As a child, Manoj Babu used to say he lived in two different worlds. There was America, where he attended school and had friends in Southeast Texas. And there was India, the culture that saturated life behind the doors of his house. His mother, a nurse, had come to America in 1975 under a streamlined visa program created to recruit medical personnel to America after the Vietnam War.
Babu was 11 years old when he landed at John F. Kennedy Airport and 14 when he moved with his family from New York City to a quieter life in Lufkin, Texas. But the house may as well have been in his home village in Kerala, in southern India. “My parents had an arranged marriage,” he says, “They were a very traditional family.”
For whatever reason, there’s a thought process going on in American homes that these are substandard jobs.
There was also a lot of science and math and no sports or music. In South India, Babu explains, “they’re known for pushing what you would call STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)… There was no artist or anything in my family.”
Babu earned a Bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University and followed it later with a Master’s in Business Administration and a PhD in Organizational Development from universities in the Midwest. “I remember my parents weren’t very proud of me that I went into mechanical engineering,” he says. “Their goal for me was always to be a physician.
Today Babu is Dean of Manufacturing, Engineering and Transportation at Gateway Technical College, in southeastern Wisconsin. Founded in 1911, Gateway is the oldest technical college in the United States. Yet, just a few years after celebrating its centennial, Babu fears that U.S. students are not showing enough interest in STEM fields or in technical education to satisfy the growing needs of American employers.
“Every employer I talk to, they’re asking me where the students are that have graduated in a science field or a technical field or a math field,” he says. “They have high retirement coming on, and they don’t have individuals with that talent coming in.”
Babu is doing his part to try to build more interest in these fields among American students. He regularly visits local high schools to talk about the wealth of jobs available in fields like automated manufacturing for workers with a foundation in STEM education. Jobs on today’s factory floors require aptitude in mechatronics, computer machining, and computer drafting.
“For whatever reason, there’s a thought process going on in American homes that these are substandard jobs,” he says. “But these jobs are amazing. These sites are hospital clean. You can easily make six figures.”
He hopes for the good of the U.S. economy that his efforts to publicize such opportunities are working. “I’ve been in businesses,” he explains, “where they’ve had to offshore workers because they couldn’t find the talent here.”