Thirst for Knowledge Beckons South Asians to HCC Campuses

Faculty and staff with Houston Community College Board of Trustees Chair Neeta Sane (fourth from right) and Dr. Sena Gomez, President, HCC Southwest College (fourth from left). From left, Rima Adil, Bharat Sutaria, Ajanta Barua, Dr. Anna Koshy, Reni Abraham and Dr. Ritu Raju.

Faculty and staff with Houston Community College Board of Trustees Chair Neeta Sane (fourth from right) and Dr. Fena Garza, President, HCC Southwest College (fourth from left). From left, Rima Adil, Bharat Sutaria, Ajanta Barua, Dr. Anna Koshy, Reni Abraham and Dr. Ritu Raju.

By Jawahar Malhotra
HOUSTON: With over 22 locations strewn across the metropolitan area divided along five college boundaries, the Houston Community College system resembles a hydra with many heads that reaches out to the furthest corners of the Greater Houston Area in a quest to teach the multitude of people – young and old – who want to prepare to tackle the fast changing world that we live in. That quest does not end there as HCC reaches even more who thirst for knowledge but are unable to physically attend through a vigorous online tutorial program for undergraduates and continuing education.

Neeta Sane, HCC Chair, Board of Trustees

Neeta Sane, HCC Chair, Board of Trustees

In mapping out its mission to teach the masses, the HCC has become the fourth largest community college system in the US with 55,000 students. The Lone Star College System has a higher enrollment over 70,000, but it serves mostly the northern areas of the Greater Houston area. To administer this sprawling and far flung system, the HCC is broken down into nine administrative districts, four of which – V, Vi, VII and IX – encompass the areas where there is a heavy concentration of South Asian populations and businesses, each district represented by a Trustee elected for a six-year term.

And it is from these districts that the HCC has seen the influx of most of its South Asian population of students and faculty alike, both reflecting the microcosm of diverse demographics that form the Bayou City and its environs. For the past six years, Neeta Sane has been the elected Trustee of District VII as the face of the Asian demographic; she handily won reelection earlier this year. District VII includes parts of Alief, Stafford, Missouri City and Sugar Land, extending all the way to Sienna Plantation, the same areas where the bulk of the South Asian population comes from, as well as other minority ethnic groups.

This year Sane is the Chair of the Board of Trustees and she relishes her role in bringing greater educational opportunities to the masses. Sane is a native of Mumbai, India and has Masters degrees in Chemistry and Finance and has a passion for making a difference in the lives of others.

It is perhaps no coincidence that a great many of the faculty and staff of the HCC system wide also come from the South Asian diaspora, forming nearly 11 per cent of the 6,500 system wide employees. Many have advanced degrees, like Dr. Ritu Raju who is the Assistant Chair for Technical and Mass Communication and Professor in the English Department, Dr. Anna Koshy who has been the Faculty Advisor for the HCC Tri-Beta Honors Biology club since 2002 and Bharat Sutaria who is a professor of Physics and Engineering. Others teach courses in hot demand in today’s technology world, like Reni Abraham who teaches digital gaming and simulation. Still others help in administration like Ajanta Barua who works in the Southwest College Operations Office, while Rima Adil handles multiple assignments in writing grants, advising and enrollment services.

But they are all drawn to HCC by the very essence of the upbringing they had in their countries – all are from India, except for Adil who is from Pakistan – which placed a huge emphasis on education and these values they have imparted into their next generation. And appreciation for their approach to educating shows as HCC strives to increase its diversity in students, faculty and staff, according to Dr. Fena Garza, President, HCC Southwest College.

It was the ability to launch the first engineering program at a community college that attracted Sutaria when he started teaching at the Southwest College in 2012. It is offered in conjunction with UT-Tyler where the four year course would cost $20,000. “We teach the first two years of the mechanical, civil and electrical engineering coursework,” said Sutaria who hails from Mumbai and came to the US in 1966 and Houston in 1975. “The remaining two years are finished off at UT-Tyler, but students get an Associate degree from us.”

That sort of creative educating appealed to Rima Adil who wears multiple hats and was asked by the President of the Northwest College to take care of publicity for that campus. Born in Pakistan, she came to the US when she was 12 and was an HCC student before finishing her undergraduate degree at University of Houston as well as an MBA and is currently a PhD student at Texas Tech University. Last year she was the first Asian to receive the HCC Chancellor’s Eagle Award.

Ajanta Barua who hails from Jorhat, Assam and came to Houston in 1980 enjoys the challenge of working in administration at HCC for the past three years. She had worked in accounting before and wanted to help students in the educational field and this was a natural fit for her. She enjoys the diversity of students that comes through her office.

Dr. Anna Koshy came to the US from Kottayam, Kerela in 1984, then went back to Agra for a PhD before returning to the US and joining the HCC in 1990. She teaches Biology, Anatomy and Psychology and since 2011 has served on the HCC Instructor Review Board which gives approval for grants on research on human subjects.

Reni Abraham is somewhat of a pioneer since the Trivandrum, Kerela native who came to the US in 1980 joined the HCC in 1992. She began by teach computer programming and slowly evolved her program to include digital gaming and simulation, a program she developed. HCC now offers a degree in this subject as the Texas Higher Education Board has approved the two year program.

Dr. Ritu Raju is originally from Mumbai and came to the Houston in 1998. She received her PhD in Technical Communication and Rhetoric from Texas Tech University and has taught at HCC since 2005 teaching English and Technical Writing at the Northwest Campus in Spring Branch. She enjoys the challenge of teaching people from different backgrounds and the ability to give students the opportunity to interact with people of different ages too. “They are all here to get an education and pursue their dreams over a 16 week period,” she said with a smile, “and it makes my day to see them succeed.”