Preeti Aghalyam, an IIT Madras alumna, has achieved a remarkable milestone by becoming the first woman to lead an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). Her appointment as the director-in-charge of the new IIT in Zanzibar, Tanzania, is a significant moment for both her and women in the engineering and academia domains. Speaking about her achievement, Preeti Aghalyam stated, “For me, the significance lies not only in being the first woman to head an IIT but also in establishing the first IIT campus abroad. It’s not just about breaking barriers; it’s about carrying the IIT legacy forward.”
LIVING THE IIT DREAM
Aghalayam, an alumna of IIT Madras, has taken on a significant role as the director in Zanzibar. With a strong passion for IITs and the values they represent, her journey has been defined by breaking barriers and cherishing the spirit of being an IITian.
Having spent 14 years teaching at IIT Madras and previously working at IIT Bombay, Aghalayam’s new position in Zanzibar is an extension of her dedication to the principles and workings of IITs.
“I studied at IIT Madras. I have worked at IIT Bombay before and have been teaching at IIT Madras for 14 years, so it is just an extension of the kind of love and passion that I have for how things work at an IIT,” she said.
PREETI AGHALAYAM’S BACKGROUND
Preeti Aghalayam, a distinguished academic, has achieved notable milestones in her career. She completed her BTech in Chemical Engineering from IIT Madras in 1995 and earned a Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2000.
In recognition of her expertise and contributions, she assumed the position of a Professor in the Chemical Engineering department at IIT Madras. Notably, she was honored as one of the 75 Women in STEM by the Principal Scientific Adviser’s office.
Preeti Aghalayam’s commitment to promoting gender equality and inclusivity is commendable. She actively participates in the Gender Advancement for Transforming Institutions (GATI) program at IIT Madras, striving to create equal opportunities for all.
‘WOMEN ARE A MINORITY AT IITs’
In a recent statement to PTI, Aghalayam highlighted the persisting gender gap among women in IIT campuses. Despite efforts to promote inclusivity, the skewed ratio remains a challenge for both students and faculty.
“It is a fact that women have been a minority at IITs. Things have improved a bit in the past few years, but the problem still exists and it is at all levels — both at student and faculty [level]. We are about 12% women faculty at IIT Madras,” said the new IIT Zanzibar director.
Positive Shift in Gender Enrollment Ratio in Engineering Colleges
Engineering colleges in India have made significant progress in reducing the gender gap. From a 10:1 ratio in the 1990s, the enrollment ratio of men and women has improved considerably. Aghalayam’s appointment as the director serves as a strong message about promoting gender inclusivity and balance in the new IIT campus.
“Every time we visited Zanzibar as part of the IIT Madras contingent, we noticed that the representation of women on their side is quite significant. So, it was important that we do this mindfully, and our effort will also be to have gender balance in the new campus,” Aghalyam said.
THE IIT ZANZIBAR CAMPUS
IIT Madras, the prestigious educational institution founded in 1959, is set to create history by establishing its inaugural international campus in Zanzibar, Tanzania. This move marks an important educational collaboration between India and Tanzania, fostering a strong bond between the two nations.
The international campus, situated on Zanzibar island off the East African mainland, will serve as a platform for academic cooperation and knowledge exchange. To encourage Tanzanian citizens to pursue higher education opportunities, India will be offering scholarships for various degree programs at IIT Madras.
Preeti Aghalyam, expressing her views on the collaboration, stated, “I believe that this educational bond will ensure that we stay strong, and it’s a strategic kind of move. The IIT alumni have contributed immensely to the world and the global economy. We hope to see the same positive impact here as well.”
Classes at the IIT Zanzibar campus are scheduled to commence in October, with an initial intake of 70 students. The campus will focus on full-time programs in data science and artificial intelligence, aiming to cultivate future leaders in the field of technology. The admission process will involve a screening test and an interview.
Regarding the campus preparations, Preeti Aghalayam informed, “We currently have a temporary campus provided by the government. The necessary infrastructure, including administrative side classrooms and student accommodation in dorms, is already in place. We are making some modifications to ensure it is 100% ready by October. Additionally, we plan to expand the academic offerings with more programs in the coming years.”
Preeti Aghalayam’s appointment as the first woman IIT director serves as an inspiring example for aspiring women engineers and leaders worldwide. Her historic milestone sets a strong precedent for gender representation and inclusivity in the realm of engineering and academia.