An educator and mentor, with over 15 years of dedicated service in academia, Dr. Madhuvanti Karyekar's journey spans esteemed institutions like Indiana University, Ohio State University, and Savitribai Phule Pune University. Through her guidance, she has empowered numerous students to align their education with their passions and capabilities. Now as an academic advisor at Indiana University's Media School, she continues to exemplify how holistic support can profoundly shape students' college journeys and careers. Read her story.
What is one thing that inspires you?
The will to live and get through what we have been given – good or bad, difficult or easy, rich or poor. If you look around, you will see that everyone is trying to make the most of what they have. I may have a limited outlook on this one, but the field I work in – academia – introduces me every day to so many different personalities, different life-worlds, different skill sets, varied ambitions, desires, goals – and yet all those beings are trying to make it work for themselves in their own contexts, with their own resources and for their own purposes. I think this sheer will to keep going ahead – come rain or shine – can have a momentous effect on a person. It always creates a sense of awe in me and makes me work hard to help other human-beings in any way I can.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
There are many academic, professional, and personal achievements that make me proud, but nothing can beat the respect, love, and caring I keep having from my students – from both countries, the US as well as India.
Although I had chosen teaching over translation, academia over corporate world, and although I had a good experience of teaching to a diverse student body from India, it was not an easy thing to embark on when I first started teaching in 2007 in the US. It was not easy because I saw myself as an outsider in an academic setting where I stood out due to my origin, race, and ethnicity. Accordingly, I strongly doubted my chances of getting accepted by students as a teacher of German in an American classroom. I saw myself amidst my fellow instructors who were either of American or German origin, and quickly assumed that I stood no chance there.
But I assumed too soon and I was so wrong!!! My students proved me wrong! I was absolutely floored by the respect – and also to some extent by the affection – I earned from my students in my very first semester of teaching here in the US
Their acceptance did wonders to my self-confidence and helped me find my own niche in creating an open, supportive, intellectually challenging yet not intimidating classroom environment that my students have always appreciated over these last fifteen years. Those experiences were crucial and eye-opening for me to understand “student community” anywhere. And more than anything, they helped me come to terms with who I really am and how to incorporate my “unique” being in the profession that I practice.
When we moved over to India during 2018-2022, and when I had this wonderful chance of teaching at the master’s level at a state university, I was again overwhelmed by the love and respect my students showered me with. Again, it was not an easy ride – this time my race and ethnicity were not a problem. Being in India, I was one of them – so to say, and yet I was an outsider. I was returning to India after being away for 18 long years. It took me a while to understand where all my students came from – mainly academically, what routines they were used to, what their expectations of me were – and tailor my lectures in such a way that were intellectually stimulating and fulfilling for them; but my very first batch of MA students was very patient with me. Like last time, once I got a whiff of their appreciation, my self-confidence got a boost, and I also became more attuned to my new academic and work-culture settings, and it helped me find a more assured footing in the new areas that I tried my hand at. I am very thankful for and to all my students 😊.
What is the most meaningful part of your job?
Building strong relationships with students through teaching and/ or advising.
I think it is the most meaningful to me because it gives me a sense of being able to give to this society a little. I may be there with some students only for a semester but through my teaching style, teaching philosophy, and the community-building that I invest in shaping in each one of my classrooms, I think (at least I hope) my students get some support that they all need during their that particular phase of their academic journey. I also believe in giving my students the most and best of what I may have on that particular day based on the demands of the curriculum, students’ needs and my own capacities and experiences. I feel that if you are genuine enough, that sincerity touches your students as well, and helps create a kind of communal good-will and positive energy in the classroom that in turn affects us all. This kind of unique shared space where you and your students grow together as individuals and professionals also adds to the meaningfulness of the job I do.
How did you end up where you are today?
