As a child growing up in Pune, India, Gayatri Adi had an incentive to figure out how things worked: She frequently broke things and had to put them back together if she wanted to continue to play.
She wanted to open everything, said her father, Hemant Adi.
“She was curious,” he said, with a healthy dose of understatement.
His older daughter, Ketaki, describes Gayatri with a little less subtlety.
“She was naughty,” Ketaki said with a laugh. “She was always up to something.”
When their mother, Snehal, told Gayatri not to touch things, Gayatri would not stop.
“She wanted to know ‘why,’” Ketaki said.
Gayatri laughed at some of those memories recently as she sat in the cafeteria of the Cummins Tech Center in Columbus, where she has worked since June.
“I wasn’t a good child,” she admitted with a chuckle. “I broke things all the time.”
Fixing things came easily to her as a child, in part because she had a good role model: Her father was a mechanical engineer with Cummins in Pune. He retired Oct. 6 after 36 years and eight months with the Columbus-based company.
When the girls were young, Hemant kept a big toolbox in the house or backyard so that he could fix anything, from toasters and mixers to motorbikes. He also provided those services for neighbors and friends.
Ketaki said her father always was fixing something.
“(Gayatri and I) were both fascinated by him,” she said. “We always knew ... things would get fixed. He always let us help.”
As Gayatri got older, she fixed things on her own, and her future career soon became apparent.
“I didn’t know how far I was going to go, but I wanted to become an engineer,” she said.
Gayatri studied instrumentation and control engineering at the Cummins College of Engineering for Women in Pune.
Ketaki had studied electrical engineering, but Gayatri said that field was a little too abstract for her.
“If it’s hard to see things, its just hard to fix them,” she said.
Gayatri said she preferred working with controls, which she figured had broad applications because most devices need some type of control system.
Gayatri lived with her parents near the Cummins college, which was established in 1991 through the Cummins Foundation.
More than 4,000 women have received an education there in the male-dominated engineering field, according to Cummins.
Gayatri considered staying in India for her master’s degree, but the Cummins college, the company and Purdue University made a fellowship available, which funded her first year at Purdue, and she decided to study in the U.S.
The fellowship, she said, helped her focus on what she wanted to do — rather than having to worry about how to secure funds for school.
Adjusting to life in the U.S. was easy, Gayatri said, because Purdue has a large international population and lots of community events, though she struggled getting used to the cold winters.
She also enjoyed her work, which allowed her to experiment with alternative fuels, especially biodiesel. She primarily used a 6.7-liter Cummins Turbo Diesel, made at the Mid-Range Engine Plant near Walesboro.
After completing an internship at the Cummins Tech Center in Columbus in 2007, Gayatri decided to get a PhD and switch to mechanical engineering.
“I really like the company,” she said.
Gayatri’s college roommate, Karla Stricker, said Gayatri’s quiet determination and calm meticulousness commanded respect — even reverence — from the rest of her research team.
Gayatri does not let things get to her, and she does not let go, Stricker said.
In the research lab, the equipment that is used to analyze engine tests is notoriously difficult to get to work, Stricker said. Some interface software and computer control systems might not communicate properly — or at all. That required frequent recalibration, cleaning and system restarts, which can become frustrating.
Stricker said that more than once, systems had been down for more than a couple of days when Gayatri, very methodically, tried different approaches and eventually solved the problems.
“She’s very focused on whatever she does,” agreed Ketaki.
Hemant, speaking by phone from Pune, said Gayatri acquired some of those attributes through her hobbies. She has hiked in the Himalayas with friends a couple of times, and those trips required detailed planning, Hemant said.
Also, since age 11, Gayatri has played the tabla, a percussion instrument. That experience has taught her about dedication and discipline, Hemant said.
This spring, Gayatri became the first graduate of the Cummins College of Engineering for Women to obtain her doctorate from Purdue University.
Her parents traveled to West Lafayette for the graduation ceremony.
“It was exciting,” Hemant said. “I’m really proud of (her).”
He said the faces of his former co-workers at Cummins in Pune light up when he tells them that the second generation of the Adi family is working at Cummins.
Hemant said he really enjoyed his career at Cummins, and knowing that his daughter is getting the chance to have a similar career imbues him with great satisfaction.