by Sameer Majli
Space Advocate, a science enthusiast and a hard-core Science Communicator, emerging to become a future space leader! She is a multifaceted, young and a dynamic achiever! She is a role model for many youngsters and her students. Yet for her – KALPANA CHAWLA is an icon and a role model. She wishes to continue the legacy of this legendary icon when it comes to space travel… and to top it all, she is one amongst us that made a reality of her dreams.
Meet Leena Bokil.
A student of Divine Providence and an Engineer from Gogte Institute of Belgaum, an achiever, an inspiration and a role model when it come defying convention to embrace one’s dreams.
These are little insights into this wonderful person, stuff that was revealed when ALL ABOUT BELGAUM interviewed her.
What made you break convention and choose such a different career?
Leena Bokil ———— > I’m basically an E&TC Engineer by qualification. But then, I’ve always aspired to be an Astrophysicist. And pure science has been my ‘cup of tea’!
Since childhood, I’ve secretly been planning to be a ‘star gazer’. And then, since ages, I was aiming to ‘reach out to the stars’ as well! But then, in India, it’s not easy to get into such a unique field like Astronomy or Space Science. Besides, since my Dad is an Engineer (Mech+Elec), it was but natural for me, to enter into the engineering arena. And believe me, it was indeed a ‘cake-walk’, with all his guidance and relentless support. My father would tell me ancient tales of Copernicus and Kepler; and stories of Galileo and others who were the first-generation astronomers. So all of this fueled up a spark in me and inspired me to become a Space Scientist one day!
Well, I’ve been teaching telecommunications engineering for many years now, since it’s my core-branch. However, at the same time, I wanted to do something ‘out-of-the-box’! And then, well, I waited patiently until I was offered a teaching assignment for ‘Avionics’ course. So, I took it up as a challenge and read a lot of stuff. And then, gradually soared higher into ‘space technology’.
I mean, NASA happened to me since I’m an Educator. And after a ‘low profile’ job for almost a decade, I literally rose ‘like a real skyscraper’! I got selected at NASA-Honeywell Space Educators’ Program in 2008. And then, I became the Founder Secretary of National Space Society (India). So, in the last 5 years, I’ve visited various NASA’s centers, as many as five times! This way, I earned a global recognition, thanks to NASA, America’s premier space agency.
What were the challenges you faced in your journey to understand things beyond the blue skies?
Leena Bokil ———— > Well, it’s quite a challenging profession for women. And then there’s immense competition… Besides, a married woman like me, needs to juggle and balance with family and career. But then, ever since I gained ‘momentum’, things became pretty easy for me, and life is great these days!
Ok, to become a NASA astronaut, one needs to be an American citizen, first and foremost. But then, there is soon going to be a ‘Space Ambassador Program'; and being a Teacher, it can be relatively easy to be into such missions for me. That’s because, a Teacher inspires the future generation of astronauts and space technologists. This is precisely why NASA selected me to be trained for this coveted space training program @ Marshall Center in Huntsville, Alabama. I keep meeting Astronauts like Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and others. Plus, Cosmonaut – Rakesh Sharma ji is a great source of inspiration for me! And when I do meet such legendary personalities, my energies get a boost! After meeting these iconic people, complex things start looking pretty simple! So, it’s all about getting inspired as much as being an inspiration, myself!
Who do you attribute your success to?
Leena Bokil ———— > Many aspects like : my genetic material, grooming and above all, my father’s technical training have always motivated me to be a true and dedicated technologist. I’m so much like my Father, I just need ‘work’ on my desk and I don’t care for the money! I just keep on going ‘with the flow’ and put in my best, in whatever I do!
I guess, success comes to those who work with a strong purpose and popularizing science has now become a mission in my life. Besides, I’ve always done whatever I’ve believed in. Well, except my father and my mentor, I do not listen to others, as far as my career is concerned. I just work for myself and compete with my own self. Oh, I so enjoy my work and do it with a passion; so all of this makes it more meaningful and complete…
Is it necessary for an individual to seek education abroad to make a career in space research and technology?
Leena Bokil ———— > Well yes, in India, we do not include ‘space science’ as a part of the regular curriculum. Besides, we do not have much in terms of resources for this particular ‘hi-tech’ course. So, one needs to go abroad to study space technology. However, they do offer ‘B.Tech. degree’ in Space Engg @ IIST these days. The Indian Institute of Space Technology (IIST) is an integral part of ISRO, and it has been undertaking the task of grooming and nurturing space engineers, for the past few years.
The youngsters find our Indian scenario quite disturbing and they choose to go abroad for better prospects. There are far better facilities, resources and funding in the western world, when it comes to research ventures. However, in the present times, many Indian research organizations are working towards projects and funding, in order to encourage young researchers to join them.
