Betty Nirmala graduated from College of Engineering, Guindy (CEG), Chennai, India, in 1971. Following her parents’ motto of “Simple Living and High Thinking”, she had a long career in technical education motivated by her passion for teaching. She never stopped teaching even after retirement, opening up her house for helping disadvantaged school children get extra help with their studies and training women from marginalized sections of the society to become self-sufficient. Throughout her life, she placed equal importance on her family and career showing today’s women how you can have a fulfilling career and a great family life.
Betty was born in Srirangam, Tamil Nadu, on December 14, 1949. Both her parents were teachers. Her father was a science teacher at Bishop Heber Higher Secondary School, Tiruchirappalli. His hobby was assembling electronics gadgets, and he spent a lot of time reading the Electronics magazine. Betty’s mother was a mathematics teacher and Assistant Headmistress at K.A.P. Viswanathan Higher Secondary School. The students loved her teaching and many of them went on to have perfect scores in the Secondary School Leaving Certificate (SSLC) exams. She was also a great cook and Betty remembers the tasty snacks she used to prepare for the family. Betty has an older brother and an older sister.
Betty studied at Holy Cross Girls Higher secondary school, Tiruchirappalli, until the ninth grade and then joined K.A.P. Viswanathan Higher Secondary School. Betty’s mother was her mathematics teacher, and Betty credits her teaching for developing an interest in composite mathematics, theorems, and riders and achieving the first rank in her school. Her holidays were spent working with her father, learning to assemble simple electronic circuits. Betty completed the Pre-University Course (PUC) at Seethalakshmi Ramaswami College, Tiruchirappalli, in 1966 and applied to the undergraduate degree program in Tamil Nadu and was accepted to enter CEG.
Betty’s first visit to CEG, Chennai, was a little frightening for her with the senior boys whistling and shouting, and Betty wondered if she should go back home and study at the local engineering college. Her father persuaded her to stay at CEG. Betty was one of eight girls in the class that entered CEG in 1966. This was double the number of girls in the previous batch.
Betty joined the Madras Government Polytechnic for Women (WPT) hostel along with her classmates Rajeswari, R. Shantha, and S. Radha. She was encouraged by the presence of her seniors Prema and Nalini in the hostel.
Four of the eight women in the class, V.R. Radha, Premalatha, Annapurna, and Jayashree, were day scholars. Betty remembers the girls were subjected to a lot of ragging. In the first two years, the girls attended the same classes. In the third year, however, except for Annapurna who chose Mechanical Engineering, the rest of the girls moved on to study Electronics & Communication Engineering (ECE) year. Betty remembers that the semester system was introduced when she was in the third year. While the semester exams were hard, the holidays that followed them motivated her to work hard, and come back to the next semester rejuvenated from the holidays spent with her parents.
Betty remembers the ECE Head of the Department, Professor C.N Janardhan, and his cute car in which he used to give rides to the students. Betty says he was like a father to the girls, very kind and motivating which made the last three years enjoyable and successful. Betty took advantage of additional courses offered in the Honors program and took on two more subjects. She graduated with excellent grades in her final year examination and graduated from CEG in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in ECE.
Career and Continued Education
Betty’s first job after graduating was as a biomedical engineer at Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore. She was there only for a short while and moved to the National Aeronautical Laboratory (NAL) in Bangalore. Then her father persuaded her to attend the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission exam to qualify for a teaching position in the state of Tamil Nadu’s polytechnic colleges. While Betty loved the idea of teaching, it took a little persuasion from her teacher-parents to quit a lucrative Central Government job at NAL and start her career as an educator, but soon Betty realized she had chosen the right career for herself.
Betty adored her Senior Instructor teaching job at WPT (now called Dr. Dharmambal Government Polytechnic College for Women) where Sundari Vellayan (CEG 1954) was the principal and Parvathi Mattancheril (CEG 1960) was the Head of Electronics department. Betty says she learned a lot from working with them. Betty stayed in the WPT hostel and had good interactions with the students who also stayed in the hostel. Coming from lower-middle-class families, fresh out of high school, most of the students lacked communications skills. They struggled to adjust to the new environment and found English as the medium of instruction difficult. The close proximity to such students in the hostel enabled Betty to deal with them compassionately, and the college provided counseling for them. By the students’ second year, Betty could see the changes in their look, attitude, and mannerism, as well as improvement in their studies. It gave Betty immense pleasure to see these students progress through their study years, get a good placement and leave the polytechnic.
