Lokesh Shivakumaraiah lived in India’s version of the Silicon Valley so it’s no- surprise he’s a computer engineer. He’s not working in that field, however, choosing instead to focus on building cultural bridges at Jackson State University and across the metropolitan area.
Shivakumaraiah was recently hired as JSU’s new director of International Programs, which is the hub for a number of activities, including study abroad, English as a Second Language programs, international student recruitment, international partnership collaborations and research for faculty.
He earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering and a doctorate in computer engineering at Mississippi State University. Shivakumaraiah worked in the industry at an electronic chip design firm before deciding to follow another career path.
“I was there for six months and every day, driving to work, I was thinking, ‘What am I doing?’” he said. “I saw an opening at Mississippi State and I applied. They were offering the job at $25,000 less than what I was making. That’s a huge difference, but I made the change.”
Shivakumaraiah arrived at JSU this spring. He’s been busy in recent days preparing for JSU’s International Week, which is held April 7-11 and will feature a variety of festivities, including a film festival, parade of flags and a banquet headlined by keynote speaker, U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. The annual weeklong event showcases the various cultures and ethnicities of students from around the world who attend the historically black university. JSU has 306 international students who are from 50 different countries.
“We want to bring more international students to JSU. We have programs, faculty and a campus that’s appealing. The more our international campus community grows, it helps support our mission of producing high achievers, who are culturally sensitive and globally aware,” he said.
Beginning this fall, International Programs will sponsor a campus lecture series for ambassadors, former ambassadors and other leaders with international ties.
Shivakumaraiah said he’s also excited about JSU’s expanding study abroad opportunities. Students can now apply to spend the summer in Costa Rica, Prague, Peru and Thailand. He’s urging students to submit applications. Last year, 99 JSU students studied abroad.
“Exposure to other cultures can be a life-changing experience for students,” he said. “Students who have already studied abroad are now our ambassadors, encouraging others to pursue the opportunity.”
Shivakumaraiah said his office is developing creative ways for domestic and international students to interact.
He’d like to institute a “Global Certificate Program” honoring students who participate in study abroad, foreign language and other special courses. Plans are in the works for a “Café Cultural,” a regular social event, allowing students to discuss their home countries and cultures.
“They’ll likely find some similarities, just as I did when I came to the U.S. seven years ago. In India, people are very hospitable, and Mississippi is known as the ‘Hospitality State.’ Our climates are also similar,” he said.
JSU’s International Visitors Center also is under the auspices of the International Programs office. The center was established in 1976 with a mission to strengthen and improve mutual understanding between international visitors and the citizens of Mississippi. It is the only international visitors’ center on the campus of a historically black university or college.
Shivakumaraiah said his aim is to promote global awareness, but he’s also interested in educating others about this state.
“I believe in Mississippi and I want to promote it. This is my way of giving back to the state,” he said.