IIt started with one of my very first, my very own clear decision with some strong support from my parents and sister – but to reach where I am today, I had to have support from many others, had to make some compromises, had to believe in my convictions and had to believe in my capacities. When I graduated from secondary school, everybody expected me to go for a degree in science education with my merit-list holder status, with my mother being a family physician, my father being a civil engineer and my sister being an aspiring research scientist. And funnily (and of course luckily ) enough, except for them, most of my other well-wishers tried to dissuade me from the decision of pursuing a degree in liberal arts education.
Did I know then that I would end up choosing a career in German Studies and Academia? Did I know then that I would end up finishing my doctoral degree in German Language and Literature from one of the top two Germanic Studies programs in the US? Did I know then that I would enjoy learning and thinking about theories of language, philosophical approaches to literature, the mystery and mastery we call language that lies at the heart of any human communication so much? – of course not!
Like I said, where I am today is a result of collective efforts – the tremendous support I still get from my husband, the incredible assistance I got from my mom-in-law and my son when I was finishing my PhD; later career compromises that I made keeping my family in mind; many excellent teaching and mentoring opportunities that I got because my wonderful colleagues and mentors from India believed in me and gave me new challenges, tasks, and responsibilities to carry – all this has played a vital role in bringing me where I am today. It also prepared me to be accepting of the new career path that I have recently embarked on.
Photo on the left: With Yogita, who also comes from my hometown and will now to go to Germany to pursue a second master’s degree - on her day of finishing Master of Arts in German.
What gives you fulfillment in life?
The thought that in my own way I am a part of the spirit of “giving back to the community.” When I was growing up, I witnessed my parents always giving back by donating some monetary help to the institutions whose objectives they believed in. I do not come from a rich or affluent background. My parents grew up with the responsibilities of their siblings and their elders. Although we were never short of money, we learnt to realize its value early on. And watching my parents giving back in the way they could made me have a certain affinity with social work driven by a definitive cause. So, when I came to Pune for my undergraduate studies, I readily participated in events that involved for example going to a tribal area to teach in the local schools, visiting various sites of social work institutions, or visiting the members of a senior living community just to read to them or talk to them. All of this suddenly stopped when I left Pune to go to New Delhi for post-graduate education. Thereafter life happened and I could never be a consistent, continuous part of any such organization where I could go in and volunteer my services by doing either physical or intellectual labor. And the thought must have been nagging at the back of my mind – at times, it felt like I was living life only for myself and my family and to me, it was not enough. As I started teaching and as my students started getting back to me with little notes on how I made a tiny change in their lives and how that helped them, that’s when I think I started getting a tiny sense of fulfillment.
What used to be shared earlier sporadically and through limited media – sometimes a comment through the course evaluation, sometimes a greeting card left in my mail cubby – has become now more frequent and through more personal means such as email, or WhatsApp message or even a phone call. No matter how long, how short, no matter what media – that feedback always makes me feel that my existence on this earth is worth something. I have stopped long back looking for a justification for my education in liberal arts – that can never compete with the more application-oriented education say in science or business, but I have found my peace and solace and, in a way, a deep meaning to my life through my liberal arts education. The values, skills I earned through this education, experiences in different countries, academic settings have become an inseparable part of the sense of fulfillment I get through my calling.
This sense of fulfillment kept getting stronger once I started teaching in India. I was not only teaching, but also informally advising many who had never been my students until then so to say, helping some reach their once forsaken dream of completing one particular level of German language, and/ or exploring career paths after high school. Back in 2014, I was interviewed at the high school in the small town where I come from, as a part of a series “Soar high” that was conceived to present students with various professional identities and their stories. A student there got inspired after listening to me and she convinced her parents to start on the path that brought her to the completion of MA in German from Savitribai Phule Pune University, and now she is going to Hochschule Fulda in Germany to pursue a second master’s degree in Intercultural Communication and European Studies. I can’t even cast into words what I felt when she first shared the news with me. Now I think, if this is what a little giving back can do, then I would not mind doing it for many years to come in various contexts.
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