Betty was promoted to Associate Lecturer in 1974. During 1977-78 she studied for her B.Tech. Ed. degree at The National Institute of Technical Teachers Training and Research (NITTTR) in Chennai and passed in first class with distinction. In 1983, she became a Lecturer, a Gazetted position, and in 1989 became the Head of the Electronics Department.
From 1992 to 1997 Betty served as the Head of the Instrument Technology Department. She improved the infrastructure and modernized the laboratory. As the convener of the syllabus revision committee, she periodically revised the curriculum to be current and relevant to the industry employing the students. She organized industrial visits and training for the students. Students who needed extra support were given counseling and coaching.
Betty had a major role in the Canada India Institutional Cooperation Project (CIICP) which was started in WPT in 1979. Under its initiative on continuing education (Con-Ed), Betty underwent training in continuing education in Olds College, Alberta, Canada. Betty’s training included the “Developing a Curriculum” (DACUM) process. Upon her return from Canada, Betty set up the Con-Ed Cell, which was responsible for the continuing education program in WPT. As the Con-Ed manager, she designed, marketed, implemented and evaluated the programs. The many benefits to the polytechnic included improved infrastructure, modernization and enhanced curriculum for students. Betty had the role of Con-Ed manager starting 1993 and continuing the rest of her career.
Betty’s co-worker, Meera, who is Vice Principal at WPT had this to say:
“As a continuing Education Manager, her work was commendable. She organizing need-based programs for the students, government agencies, industries, other universities, and housewives. Under her untiring efforts, the Con-Ed cell began to flourish and the revenue generation increased. This amount was used for the institutional development. “
In 1997, Betty received a promotion to Principal, Government Polytechnic for Women (GPCW) in Coimbatore. Betty opted to forego the promotion in order to prove stability for her children who were in engineering college and final year of high school at the time. She enjoyed working with the Principal of WPT, K.S. Babai (CEG 1966), on many projects such as I.S.O. 9000 certification and accreditation. WPT was declared as the best among the state-owned polytechnics. Under the Linkage program with Canadian college, Betty went to Canada a second time, to develop the curriculum for the Environment management technology course to be offered under the Continuing Education.
During the last year of Betty’s government service, 2007, she assumed the post of Special Officer, Curriculum Development, and project coordinator of CIICP in the main office of the Directorate of Technical Education at Guindy, working under the Commissioner (an Indian Administrative Service position) and the Director of Technical Education. After realizing how extensive the workload was, Betty recommended that someone else handle the CIICP role, and concentrated on the curriculum revisions working with various syllabus committees that included members from industries, institutions of higher learning and Technical Teachers Training Institute; as well as polytechnic alumni and senior faculty from polytechnic colleges. Betty took the initiative to prepare the Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry textbooks for use by the first-year engineering students in the polytechnics. Printed at the government printing press, and given free to the students of the government polytechnics, they proved to be a great boon to the student community. They were sold to the students of the private polytechnics at a nominal rate, which became a source of revenue for the curriculum center.
Betty retired from government service in December of 2007 after thirty-seven years of technical education service.
“I may be the only person privileged to work with most of my seniors from CEG: Mrs. Sundari Vellayan, Mrs. Parvathi, Dr. K.S. Babai, and Mrs. Prema Thomas; and classmate Dr. Rajeswari; and I am grateful to them, and to all my Polytechnic staff, who enabled me to succeed in my career.”
After her retirement, Betty decided to focus on social service. Her house is situated close to an Adi-Dravida Higher Secondary School and Betty approached the headmaster and offered to provide free tuition to the students from sixth to twelfth grades in Mathematics, English, and Science. This was officially sanctioned at the school, and Betty’s home became an after-school tuition center, from the time schools closed for the day until 7 pm. During SSLC exams, some children who did not have a good study environment at home stayed until late, and sometimes overnight to study for the exams. With Betty’s help, many students went on to study in polytechnics and undergraduate colleges; and secure a good living. Betty says the students’ love and gratitude keep her motivated to continue this endeavor.
