Professor Preeti Aghalayam, from IIT Madras, has become the first woman director of an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). This historic appointment comes seven decades after the establishment of the first IIT in Kharagpur in 1951.
Embodying “Once an IITian, Always an IITian”
For Prof Preeti Aghalayam, the director-in-charge of the new IIT in Zanzibar, it is not just about breaking the glass ceiling but also about embracing the “once an IITian, always an IITian” philosophy. She considers the establishment of the first IIT campus abroad to be more important than her own achievement as the first woman to head an IIT.
IIT Madras Launches International Campus in Zanzibar
IIT Madras, founded in 1959, has set a new milestone by becoming the first IIT in India to launch an international campus in Zanzibar, Tanzania. The inaugural academic session of the new institute is scheduled to begin in October this year.
A Passion for IIT
Prof Preeti Aghalayam’s strong bond with IITs stems from her educational and professional journey. She studied at IIT Madras, worked at IIT Bombay, and has been teaching at IIT Madras for the past 14 years. Her connection goes beyond professional associations, as she met her husband at IIT Madras. She attributes her passion for IITs to these personal experiences.
Growing Gender Parity
Although the gender gap at IITs has persisted over the years, there have been notable improvements. Prof Aghalayam acknowledges that women still represent a minority, but the number of women in IITs has increased, both as students and faculty members. At IIT Madras, women currently make up around 12 percent of the faculty. The challenge lies not only in promoting gender inclusivity on campuses but also in changing the perception around technology institutions.
Encouraging Gender Balance
During their visits to Zanzibar, the IIT Madras contingent observed a significant representation of women on the Zanzibar side. This motivated them to prioritize gender balance at their own campus in Zanzibar and ensure inclusivity in all aspects.
Prof Preeti Aghalayam’s Background
Prof Preeti Aghalayam received her Bachelor’s degree (BTech) in Chemical Engineering from IIT Madras in 1995. She later completed her PhD at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2000. She has since worked as a postdoctoral researcher at MIT, Cambridge, and as a faculty member at IIT Bombay. In 2010, she joined IIT Madras as a professor in the Chemical Engineering department. Her contributions to academia have been recognized, as she was recently honored as one of the 75 Women in STEM by the Principal Scientific Adviser’s office. Additionally, she has played a key role as the nodal officer for the Gender Advancement for Transforming Institutions (GATI) program at IIT Madras.
Prof Preeti Aghalayam’s appointment as the first woman director of an IIT marks a significant milestone in the history of IITs. Her focus on establishing the first IIT campus abroad reflects her dedication to the IITian community. While gender parity remains a challenge, her achievements and passion serve as an inspiration for future generations.