Dr. Sanjay Garg was born in 1959 in the small town of Modinagar in the State of Uttar Pradesh in northern India. His family included a sister, a brother and, fortunately for them all, a father who really believed in the value of education.
His father, Mr. Garg, earned a Master’s from Lucknow University and went on to become an executive at Modi Enterprises, an important industrial house in India in the 1970’s. His father once planned to immigrate to the United States himself, but due to an economic downturn that affected the business and the familial responsibilities this wasn’t able to happen. Undeterred, he resolved to ensure that children would have the opportunity to do so.
As it turned out, all of his children did well and Sanjay did indeed immigrate to the United States, where he has proven to be an excellent asset to the Cleveland community.
Despite their father’s resolve, education proved to be a challenge for Sanjay and his siblings because there was no good school in Modinagar. Thus Mr. Garg arranged for his children to attend schools about 20 kilometers away in the City of Meerut. Since transportation was limited, Mr. Garg joined with other parents to establish a bus service for the youngsters.
As a boy, Sanjay attended St Mary’s Academy through the 11th grade (the equivalent of our twelve year education plan) where all classes were conducted in English so he became quite proficient with the language.
After graduation, Sanjay initially considered joining the Indian Air Force because he loves planes and wanted to be a pilot, but he could not meet the physical requirements necessary to do so.
Subsequently, he enrolled at Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, India and attended classes from 1975 to 1980 when he earned a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. Afterwards, Sanjay was well prepared to immigrate to the United States if he wanted to because the Institute had strong connections to the United States and most of its faculty were educated there; out of Sanjay’s graduating class of two hundred and thirty students some 65% of them (including Sanjay) journeyed to the United States to continue their studies. Sanjay maintains that from the moment he was accepted at the Indian Institute of Technology, he knew that he was bound for the United States, to the delight of his father and with the blessing of the rest of his family.
He first arrived in the United States in September, 1980 on a student visa. He chose to attend the University of Minnesota where he earned a M.Sc. degree in Aerospace Engineering in May of 1982.
It was also around this time that he met his wife Malavika, also from India, whom he refers to lovingly as “Mala”. In 1983, Mala decided to go to Chicago, Illinois to earn her MBA and Sanjay decided to further his education by earning a Ph.D. degree in Aeronautics from Purdue University located 2.5 hours away from where Mala lived. During this time period, he supported himself by working as a Research Assistant. In April, 1987 Sanjay and Mala were married and Sanjay completed his doctorate in May, 1988.
Sanjay explained to us that the union between him and Mala was a bit unusual for an expatriate Indian male in this time period; generally a young man would return to India and have an arranged marriage in accordance with the factors of ethnicity and the caste system, after which he and his new wife would return to the United States to enjoy a life together there while getting to know each other. Yet he and Mala had already met and fallen in love. Luckily, their families approved of their union so everything worked out for them.
After Sanjay received his Ph.D., he was given the opportunity to work at the NASA Glenn Research Center in the Cleveland area. The only hitch was that Sanjay was not yet a U.S. citizen so he had to be technically employed by a third party company who assigned him to NASA Glenn very much in the manner of how a temp agency works today; NASA Glenn paid the company and the company paid Sanjay.
At any rate, soon Sanjay and Mala were living in Westlake, Ohio and expecting their first child. By this time, Mala had developed a reputation for herself as an outstanding businesswoman; a firm hired her even when she was eight months pregnant with the understanding that she would not report for work until four months after the baby was born. And so their son, Aseem (meaning limitless/no boundaries) was born in September, 1988. A few years later, their daughter Aditi was born in August, 1991.
In December, 1990, Sanjay became a United States citizen; it was all the more special since he took the naturalization oath during the Holidays. Sanjay smiled as he told us that as soon as he became a U.S. citizen, he got to become a federal employee (civil servant) who worked directly for NASA Glenn but with a 10% pay cut.
Yet he loved working for NASA because it gave him the opportunity to grow as a person and to acquire leadership skills. For instance, he started off working as a researcher in what is now the Intelligent Control and Autonomy Branch in a group of 6 civil servants and 1 contractor but by 2012 when he was the Branch Chief, it was composed of 18 civil servants and 11 contractors. Sanjay is justifiably very proud of this accomplishment, particularly because in 1988 NASA had a total of 5,500 employees while by 2012 that number had shrunk to 3,100; thus the group that Sanjay led reversed the trend. During his tenure at NASA Glenn, Sanjay received two very important honors which were the Exceptional Achievement Medal in 1996 for his part in the development of advanced control technology and the Exceptional Service Medal in 2011 for his leadership of the controls group.
