Seetha Rao Subramanian and her mother, Swarna Rao, lived very different lives.
Born in India, Swarna married at 15 and gave birth to her first child, Seetha, at 18. Swarna and husband Gopal had four more children — all sons, including one who died young. Gopal’s work at Air India gave them the opportunity to live in England, France and America.
“My mother was brilliant,” Seetha said. “She could speak French, English and several different languages of India, but she regretted never finishing high school. She said she made sure I was educated.”
Seetha, now a professor emeritus of physics at Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC), moved to England with her family at age 13. Her parents helped her learn English, but it wasn’t easy to find her place in the British school system.
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“I had been a very ordinary student in India, more interested in singing and drama” than other subjects, Seetha said.
When an exam revealed she was far ahead of her peers in math, Seetha was directed into math and physics. She earned a bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics and her master’s degree in radiation physics at the University of London.
“It was the best time of my life, I think,” Seetha said.
After graduation, she began teaching in England and was happily single at age 28.
Her parents, who had transferred to New York, however, began pushing Seetha toward an arranged marriage. They flew her to America to meet an Indian man, Hari Subramanian, who was working as a radiation physicist at the University of Pennsylvania.
MOVE TO U.S.
The couple married in India in 1974; Seetha moved to Philadelphia where she took classes at Pennsylvania and Drexel University to earn a teaching certificate.
She taught high school math for three years before her husband convinced her to move to Lawrence, Kan., so he could work on his Ph.D. at the University of Kansas. She became a graduate student and taught math and physics at the university until her husband’s program was discontinued.
They next moved to Lexington, where she again became a graduate student and taught classes. Her husband earned master’s degrees in computer science and business administration.
Their son, Ravi, was born in 1981.
Seetha became a teacher at the Lexington Technical Institute, which eventually became Lexington Community College and is now BCTC. She started the school’s physics program in 1983 and achieved the rank of full professor in 1996.
When her husband decided to relocate again, Seetha and Ravi remained in Lexington. She was ready to put down roots and raise her son as a single mother. Today, Ravi lives in New York and works in pharmaceutical sales.
Seetha began phased retirement in 2008, so she could return to India and care for her elderly parents, who died in 2010.
In honor of her mother, she used part of her inheritance to endow a scholarship for non-traditional female students pursuing an associate’s degree in the sciences. The students can be first-time enrollees or returning to college after an absence of five or more years.
The scholarship, which has two accounts, will award its first full two-year scholarship in the fall of 2016. Meanwhile, Seetha awarded 10 $500 scholarships last spring and four $500 scholarships this fall.
One of her brothers contributed his inheritance to the scholarship funds and Seetha adds to them by selling her mother’s saris. Her aunts in India also send her saris to sell.
The scholarships make Seetha happy and proud.
“I thirst for knowledge and I assume others do, too.”