“Going to college was the only way out of my economic situation,” says Hindupur Ramakrishna, a University of Redlands business professor, who grew up in a low-income household in Bangalore, India. Ramakrishna’s father encouraged him—and his eight siblings—to pursue their education. Remarkably, all nine children were first-generation college graduates.
“My father had to abandon his college dreams because his own father died,” Ramakrishna says. “Since he was the oldest child, he had to work to support his family—otherwise he would have gone to medical school. Because of that, going to college was an expectation for everyone in my family.”
It wasn’t easy, though. While pursuing a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Bangalore University, Ramakrishna tutored his classmates in order to borrow their textbooks because he couldn’t afford them.
At the same time, Ramakrishna recalls that being a first-generation student didn’t feel out of the ordinary. “Education is a very valuable thing in India,” he says. “Everyone in my family is a first-generation student, and when I was in school, I don’t think my classmates who were first-generation students even thought about what that meant.”
After receiving his bachelor’s degree, Ramakrishna became a manager at a steel mill in India. “I’ve always had a passion for teaching,” he says. “At the steel mill, they wanted me to teach training sessions to groups of other employees. So being a professor naturally fell into place.”
Once he was accepted into the MBA program at Auburn University, Ramakrishna moved to the United States. “It wasn’t a very challenging program, so I decided to apply to different schools for a Ph.D.,” he says. “Georgia State let me go from a bachelor’s degree to a doctoral degree in business administration.”
Ramakrishna spent two decades teaching at different universities on the East Coast before coming to Redlands. “I’d never taught at a private university before, and the U of R was receptive to my ideas,” says Ramakrishna. “I’ve been able to lead a study abroad trip to India and expand my international connections at the University.”
When asked if he has any advice for current first-generation college students, Ramakrishna looks to Hindu mythology. “Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, is very fickle-minded—she could leave at any time,” he says. “But Saraswati, the goddess of education, stays with you for life. Nobody can take education away from you, and it will only give students more opportunities throughout their lives.”