He was also heavily involved in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, a professional society of aerospace engineers where he served on its Board of Directors.
Finally, Sanjay retired from NASA Glenn on August 31st, 2018 after working there for a total of 30 years and 6 months. He had already laid the groundwork for his retirement, however. As his children grew older, he had begun to volunteer his time and services to assist youth from local low income families obtain educational opportunities through such groups as .Youth Opportunities Unlimited, with the poignant acronym “YOU.”
Mala was 100% supportive of this; so much so that in 2007 she invested an inheritance in the establishment of the Swaminathan and Garg Foundation whose mission was to provide educational opportunities to underprivileged youth. Endowments were established at such places as Sanjay’s alma maters: the Indian Institute of Technology; the University of Minnesota; and Purdue University as well as locally at St. Edward High School, where Sanjay and Mala’s son, Aseem, graduated in 2006. The foundation also sponsored activities at organizations like Youth Opportunities Unlimited, the Breakthrough Schools, and big Brothers, Big Sisters.
In 2013, by brainstorming with their friends during a dinner party, Sanjay came up with the idea to start what became Shiksha Daan (The Gift of Education) which was established in July of 2013 as an activity of the Federation of India Community Associations of Northeast Ohio (aka FICA). The objective of Shiksha Daan is to “get the Indian community actively involved with the education and development of under-privileged youth in Greater Cleveland.”
As described in a slide emailed to us by Sanjay, it is the approach of Shiksha Daan to “conduct our own tutoring programs, as well as partner with other organizations which support youth education and development. We reach out to the local Indian community to serve as volunteer tutors and mentors.”
Sanjay was very pleased to say the the kickoff of Shiksha Daan was attended by 30-40 people, all ready to go to work. It had been noted that there were many Nepalese/Bhutanese refugees living in the Cleveland area so they reached out to the local refugee agencies who were glad to receive such assistance.
Starting in July, 2013 a tutoring program for Sunday afternoons was set up at Noble Road Presbyterian Church in Shaker Heights that exists to this day. According to the 2017-2018 report:
Over 18 students registered, with typically 12-15 attending each time. Many students have been coming since the start of the program.
Over 25 active volunteers with 8 to 15 attending each time.
Students are assisted with English, math and any subjects in which assistance is needed.
Students are exposed to U.S. culture, history and geography to increase awareness and understanding of life in the United States.
Even though Nepalese/Bhutanese refugees were targeted for special assistance in the beginning, the program has been expanded to include all students in the area.
Then, in October of 2017, another tutoring program, meeting on Saturday afternoons, was established at the Eastman Branch of the Cleveland Public Library on Lorain Avenue. Again refugees, this time from Syria, were the initial attendees but it is now being frequented by families with great diversity from such places as Palestine and Uganda as well as local families some of whom are African American. Once again, all are welcome.
In addition to the tutoring, Shiksha Daan has teamed up with other prominent local organizations to provide mentoring/tutoring programs to those in need. These organizations include College Now, Refugee Response, Minds Matter of Greater Cleveland and Urban Squash.
Sanjay is justifiably proud to say that Shiksha Daan is growing all the time and that more and more young people from all ethnic groups are being welcomed. Sanjay, himself, has been mentoring a young man named Martin for three years now who came to this country as a refugee from the Congo some four years ago. Martin is now attending Tri-C seeking an Associate degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology; he and Sanjay get together each week to review his coursework. Sanjay describes Martin as “a good person and pleasant to work with. It has been a joy to see him grow and I am proud to be a part of his success.”
When we asked why Sanjay is so involved in what he does, he told us that he and Mala very much want to give back to the United States, which has been so kind to them and has given them a pathway to achieve their own dreams. With a gentle smile on his face, Sanjay confided in us that he came to the United States with only two suitcases, $750 in his pocket, and a loan for travel expenses to be paid off.
In terms of doing something for himself, being turned down by the Indian Air Force didn’t deter Sanjay’s passion for aircraft so he is looking forward to taking flying lessons and fulfill his personal dream of becoming a pilot. No doubt, he will succeed in this endeavor just as he has in other things that he has undertaken.
We are glad to have Sanjay and his family here with us. He and his wife have truly had extraordinary professional and philanthropic careers; we are sure that they will continue to excel and help others to do the same in the years ahead.