When Kalpana “Kal” Srinivas left her native India to come to the U.S. as a young woman, she was already well educated. This was in large part due to the efforts of her mother, whose own education had come to a halt at the age of 13, when she was part of an arranged marriage to a 19-year-old man. Determined that her daughters would have more opportunities than she had been given, Kal’s mother sent them to a convent boarding school where the Catholic nuns had a reputation for excellence in teaching and discipline. Kal was a good student who continued on to college after convent school. She earned a degree in biology and chemistry from Rajasthan University with an eye on becoming a physician. But Indian medical schools required a monetary donation from the student’s family that hers couldn’t provide, so her dreams of further education were put on hold.
A few years later, Kal settled in Central New York with her husband, an engineer at GE, and young daughter, Nina. Life was good as she grew accustomed to life in America and anticipated the arrival of a second child. But it all changed in a tragic instant, when her young husband was killed in a car accident on his way home from work. Ten weeks later, Kal gave birth to her son Ajay, who was born with multiple disabilities from a rare genetic disorder called Sotos Syndrome. There would be no further education—or much else—for the foreseeable future. “I put the next 15 years on hold,” Kal remembers of that dark time. “Life happens, and you just take one step at a time. I had two children who were totally dependent on me. You cannot control what happens to you…but you sure can control how you react to it.”
The years flew by while Kal worked in various administrative jobs and juggled the demands of raising children alone, coping with her son’s health issues, and supporting her family financially. In 1996, she joined the SU community as senior administrator in the College of Arts & Sciences, and her long-held dream of furthering her education resurfaced. Kal knew that a return to school would have to be a part-time commitment, one course at a time. When she learned that she couldn’t begin an MBA through the School of Management unless she was matriculated, the idea was put on hold. But someone told her that UC might be able to help, so she met with an advisor. “Suddenly, UC presented opportunities I’d never even considered before,” Kal remembers. She met with a UC advisor, who outlined her options. “It was my first exposure to American education, and they sure took a chance on me.”
That encounter led to a master’s degree in Instructional Design, Development, and Evaluation (IDDE) in 2005. A few months later, Kal transitioned to a new job as assistant chancellor. But even the demands of managing the numerous operations of the chancellor’s office couldn’t chase away the feeling that her educational journey wasn’t over. By then she was remarried, and her new husband’s encouragement helped her get back on the path to a Ph.D. “Education is the opportunity of a lifetime,” she observes. “You just don’t pass that up.”
A Ph.D. in IDDE took Kal 6 years to complete, taking one class each semester. “I had to be very disciplined and organized,” she recalls. “Each class took me further in my learning.” She would study from 5-9 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday, then take a break for family time, and return to reading in the late afternoon. “Part- time study gave me the flexibility I needed, but I had to supply the motivation and determination. I had so many competing identities—mother, wife, student, and employee.”
The honors have been pouring in since Kal completed her dissertation, which explored the effect of participation in Syracuse University Project Advance and advanced placement on student persistence and performance. She is being nominated for a doctoral dissertation award at the School of Education, crediting the quality and rigor of her work—one faculty member referred to it as one of the strongest dissertations reviewed by him. She was also nominated to be the Student Speaker at the School of Education’s Convocation. And Kal will be the Graduate School’s Class Marshal at the 2013 Commencement in the Carrier Dome. She has been invited to share her research results at a Professional Development Seminar at University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh with its own concurrent enrollment program. She has been asked to spearhead a multi-institutional research study by National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP).
Looking back on the years of struggle she experienced, Kal knows she made the right decision to continue on her journey at SU. “My education is something I did for me,” Kal reflects. When it all seemed too difficult, she remembered something her father told her during her childhood in India. “You can lose your money, your job, or your house,” he said, “but education stays with you to the end.“