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Only 7,983 miles to Framingham State: Satish Penmatsa shares his journey to professorship

Courtesy of Satish Penmatsa

By Ryan O’Connell

Arts & Features Editor

Twenty years ago, Satish Penmatsa was finishing his master’s degree at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and working as a research assistant for their computer science department - while he knew nearly no one in America.

Penmatsa, 44, came from India to the United States - with no close family or friends - to study computer science. He was competing for financial aid, which he said was rare for international students.

Despite the culture shock of American universities and his lack of connections, he continued exploring his passions for computer science, networking, game design, teaching, and research.

Today, he has contributed to over 40 research publications, is recognized as an outstanding researcher by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, and holds an award labeling him the “Most Outstanding Graduate Student” from one of his alma maters.

Penmatsa is a computer science professor and the chair of the department, about to celebrate 10 years with Framingham State University next summer. Despite his accomplishments in professorship, Penmatsa’s journey to Framingham was anything but a straight shot.

Growing up in India, Penmatsa said he originally wanted to become an engineer, viewing his uncles - who were already in the industry - as role models.

“My dad always used to give them as an example. ‘Someday you have to be like them.’ So that’s when I decided that, ‘OK, I want to be an engineer,’” he said.

He added that his interest in computer science was initially directed by the rising popularity of technology, which coerced him to study it rather than engineering at an undergraduate level.

Penmatsa said he attended Andhra University, which was close to his home, while studying for his bachelor’s degree, and spent a lot of time hanging out with friends, watching movies, and waiting to study until it was absolutely necessary.

“Looking back, maybe I should have spent more time [studying]. Things would have maybe been better - I don’t know. But then it worked out, I got a good percentage, a good GPA,” he said.

Penmatsa decided to enroll for graduate study in the United States after hearing testimonials from friends and relatives that the programs were of good quality and led to good opportunities. So he began to study for the GRE and TOEFL exams in his third year of undergraduate.

He said he wasn’t satisfied with his initial score on the GRE, but applied to schools with it anyway - and was accepted to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

However, he would soon transfer to UT San Antonio, and said he was much more likely to successfully study computer science and receive financial aid at the new school.

As Penmatsa began at UT San Antonio, he said he originally didn’t have any interest in teaching or research. He added it was a research assistant position at the university which introduced him to the world of academia.

“During that time I was able to get some work done in the area of parallel and distributed computing, and that resulted in a couple of publications in my first year itself,” he said.

“That motivated me to pursue further research, and then to my Ph.D.,” he added. “I love being with fellow students, [and I] love the classroom environment.”

Becoming a graduate student in America also came with a lot of new challenges, he said.

“You don’t know anyone, right? You rely on some friends - you call them, ask for some suggestions. Yeah, it was hard,” he said. “The college life here is quite different from back home, so we had to get used to that.”

Penmatsa said he initially planned to become a software engineer after earning his master’s degree, but instead continued into a Ph.D. program to allow him to continue his research.

“After your second year in Ph.D., you have to complete an exam, a comprehensive exam. That is one of the toughest exams in any school, maybe. So I studied really hard during my second year, and I passed,” he said.

Penmatsa said he got an offer to teach immediately out of school from Southern Arkansas University in 2007, and also taught at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore from 2010 to 2014.

Since becoming a professor at Framingham State, Penmatsa said he has enjoyed teaching programming courses, involving high-level coding languages like C++, Java, and Python. He said he enjoys teaching programming due to the impact it has on how students think.

“Coming up with a programming solution for a problem needs a student to think step by step. Because once you are good with programming, learning other computer science subjects will be relatively easy,” he said.

“Once you gain that skill of logical thinking and reasoning, it will help you in any other course,” he added.

Michael Reeves, a senior computer science major, said Penmatsa has always been a supportive figure in the Computer Science Department.

“I actually met him on my orientation day,” he said. “But I didn’t have a class with him until a year later, I think.

“He was very helpful, supportive, polite. I know that the students would often go to him for questions and he was never judgmental,” he said. “He’s a great guy. I wish him all the best, because he’s the head of computer science starting last semester.”

David Keil, a computer science professor, said Penmatsa has always been a dedicated and focused member of the department. Keil said being the department chair is not easy, but expects Penmatsa to do well in the role.

“He seems to take it cheerfully,” Keil said.

Penmatsa said he enjoys working with students of different comfort levels in programming, and likes to strike a balance when teaching. “This variety of students that I see interests me,” he said.

He added he believes he has a chance to motivate as a professor, and hopes to discover more strategies on helping students of different ability levels benefit from his courses.

“Here, at Framingham State, I love my position, I love teaching students here,” Penmatsa said. “I’m loving implementing my skills in teaching these different types of students.”


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