What has been your greatest accomplishment in your journey?
Leena Bokil ———— > Firstly, my beloved Father, Shri S.S. Kulkarni, and then my teachers, have played an incredible role in shaping my career. And then, of late, my mentor, eminent scientist – Dr Gowariker sir, has been a great guide for me. His mere encouragement makes me ‘raise the bench-mark’, each time, at every step in my career. And then, I’ve learnt a great deal from NASA Astronaut – late Kalpana Chawla. I never got to meet her, but then, I keep meeting her father – revered Paapaji, who shares many aspects about ‘KC’ and her life. This way, I’m blessed that I’ve been meeting the greatest icons for the last few years. And then, I’ve been getting the opportunity of ‘going places’. So for me, all these parameters are the resultants of success. And according to me, these are a few of my modest accomplishments…
What lies ahead in terms of what you seek to accomplish in your field of interest?
Leena Bokil ———— > Well, so far, I’ve not yet reached the crest (peak) of my career. So, to take my unique career to it’s culmination, I look forward to ‘going into space’, at least once, in my life-time! And then, of course, I may ‘pen’ my experiences or, say, may be, even write a ‘science fiction’ in these years to come…
“Ambition is never content, even at the summit of greatness.”
~ Napolean Bonaparte
How do you manage being a multi-faceted and multi-talented personality?
Leena Bokil ———— > Oh well, I’ve just traveled a lot and picked up some languages. I keep myself widely read and I’m eclectic, I guess. So that’s what I do in my free time, read and watch movies! I owe it to my creativity, that springs from ‘left-handedness’ or my ‘right-brain dominance’.
I guess, I’m a born communicator and I’m quite good at some sports as well. So I keep myself fit and maintain a fair amount of daily discipline. The major source of inputs for me are by way of traveling. And it’s truly an education for me, to meet people across the globe, of different cultures and varied race… I accord more importance to learning from ‘nature’ than from the books! This way, I’ve been a perpetual student all my life…
Well, it would be unbecoming of me if I do not appreciate the efforts of my parents, teachers and institution, in making me what I am today. Above all, I’d also be dishonest if I say I’ve not been ‘lucky’!
“Creativity and imagination are more important than knowledge and information.”
How does it feel to be a Belgaumite and to be in the domain of space research?
Leena Bokil ———— > My schooling in Divine Providence Convent was perfect and Belgaum is a great place for grooming! The top-notch-quality of education and resources that we do get here are of world-class grade! I do not ever rate Belgaum as a ‘small town’. In fact it’s far better than many other places that I’ve ever seen. It’s the mind-set that’s needed for growth and not how large or small a city is… Besides the pleasant climatic conditions, Belgaum is by far, a great place to be in! Well, it was only after marriage that I settled down in Pune, and it was not for career prospects. We do have all the ace facilities out here! And since Belgaum is geographically close to Pune and to Bangalore as well, many people move to these cities for jobs.
Well, as for Space Education and Research domain, it has given me an impetus to become well-known, since it is a popular science. Plus, I’m told I’m known across the globe, thanks to my NASA training!
I reiterate what late Kalpana Chawla once said from space : “I do not belong to one small part of the world. But the entire Universe is my homeland.”
Likewise, the vast Universe is my home, yet my roots are in Belgaum. And in this precise way, I choose to stay grounded! Blessed am I that I am born to this noble land! My soil and my native land will always remain to be in Belgaum, since this is my ‘Janmabhoomi’… And Pune or ‘Punyanagari’ is my ‘Karmabhoomi’…
What are your views about and your suggestions for All About Belgaum?
Leena Bokil ———— > Through Facebook, I got connected to ‘All About Belgaum’, and I’m proud to be associated with it! Of course, this way, I stay connected with ‘my roots’ and I’m updated with all the latest info about my hometown. So it’s enriching and it always brings a ‘smile on my face’ when I read AAB! I am glad it’s operating successfully for so many years, and I’m marveled at the enthusiasm of the team-AAB! I appreciate the response that it evokes in all Belgaumites, from far and wide. I congratulate them for keeping it so fresh and ever-updated! Thanks a ton, for keeping us so connected, no matter wherever we’re located on this planet, or even in space…
Is there anything that you would like to get across to students using our platform?
Leena Bokil ———— > Oh yes, of course, I would always like to inspire my folks and especially the younger generation, to choose what they believe in; to pursue their dreams and accomplish them… Through this platform, we could create awareness and open up avenues for the youngsters of Belgaum. We could encourage them to join ISRO, our very own Space Agency or go to NASA or ESA, and so on… Of course, I could share my experience as also the information that I’ve gathered in the past few years. And AAB could invite the student+teacher community to join in and augment the activities!
All said and done, no matter what, the ‘spirit of exploration’ must not fade away.