She did her homework, came to America; now she’s ready to become an engineer

2012-12-17T14:46:00Z She did her homework, came to America; now she’s ready to become an engineerKaren Holland | Purdue Calumet University Relations nwitimes.com
December 17, 2012 2:46 pm  • 

HAMMOND | Padmalochini Umakanthan has come a long way from her hometown of Chennai, Tamilnadu in India – educationally, figuratively and literally.

Culminating two years of study at Purdue University Calumet, she looks forward to gaining her master’s degree in engineering during Commencement Exercises Tuesday at the Radisson Star Plaza Theater in Merrillville.

She enrolled at Purdue Calumet after researching American universities on the Internet.

“In the world rankings of education, the United States is at the top,” Umakanthan, 24, said. “I wanted to work in a specific profession (engineering), and Purdue came up, so I decided to pursue furthering my education here.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical and communications engineering from Sastra College near her home, she concluded that to pursue further education, she must do so outside her country, and she would need to prepare herself, especially emotionally, to make that move to a far-away country.

Again, she utilized the Internet, this time to connect with other international students who were continuing their education in the United States — including some at Purdue Calumet — to gain advice and tips about her pending experience.

“I was sheltered and not used to being on my own,” Umakanthan said. “I didn’t want to just come to a foreign country and not know anyone; I wanted to have a connection.”

Once settled in at Purdue Calumet’s University illage student apartment complex, she focused on her studies while supporting herself as a tutor and teaching assistant. From January to August 2012, she also served an internship for the Intel Corporation at Folsom, Calif.

Her work there so impressed her supervisors that the company offered her a full time engineering position after graduation, which she has accepted.

Back on campus, she embraced master’s degree thesis research about electrical devices and conversations relative to keyword recognition.

“My purpose was to devise a model to help machine systems comprehend human language,” she said. “This would enable systems to work toward better customer service and (addressing) other concerns.”

In real time, when a user speaks into a device, there may be surrounding noise. So systems must be intelligent enough to separate the user’s speech from noise and other unnecessary information. Research of this nature can be especially valuable in matters of homeland security and more traditional uses.

“It can be used for customer support as automatic answering machines,” she said. “Medical transcriptions and the automobile industry also can take advantage of keyword recognition models. There are many Air Force funded projects in this area. So, definitely, speech processing is a field that attracts a lot of attention.”

Professor of Electrical Engineering Kaliappan Gopalan calls Padma – as she is known on campus – a dedicated, highly motivated and diligent student.

“Coming from India, after completing her undergraduate education at a residential campus, she hardly knew cooking, much less living in a different culture,” he said. “Yet, while living by herself, she worked hard as a teaching assistant, pursued the thesis option for her master’s degree and also served as a tutor each semester of her stay at Purdue Calumet. With all her work, she earned top grades in all her courses.”

He added that her educational dedication will take her far in her prospective, engineering work world.

“I see Padma becoming an excellent engineer at Intel, and going for a Ph.D. in (electrical and computer engineering) soon,” he said.

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