu is a commissioner for ABET, helping lead the teams that accredit various collegiate programs. He was elected to the board of directors for the American Society of Engineering Education, or ASEE, and is an active member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Dandu provides consulting for area engineering companies, has served on the Salina United Way board of directors in 2014 and actively connects his mechanical engineering technology classes with the local Boy Scouts of America to assist with their programming.
Though Dandu is proud of his professional accomplishments and world travels thus far, he also is honored to be part of the long list of winners of the McArthur Award.
“I want to thank the Rex McArthur family for their support of this campus and its professors by sponsoring an award like this,” said Dandu. “The value they place on education gives us professors inspiration to be better teachers.”
Dandu and wife Kamila make their home in Salina and have three children: Gautama, who graduated from K-State with a degree in civil engineering and currently is pursing his teaching certificate; Maya, who will graduate from Pittsburg State University in December; and Ajay, a senior at Salina High School South.