Former student Ravi Jain reminisces on his time at Texas Tech and his distinguished career path.
The main goal of the United States Army is national defense and the safety of the country. But it also is concerned with the environmental impacts of its activities and preserving natural and cultural resources at its military bases. Texas Tech University alumnus Ravi Jain spent years studying military bases, missions and services to determine the size of the Army's environmental footprint.
Jain has earned more than 15 honors, including Army Engineer of the Year in 1989 and being named a Fellow for the American Society of Civil Engineers. He has published 20 books and more than 190 articles, chapters and reports. Alongside other Army engineers, Jain published the U.S. Department of the Army Handbook for Environmental Impact Analysis. Throughout his distinguished career, Jain often takes time to look back on his experience at Texas Tech.
From the West Coast to West Texas
Jain started his academic career on the West Coast, earning his bachelor's and master's degrees at California State University-Sacramento. He sought to further his education in civil engineering and enrolled in the doctoral program at Texas Tech, introducing an entirely new world to the young student.
"Early on, you feel a bit isolated there because you're not close to any other big cities," Jain said. "But I found the university community and the wider community were just filled with great people."
As Jain furthered his studies, he discovered better ways to generate new ideas in application to the environment. He appreciates the professors and his experience at Texas Tech for emphasizing the human and collaborative aspect of engineering.
During his time in Lubbock, Jain studied under Horn Professor Dan Wells and director of the National Storm Shelter Association Ernst Kiesling. According to Jain, many of the faculty at Texas Tech are highly motivated, but Kiesling and Wells were incredibly supportive while providing visionary leadership.
"In addition to being a very talented person, Dr. Kiesling has human qualities that really embody the spirit of West Texas," Jain said. "He is just a very fine human being. I learned a great deal from him, both academically and professionally."
The relationship between Jain and Kiesling flourished into a long-lasting friendship that continues today. Kiesling remembers Jain as a very motivated student with a strong willingness to learn.
"Ravi Jain demonstrated creative and progressive leadership abilities while working in the industry, even before enrolling as a doctoral student at Texas Tech," Kiesling said. "As a graduate student, he quickly gained external financial support for his studies and performed outstanding technical work."
An unexpected career opportunity
While at Texas Tech, Jain discovered an opportunity that would help him complete his doctoral dissertation. Little did he know this seemingly small opportunity would impact his career path so greatly. During his last year at Texas Tech, Jain traveled to the Dallas-Fort Worth area to interview with a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers colonel for a fellowship.
When recalling the interview with the colonel, Jain said he answered nearly every question incorrectly. When asked if he wanted to work for the Army after finishing his degree, Jain answered, "I don't know, it depends on what options I have." The military colonel was thoroughly impressed with Jain. Most candidates would tell him how much they would love to work for the Army after graduation. Jain was different. He was perhaps the most candid interviewee the colonel had met.
"When I started to work for the Army, I was skeptical, like many civilians are," Jain said. "I learned their goal, in addition to protecting the country's national defense, is also to do the right thing. So really I found the senior leadership in the Army was receptive of my ideas, so long as they can achieve their main goal of national defense. These people also taught me true integrity, commitment, patriotism and leadership."
He began his work as a researcher and was promoted to the Chief Environmental Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He and the other researchers at the laboratory published the Handbook for Environmental Impact Analysis for the U.S. Army. Later, he was selected to be the founding director of the U.S. Army Environmental Policy Institute.
During his time with the U.S. Army, Jain was granted with the opportunities to further his education at prestigious institutions around the world. He went to Harvard University as a fellow and earned a Master of Public Administration degree. He furthered his graduate studies as a research affiliate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then rounded off his education as a fellow at Churchill College at Cambridge University in England.
"I had the opportunity to work with some very bright people at Cambridge. It is a very unique place," Jain said. "I was elected a Fellow, which is one of the highest honors at Cambridge University. Every evening there is a formal dinner for the fellows. We had discussions regularly, and you learn things you really cannot learn in other ways."
The human side of engineering
After completing his time at the Army research laboratory, Jain was awarded the prestigious honor of being named Army Engineer of the Year among nearly 90,000 Army engineers nationwide. On the day of the award ceremony, Jain ran into an old Texas Tech mentor, Kiesling, in Washington D.C. It was no surprise to Kiesling that Jain was being given this honor.
"During his illustrative career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he showed astounding leadership abilities in moving his division forward and supporting those in his circle of influence," Kiesling said. "His educational and writing achievements through the years demonstrate his abilities and progressiveness."
In the years to follow, Jain also was named the Federal Engineer of the Year and served on almost 50 different task forces and advisory councils. Jain associated himself with prestigious organizations like the American Societies of Civil Engineers and Engineering Education as well as the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was recently elected to the European Academy of Sciences and Arts. Despite his many recognitions and awards, Jain still looks at his life from a humble point of view.
"Sometimes you get these awards and you start to wonder whether you really deserve them," Jain said. "To me, there is nothing more to add to my list of honors, grants, affiliations, etc. What I have is more than enough."
When asked about his professional career, the common theme that Jain follows is including the humanitarian side of engineering. He believes his time at Texas Tech taught him about the non-technical side of engineering that many practitioners overlook.
While the Department of Civil Engineering provided a comprehensive curriculum of scientific and engineering education, the professors added a West Texas touch full of humility and collaborative ideas, Jain said. The road to a doctoral degree in engineering is very rigorous, but Jain attributes his success to the faculty providing the resources and support necessary in his field.
"You have to learn how to collaborate with others. Many activities require collaboration," Jain said. "My experience at Texas Tech helped me improve my research capabilities in a technical sense, but also, I learned about the human side of the enterprise."
Remembering Texas Tech, Jain highlights the humility and thoughtfulness of the professors, his fellow students and the community. Coming from California into a completely unique part of the world can be a hard transition, but for Jain, the people at Texas Tech made the move worthy.
The admirable quality of the distinguished engineer
Many people face challenges throughout their career. The challenges may vary, but they create a significant milestone or difference in a person's life. For Jain, his biggest challenge is part of his most admirable quality.
Jain is the father of twin daughters. During his time at the Army research laboratory in Illinois, his daughters found success in tennis. The duo became Illinois state tennis champions. But with his extensive work for the U.S. Army, Jain often found himself struggling to attend his daughters' matches.
"The biggest challenge most people face working in a demanding position is balancing career with family life," Jain said. "Most of us don't do as good of a job as we should, and I am no exception. Most of us end up short-changing the family aspect, because, at the time, the career seems most important. In retrospect, one could have done a bit more of a balance in the other direction."
Often times, in analytical and factual fields such as civil engineering, observers and practitioners leave out the human aspects. Jain is different. His experience with the humble and supportive community at Texas Tech constantly reminds him to look at his relationship with his family and other researchers in the field. This outlook on engineering has allowed Jain to become successful in all aspects of civil engineering.
Today, Professor Kiesling still admires the student he taught so long ago. Kiesling speaks very highly of Jain, showing the humble aspects of their friendship.
"Ravi Jain is a visionary leader in every sense of the word," Kiesling said.