Dr Sarasu Eappen John- She Beat All Odds Pursuing The Dream of Being An Engineer

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Dr Sarasu Eappen John- She Beat All Odds Pursuing The Dream of Being An Engineer

Mangaluru: Every year on September 15, is observed as National Engineer’s Day in India to mark the birth anniversary of Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya. Engineer’s Day is celebrated to pay rich tributes to Bharat Ratna Visvesvaraya who was regarded as the ‘Father of Modern Mysore’. A prolific civic engineer, educationist, economist, scholar of the 20th century, Visvesvaraya made significant contributions in the field of engineering. Engineer’s Day is observed to acknowledge the efforts of various engineers who have made contributions in this field to make our present lives comfortable.

India has produced many engineers over the decades, but the most eminent engineer the country has ever produced is Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya, better known as M. Visvesvaraya. The man with high principles and discipline. An engineer par excellence, M. Visvesvaraya had contributed a lot in nation-building with his designs and creation. He was the chief architect behind the construction of the Krishna Raja Sagara dam in Mandya which helped to convert the surrounding barren lands into fertile grounds for farming. Sir MV was awarded the nation’s highest honour, Bharat Ratna in 1955 for his outstanding work as a chief engineer in the construction of the Krishna Raja Sagara dam.

Dr Sarasu Eappen John

Visvesvaraya also brought major reforms in the field of banking, education, commerce, agriculture, irrigation and industrialisation and was also a well-known precursor of economic planning in India. He was known for his excellent irrigation techniques and had flood disaster management skills. He also authored various books, such as ‘Reconstructing India’ and ‘Planned Economy of India’. The government of India awarded Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya with the highest possible civilian honour – Bharat Ratna in 1955 for his outstanding contributions to industrial, economic, and social projects. He was also graced with the British Knighthood by the then King George VV, which put ‘Sir” before his name. The theme for this Engineer’s Day 2021 was ‘Engineering for A Healthy Planet- Celebrating the UNESCO Engineering Report’. Last year, the theme was ‘Engineers for a Self-Reliant India.’

Many engineers have followed in the footsteps of Sir Visvesvaraya and have reached greater heights contributing towards the development and infrastructure of India. And among these successful India Engineers is one woman, Dr Sarasu Eappen John, who has outshined among men engineers bringing name and fame to her hometown, and family. And one of her sons, who is a doctor at a renowned hospital in Mangaluru being proud of his Mother’s achievement shared his thoughts with Team Mangalorean about his beloved mother.

Mrs Sarasu receiving her Ph D at IIT Madras in 1980

Dr Sarasu Eappen John has two sons Late Dr Pradeep K John and Dr Praveen K John. Dr Praveen, the younger son of Dr Sarasu Eappen John is a Consultant Radiologist at AJ Hospital, Mangalore. His wife Marina Chandy is teaching at a private engineering college in Mangalore. They have 2 children Nidhi, age 13 and Nathan John, age 9. (Late) Dr Pradeep was a practicing dermatologist in Mangalore-Surathkal. His wife Dr Susan Pradeep is a gynaecologist practicing in Surathkal. They have one daughter, Karunya John, age 14.

Born on 22nd February 1937, to KP Eappen and Mrs Aleyamma Eappen, Dr Sarasu Eappen John is the eldest of three children. She grew up on the banks of the beautiful river Pampa in Kerala. Her father was an engineer in a transferable job in KSEB and she had to move along having her early education in various Malayalam Medium schools in Kerala.

Family picture, 2017 (Standing Left to Right) Dr Susan, Dr Pradeep, Dr Praveen, Mrs Marina
(Sitting Left to Right) Miss Nidhi, Dr E J John, Mast Nathan, Mrs Sarasu Eappen John, Miss Karunya

She was an active sportsperson during her school days taking part and winning prizes in athletics and ring tennis. Her parents made sure education was the priority even if she was a girl. She completed her intermediate or first grade as it is now called in the Women’s College, Trivandrum. She continued her studies in Science with Bsc Physics (Main) in the same college. But she always had a passion to become an engineer which was unheard of among women in those days. There was only one engineering college in Kerala and they flatly refused to admit women. Some even ridiculed her ambition to become an electrical engineer.

This did not let her buckle down and she secured admission to the prestigious Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru to study Electrical Engineering. She passed out in 1960. She came back to Kerala and joined as a faculty in Calicut polytechnic. After a short stint, she joined the Mar Athanasius College of Engineering, Kothamangalam as the first lady staff of Electrical Engineering.

In the office at KREC (now NITK) 1997

She got married to a man who also had a passion for teaching Dr E J John who joined the same college as faculty. They both applied and got selected for jobs at KREC Surathkal. So in 1964, they relocated and settled down in the campus at Surathkal where again she was the first lady teaching staff member of the college.

But pursuing higher studies was always a priority for her. She got selected under the teacher training scheme for a Masters program at Guindy Engineering College, Chennai but there was no accommodation for ladies anywhere nearby. Finally, the Principal of the college suggested that she can be accommodated in the Women’s polytechnic hostel. She wrote to the Govt of India to help her find a solution. But luck favoured her in a better way by her getting a seat at the prestigious IIT Madras for her Master’s program. She pursued and completed her MTech in IIT Madras in the year 1968. She came to her job at KREC, now NITK, Surathkal.

With grandchildren 2021

After a few years in 1977, she proceeded again to IIT Madras to do her PhD leaving behind her two children aged nine and three years. Her husband was very supportive at this crucial time. She came back in 1980 as Asst Professor, then climbed up the ladder to become Professor and HOD in the Dept of Electrical Engineering at KREC (now NITK). She retired in 1997 and settled down at Udayanagar near the KREC campus.

A highly dedicated and hardworking woman, Dr Sarasu Eappen John is indeed an inspiration to the several students she has trained in her career spanning 35 years of teaching to become the engineers of today. These days more women are advancing in the engineering field. There are many influential women—educators, innovators, leaders—who are not only breaking the stereotype but are also role models and mentors for the next generation of female engineers. Dr Sarasu Eappen John is a role model to all the women who are pursuing their engineering careers.

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  1. I have had the privilege of being a student at NITK. She taught me Controls Engineering and Automation in 1994. She was so kind and always smiling. I vividly remember she asking multiple times if we students understood her class. Amazing teacher, professor and a wonderful human being.

  2. What a stupendous achievement! Getting into IISc and IIT is a remarkable feat even today but to be able to do it as a woman in the 50s-70s is nothing short of mind-blowing!
    It’s definitely inspirational to read her story, and an encouragement to all of us that we can still achieve our dreams despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
    We have the privilege of knowing her in person, and I was particularly struck by the fact that apart from her academic brilliance, she possesses the invaluable quality of equanimity- despite her long list of achievements, she is so grounded and balanced, never craving the limelight, always gentle and willing to help in whatever way she can.
    You rock, Sarasu auntie! More power to you!

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