NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

Math professor holds to traditional family values

By Sarah Colpitts

Sujatha Thiruvengadathan

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, known to students and faculty as “Sue” and by her family members as “Suji,” teaches math courses here at NECC. Thiruvengadathan was born in Tamilnadu, India.
Thiruvengadathan studied electrical engineering in undergrad school while living in India before moving to the U.S. in 1991 to study for her Masters in computer engineering at Manhattan College.
After graduate school, Thiruvengadathan moved back to India for three years before moving back to the U.S. in 1996 with her husband.
“My husband wanted to work somewhere outside of India, so he picked Boston of all places. I hate the cold, but I supported him and I would go wherever it was he chose.”
Thiruvengadathan found herself extremely passionate about her work as an engineer, but after the birth of her son, she said, “I knew there was no time to invest all of my passion into engineering, because I had a duty to raise my son.”
It is very important to Thiruvengadathan to make sure her son is raised in the traditional way in which she was raised in India. She knew wanted to make sure she was able to cook traditional Indian meals and teach her son how to speak her native language. When it came time to work again, Thiruvengadathan chose to leave her career as an engineer in favor of teaching. “I always helped people in my engineering classes, and I felt I could balance teaching and raising my child,” she said.
She first began her career in teaching by volunteering at Middlesex Community College. Now she teaches math at both NECC and Merrimack College.
Her teaching philosophy, she says, is all about individuality.
“I don’t look at my students as only math students, but as an individual person,” she said. Thiruvengadathan understands that people from different backgrounds and of different ages all learn differently.
Thiruvengadathan does her best to help students by relating math problems to their individual lives.
“When I can’t relate a problem to a person, I feel like I failed and it bothers me until I get home that night … even until I see that person again,” she said. “My most favorite part about teaching is when someone gets that sparkle in their eye and says, “Wow!” I feel like I’ve opened doors for them.”
If you talk with Thiruvengadathan, it’s clear she’s an open book. However, she said that she wasn’t always as outgoing, and growing up, she was a very introverted person.
“Back home, girls and boys are separate, so growing up with three brothers and five uncles, I never knew how to talk to girls and make friends with them. Back then, you didn’t have time outside of school for friends.”
She even confessed that, even to this day, she has never even been to the movies with a friend before.
Nonetheless, Thiruvengadathan has a very positive perspective on life and she shared that her grandmother is her spiritual role model. She describes her grandmother as a completely uneducated woman who didn’t even receive an elementary education but always had the best outlook on life.
“She always smiled and never said a bad word about anyone,” she said.
Thiruvengadathan tries to pass down some of what she learned from her grandmother and apply it to her parenting.
She said, “My most over-used saying to my son is, ‘I don’t care what you grow up to be, but being a good person in non-negotiable.’”
Thiruvengadathan admits that the thing she is most proud of is also the biggest risk she ever took, which is the decision to leave engineering and become a teacher. She also joked that getting married was “truly the biggest risk” she ever took.
As an Indian, Thiruvengadathan let me in on a little secret, and that is that the delicious Indian food we eat here in America is not necessarily authentic. She says not many people know this, but every state in India has its own cuisine, and even speaks a different language. She admits that she and her husband don’t even speak the same Indian language.
When she isn’t teaching, Thiruvengadathan can most likely be found spending her time reading non-fiction literature. Her favorite book is “The Promise of a Pencil” by Adam Braun.