In her house, Betty also oversees a three-month garment tailoring program in coordination with her church as a service to the society. Under a trained teacher, the downtrodden women in the program learn cutting and stitching and at the end of three months become skilled at stitching any type of women’s garments. Every year three batches of students are trained and the training is offered free of cost under this program. At present, the twenty-ninth batch is running. Those who were trained have either opened petty shops or have a home-based operation thus contributing to the earnings of the family.
Betty also spends her time looking after her grandchildren and teaching them. She says she seems to be busier in her retirement life than when she was at the Polytechnic.
Betty’s father passed away in 1986, and her mother in 2002.
Betty’s older brother Sunder Singh received his doctorate from Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IITB), and taught there until his retirement. Her sister Sheela did her post-graduate education in chemistry and taught upper-class students in a higher secondary school in Chennai, gave free tuition to students in need of extra coaching, with perfect graduation results.
Betty married Rajappa Abraham in 1974. Rajappa is an Automobile Engineer from Madras Institute of Technology, Chromepet, in Madras. He started as Assistant Branch Manager in Thiruvalluvar Transport Corporation (now known as S.E.T.C.), and was promoted to Branch manager, and then Deputy Manager. The demands of his job included late evening and weekend presence at work and a lot of travel throughout Tamil Nadu. Betty managed the family completely on her own during those demanding times. Rajappa retired in 2006.
Betty has three children. Her first son, Kirubakar Abraham, studied at Alagappa College of Technology, Chennai, and graduated with a degree in Textile Engineering, and later an MBA in Management of Technology from the University of Connecticut. After working for Infosys, he moved to the USA and is now with Cognizant Technology Solutions. He married Tabitha Twinkle, a computer engineer. They have two children and live in Connecticut, USA. Betty’s daughter Rekha Christlyn also studied Electronics and Communication Engineering and is a homemaker. Her husband Rajkumar Madhuram is a Computer Science graduate and a Gold Medalist from Government College of Technology, Coimbatore. After doing his master’s at the University of Central Florida, he worked for Yahoo and is currently the CTO of a company called C.1.X. They have two boys. Betty’s youngest son Jayakar Solomon worked in business process outsourcing at Infosys and is now in eCommerce doing business with eBay. He and his wife Victoria, who is a mathematics graduate, have two children, and they stay with Betty and her husband.
Technical Education Leader with a Passion for Service
“Our ex-president Dr. Radha Krishnan used to quote ‘Teachers are the custodians of the highest value.’ My parents’ motto of their life, ‘Simple living and high thinking’, enthused me to take up the teaching profession. This has imbibed in me the desired qualities that made me successful in my career. My passion to do service to the less fortunate is being fulfilled by my involvement in the community service, even after my retirement.”
Her advice to today’s girls will resonate with the readers:
“Today there are many distractions to the teenagers, especially due to the misuse of the technological advancements. Technology is a two-edged weapon that can be used both constructively and destructively. I pray and wish that today’s teenagers are mature enough to discern good from evil with the help of the Almighty so that they could lead a victorious life. The women of our society should possess the moral courage, will-power, and the required skills to be independent, and stand on their own feet. Patience and perseverance are the hallmarks of all successful women.”
Betty Nirmala provided me with a well-written document on her professional and personal life. My sincere thanks to her for the same as well as her efforts in providing me the pictures in this article which made the story come alive.
My sincere thanks to Meera, Betty’s former colleague for her input to this article.
This is story number twenty-three in my ambitious journey of chronicling the life and work of the early CEG alumnae. If you like what you read, please “like” and share.
My goal is to encourage more girls to study engineering and science, enter the workforce and be equal partners with men in shaping the future of our world. Women face a lot of critical moments in their lives that make them want to leave the workforce. I am hoping the stories of the CEG women will inspire them to stay in it.
I will be writing more such posts and collecting them into a book for publishing.
If you have information about CEG alumnae from the 1940s to the 1960s, please contact me to help make these posts complete.