Jagan Srinivasan

Beyond the Classroom: Jagan Srinivasan

Building a Community Thousands of Miles from Home

February 25, 2019
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Years ago, when professor of biology Jagan Srinivasan was finishing his postdoctoral work in California and considering his next step, one factor tipped the decision to move his family to Worcester.

He knew the teaching role in WPI's Department of Biology and Biotechnology would further his career and fulfill a lifelong dream of teaching biology, but it was his wife’s online discovery of the India Society of Worcester (ISW), a vibrant cultural and community organization, that made central Massachusetts the clear winner.

Srinivasan’s education has taken him from his native India to graduate studies in Germany and eventually to CalTech for postdoc work. “But this was where we could have a community,” he says.

Now nearly seven years in the Worcester region, the family devotes significant free time to the ISW because it offers a community and a way to honor and share their Indian traditions. As secretary to the 500+ member ISW, Srinivasan spends about 60 percent of his weekend time on society activities with his family—his wife, Snehalata Kadam, and their three children.

What do you do for the India Society of Worcester?

I am currently the general secretary of ISW and in charge of organizing and volunteering at its cultural festivals. My favorite is Diwali, in the fall; celebrating good over evil, it is the biggest holiday in India. I get to eat a lot! It’s a lot of sweets and most of them homemade by members. I also help out at India Day, in August, which celebrates our nation’s independence; It's a big multicultural celebration.

I teach leadership seminars to high school kids with other members. The students do not have to do what we are doing, but we teach them about being leaders in what they do. I might say, “I am here because I did these things, and maybe that can be a route for you, too.” It also shows them what the ISW is doing as a society and how we are giving back. That is important. They can also come to my lab and see what we do. They call me Dr. J! We aren’t trying to make them into scientists, but having a conversational dialogue in teaching concepts in science. I even offer some summer internships for students interested in biology.

Jagan Srinivasan
Jagan Srinivasan and his wife, Snehalata Kadam, dance at an India Society of Worcester festival.

How does being involved in the ISW help you as a scientist?

Being in the society makes me more inclusive in my life. By interacting with the people within the society—and with my cultural background—it makes me more inclusive in my lab, in my life, in my home. It makes me more accepting and tells me there’s more to life outside of science. I have lots of worries at work and this lets me be in the moment with these people.

How does it help your family?

We use the society to tell them about their history. In my family we speak four languages. We speak English; Hindi, the national language of India; my wife’s mother tongue (Marathi); and my mother tongue (Tamil). The society helps them associate with relatives when we go back home. They ask, “Why do we celebrate Diwali? Why do we wear these colorful clothes?” This is what India is all about. It’s easy for me to say—I grew up there. But for them, it’s a vacation. How much can they absorb the culture in 10 or 15 days? Being part of ISW, helps them appreciate and embrace their Indian culture.

Why are cultural societies like the ISW so important for larger communities?

I personally feel connected to the ISW not just as a cultural society, but as a way to bring people together. I feel grateful that we have this community. We like it here, and we enjoy the community. Being part of this makes me even more proud to be an Indian. It makes everyone feel there is a home away from home. You are away from home, but here we are doing all the things you would do at home. This makes me feel that even though I am outside of India, I still carry my India with me.

The society is important because it gives us an identity and educates local communities about things outside their cultural comfort. We are about sharing information. We are all human beings—we are not white, black, or brown. We are all human beings and I treat people like that.

A Faculty Snapshot

Jagan Srinivasan also recently opened up his office doors to the WPI Journal, where he showed some of the items that have been meaningful to him, both personally and in his career.

Beyond the Classroom

This profile is part of an ongoing series exploring the interests and hobbies of WPI faculty members outside of their classrooms and laboratories. To nominate a faculty member for this series, email dailyherd@wpi.edu