Looking back, Umesh Subramanian believes that there was no way he could have predicted where his graduate education at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign would take him.
In a narrow sense, this includes never anticipating his current position as Chief Technology Officer at Citadel, one of the world’s leading alternative investment managers, or his prior position as Partner and Co-Head of Technology at Goldman Sachs. In a broader sense, he now credits the University with opening his mind to new traits and skills that he never anticipated collecting.
After earning an undergraduate degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras in his home country, Subramanian knew he wanted to pursue further education in the United States.
He soon enrolled in the Mechanical Science & Engineering department within The Grainger College of Engineering. In a leap of faith, Subramanian came to this decision based on positive interactions with others about the University – mostly focused on its student-centered education and powerful research capabilities.
However, prior to enrolling, Subramanian never visited the campus. He said he didn’t know how flat the surrounding prairie is or how cold the winters are. But he dug into Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, which soon intersected with Illinois Computer Science through an interest in virtual reality and software engineering.
From the moment he came to this university with a dream about opportunity, Subramanian said his experience matched his dreams. He thrived in a collaborative research environment that opened his eyes to the way many different disciplines could help an engineer solve problems.
That feeling became the driving force behind his recent scholarship fund, designed to an undergraduate student from out of state in the Department of Computer Science.
“I strongly believe in removing obstacles and creating pathways for people to reach their potential, and it’s an honor to support the Grainger College of Engineering which shares this commitment,” Subramanian said. “I think this scholarship would be a success if it makes an impact on a person’s life, and that person collects a similar sense of pride and a sense of accomplishment from attending Illinois.”
It’s exciting to Subramanian to envision the first student who will receive the scholarship, because it gives him a moment to reflect on his own path.
That professional path began at Morgan Stanley.
More specifically, it began at a career event on campus where three representatives from Morgan Stanley presented. Subramanian stood in the back, absorbing the information but uncertain if he was a fit for any type of role in the financial sector.
But it was a chance interaction with one of the three presenters that changed his mind.
“This person looked at me and said, ‘Look, fluid mechanics and Brownian motion is applicable in finance.’ Prior to that, I could not have imagined such an applicability to what I knew in this particular field, ”Subramanian said. “This just goes to show, you can never predict how or when the education that you have from Illinois will help you.”
Despite this initial interest being left up to chance, it was still built on a core set of hard skills that he spent years developing.
Subramanian never anticipated applying those traits in the financial sector. But these skills, just like they would if used in an industry more traditionally tied to engineering, allowed him to transcend the problem and solve it like an engineer.
When he pursued his master’s, Subramanian said it was his advisor – Placid Ferreira – who gave him the “liberty and luxury” to study other disciplines. Through that effort, he began to understand the field of computer science much more clearly.
He took courses, first, in industrial engineering and operations research. Then he opened his mind to software principles and virtual reality in computer science.
Outside of the classroom, Subramanian conducted multidisciplinary research efforts at The Beckman Institute. He also applied his learnings at an internship with Caterpillar.
And now, 20 years later, he’s impressed with the Illinois Computer Science plan has to meet the students where they are through interdisciplinary degrees – like the CS + X program. This degree option allows students to pursue a flexible program of study incorporating a strong grounding in computer science with technical or professional training in the arts and sciences.
Discussion with both Grainger Engineering Dean, Rashid Bashir, and Illinois CS Department Head, Nancy M. Amato, clarified to Subramanian how these sorts of efforts match his experience and interest.
For the last two years, he has been a member of the Grainger Engineering Board of Visitors, which has provided greater access to these conversations. And it’s left him impressed with the positioning of engineering and CS education for the future.
“When I see that an institution is this forward minded in doing what they need to do, it’s a very compelling reason for me to be a part of that journey,” Subramanian said. “I feel like this university has given me this amazing education and has enabled people like me – and so many others – to pursue our academic and professional interests to the fullest extent possible.
“The scholarship is just a small token of appreciation from me, but if someone else were to finish their educational pursuits at Illinois and feel the same affinity for – and perhaps feel the urge to give back – to Grainger Engineering or Illinois Computer Science that would be a great outcome. ”