With two young kids to take care of and a husband 9,500 miles away in Singapore, graduate school was nothing less than chaotic for Seetha Raghavan. She was pursuing her doctoral degree at Purdue University’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics after spending eight years working in the industry. While her heart was leading her down the road of research and academia, her mind was telling her to get through her studies – and get back to normal life – as quickly as possible.
Thankfully, the voice of her advisor, Professor P.K. Imbrie, spoke loudest of all with words of support, guidance and encouragement. He taught her to slow down, have patience, and to put the quality of her work ahead of the urge to complete her degree.
If you’ve caught the latest Chevron commercial on TV, you’ve seen Raghavan, now an associate professor within the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, thanking Imbrie for telling her “You’ve got this.” Raghavan is one of several women in STEM featured in the commercial for Chevron’s Thank Your Role Model campaign, which celebrates the role models who have inspired women to seek careers in science, technology, engineering or math.
“P.K. taught me all about what it takes to be a good researcher: independent thinking, the ability to adapt when things don’t work out the way you imagined (and believe me they often don’t), planning and organizing before executing experiments as well as perseverance,” Raghavan said. “He often told me about his own stories as a graduate student so I could relate.”
Imbrie, now the head of the engineering education department at the University of Cincinnati, can also be seen in the commercial. He’s the “doer behind the doer” in the picture with Raghavan during her grad school days.
Within the field of engineering education, Imbrie is well-known. As his teaching assistant, Raghavan picked up some his techniques to train future engineers – techniques that she now uses in her classroom.
“I was really lucky to have such a great role model,” Raghavan said. “P.K. was, and continues to be, such a great source of encouragement and…he never lets his students go hungry! As a professor, I constantly strive to be like him and pay it forward.”
The mentee has certainly become a mentor to many aerospace engineering students at UCF. In the 10 years that she has been with the university, nine students from her research lab have been awarded Fulbright or National Science Foundation fellowships. Many others have conducted graduate-level research with or have been hired by top companies in the aerospace industry.
Having faced her share of struggles as a woman in a STEM-related field, Raghavan said she draws inspiration from the stories of the “real” people around her who have successfully overcome similar obstacles. In turn, she strives to be that real person when advising her students.
“I try to be one of those ‘real’ people to everyone else just by being accessible to my students and by being candid in my role as an advisor. I am never hesitant to share my mistakes or failures along the path I took to build success – we grow the most from failures,” Raghavan said. “I constantly challenge my students to reach higher than what they think they are capable of.”
Raghavan said that she is more than willing to provide mentorship and guidance to students because she wants them to take advantage of the opportunities that STEM has to offer. She has shared her story on the website EngineerGirl, a service of the National Academy of Engineering sponsored by Chevron, and has connected with many young girls around the world who have asked her questions about STEM.
When looking for women to feature in their “Thank Your Role Model” campaign, Chevron found Raghavan’s story on EngineerGirl and wanted to know more about her. They reached out to her, and they rest is now TV history.
Now, when young girls look to her for support, guidance and encouragement, she tells them “You’ve got this.”
“Whenever you hit a roadblock, use it to push yourself harder and you will find yourself coming out stronger and more confident to meet challenges you will face in future,” Raghavan said. “Look around you for inspiration – role models are there to show you that success often comes only after overcoming failures and that we are no different – we can get there too.”
Visit thankyourrolemodel.com to view Raghavan’s full video, to send a thank-you card to your role model, or to upload your own 15-second video thanking those who inspired you.