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Engineering professor brings innovative education and Indian culture overseas

Engineering professor brings innovative education and Indian culture overseas

Dr. Narendra Dahotre is the Interim associate Vice President of Research and Innovation and a University Distinguished Research professor. He won the UNT 2017 Innovative Award in August.

Engineering professor brings innovative education and Indian culture overseas
November 12
22:34 2017

Throughout every step of his complex personal journey, one man has conquered triumphs that define and justify his many roles as a son, student, engineer, husband, father and professor.

Narendra Dahotre came to the U.S. when he was 20 years old on Jan. 3, 1980, from Pune, India. He brought three things along with him on his new endeavors: a bag with little clothing, $200 from his father and admission to earn a master’s degree in engineering in Michigan.

Today, Dahotre, 58, is a distinguished research professor and interim associate vice president for research and innovation at UNT. He is currently an inventor of 16 issued and two pending U.S. patents, based on the work sponsored by the brands like Honda, General Motors and Ford. Seven of those are already licensed for practice to the industrial organizations.

Dahotre is also a father of three, and he recently won the 2017 Innovator Award from UNT by creating a new laser application to be used in bone and hard tissue surgeries.

Although his list of accomplishments is lengthy, Dahotre’s road to success came with its fair share of speedbumps.

Raised for the future

Dahotre was born and raised in an economically-lower class household. He recalls his childhood home in Pune with two small bedrooms, where he lived with his parents and three brothers.

Dahotre describes his father as an honest and a diligent man. Despite being transferred around for work many times, Dahotre’s father provided for the family and encouraged education to his children.

“My father loved education,” Dahotre said. “He himself was not highly educated, but he always inspired us to educate ourselves.”

With his father being away most of the year and only visiting for for special occasions, Dahotre’s mother played both roles of parents.

Dahotre’s mother kept up the house and took care of him and his brothers while they dedicated themselves to school. She believed education was the only way to eliminate financial struggles and be successful.

“It was a difficult time for my family,” Dahotre said. “We knew the only way to overcome it was through education.”

Two of the children studied accounting and the other two followed the engineering route. Dahotre was studying engineering as an undergraduate at University of Pune. In those times, going to the U.S. was considered immensely prestigious in countries like India.

Many of Dahotre’s college peers were striving to study abroad after completing bachelor’s in India, but Dahotre hadn’t considered taking his ambition of studies that far yet. He certainly wanted to attain higher education, but he planned on completing it at home.

Success in the States

Tables turned when his family recognized how much effort and motivation Dahotre put towards his studies. His older brother Diwakar encouraged him to apply at universities abroad, like his friends did, after completing his bachelor’s.

Although the family could not afford the expenses, they believed it was possible. Dahotre became more focused in his studies to be accepted for higher education. As if it were fate, his hard work paid off when he was offered a scholarship to study at Michigan State University.

Acceptance to studying in the U.S. with a scholarship would be just the beginning of Dahotre’s career.

When Dahotre came to U.S., it was different. He knew what he came here for, but he had no idea where his future would take him. He lived on campus with a few roommates who also studied engineering.

Dahotre spent a lot of time working in research labs on campus with engineering Professor Mukherjee, with whom he would become very close. He assisted the professor who specialized in configuring high power lasers for advanced materials processing. The young enthusiast — without any hesitation — joined Mukherjee in working with laser-material interactions.

Unlike his classmates who graduated before him, Dahotre completed his master’s and Ph.D. in seven years. He has no regrets because he was able to accomplish more knowledge and experience in learning to maintain and control the machines. He was trusted by his professors and many times worked alone in labs without any supervision.

“It was a very exciting period for me,” Dahotre said. “It made me very confident and innovative.”

The professional world at last

Dahotre married his wife, Anita Dahotre, on Dec. 4, 1984 in India. When they both came back to the U.S., it was Anita’s first time in the country. They were both still studying. At the time, Dahotre was studying his Ph.D., and the couple struggled financially.

“It was tough the first few years,” Anita said. “We even thought of going back to India, but it all turned out well when Narendra got a job.”

Anita said her husband is a humble man and a great father. While Dahotre and his wife raise their children to prioritize education just like Dahotre’s parents did for him, he is also proud that their children are dedicated to extracurriculars like music and sports.

Following his post-doctoral fellowship in 1988, Dahotre began his academic career as a research assistant professor at University of Tennessee Space Institute. Later, he was given a position of an engineering professor that would last till 2009.

The campus was located next to Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC), an Air Force-based facility. Dahotre said his time there was one of the best experiences in his career. He worked alongside scientists in development of engines used for planes.

Ph.D. student Sameehan Joshi said Dahotre has always been a mentor for him academically as well as spiritually. Joshi has been working with Dahotre for almost five years in his research.

“His students are his priority,” Joshi said. “As a professor, his vision of long-term goals and ability is to divide them into short term goals.”

When Joshi first met Dahotre, he knew engineering on books, but he was greatly inspired by Dahotre’s knowledge and work.

From Pune to Denton

Dahotre came to UNT in 2010. When he arrived, the Department of Materials Science and Engineering was a relatively small and understaffed department. Dahotre said they didn’t have any research labs at that time, and only about eight people were staffed.

Dahotre changed that within a few years in the position of a chairman and professor for material science and engineering. By 2013, he staffed about 20 new employees. With the flow of external research funding and resources from within UNT, the department grew with substantial infrastructure enviable to many mainstream organizations in the country.

Despite being busy in an administrative role, Dahotre continues to invest a lot of time and efforts in researching laser material interactions. He also relishes in his hobbies of woodworking and painting.

With all the twists and turns his journey has taken him through, Dahotre is happy to say the struggles have been rewarding overall.

“I always wanted to also do just something more,” Dahotre said. “Now I find time and enjoy it.”

Featured Image: Dr. Narendra Dahotre is the interim associate vice president of research and innovation and a University Distinguished Research professor. He won the UNT 2017 Innovative Award in August. Rachel Walters

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