It wasn’t Rajan Jha’s finest moment.
“I hadn’t performed that great, I’m just being honest with you,” Jha remembers.
Report card day at Delhi Public School in Korba, India.
Jha’s literature teacher, Sreekala Madhavan, had left a hand-written note in the margin:
“‘You don’t even know how much potential you have,’” Jha remembers.
It was as if his academic career was struck by lightning.
“Those lines made me think, ‘You know what, maybe I’m worth it. I will do something good someday,’” Jha said. “I owe so much to that teacher.
“You know, sometimes someone has to tell you: you are worth it. You are good. You’re intelligent. You’re capable. These things have to be said to someone. She said those things to me and that made a difference. I remember it very distinctly.”
Jha, EIT, A.M.ASCE, has proven his teacher correct. He now works as a project engineer, specializing in water resources, for ARCADIS in Richmond, VA, and has been selected as one of the ASCE 2016 New Faces of Civil Engineering Professionals.
Jha grew up in India, the son of a government official. The family moved frequently, but Korba was home during his teenage years.
“When you live in these small places you make so many big dreams,” Jha said. “Being in that small place of Korba made me dream a lot.”
During his undergraduate studies, he was inspired by a flood that struck the small village where his family’s maid lived. She was unable to come to work for more than a month, and Jha made her village’s plight the mission of his capstone project. He worked to open a flood channel in the village, and his love for water-resources engineering began.
In 2011, he came to the United States to pursue his master’s degree at Virginia Tech and got heavily involved with ASCE almost immediately.
He currently serves as the first vice president of the Virginia Section and heads the website newsletter and the scholarship committee. In 2014 he founded the Richmond Branch of Environmental and Water Resources Group and started with an initiative called Water Allies.
He’s also worked extensively with Engineers Without Borders, serving as the co-chair of the Central Virginia Chapter and also as a planning, monitoring and design lead for a water-supply project in Zambia.
“I made contacts with the EWB and I got involved in 2013,” Jha said. “I thought if I get involved in the chapter I could make new friends and do some really good work.
“My office and my supervisor – he is really, really encouraging with all of these things, especially my involvement with ASCE and EWB.”
For Jha, it has always been about people. First, the people who have helped him, from his family to his teachers in India to Panos Diplas – his adviser at Virginia Tech – to his brother, Amit Jha, who is pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Texas. And now, the people whom Jha can help using his knowledge of hydrology.
“My dad was always saying, ‘You always must be surrounded by good and inspiring people. Your company has to be very good,’” Jha said.
ASCE’s New Faces of Civil Engineering recognition programs highlight the next generation of civil engineering leaders. By showcasing young, diverse, talented engineers the program shows that engineering is an exciting profession open to everyone. Ten honorees are selected by ASCE in each of two divisions: collegiate and professional.
The honorees will be recognized during Engineers Week, which starts Feb. 21, and at ASCE’s annual Outstanding Projects And Leaders (OPAL) Gala, March 17, in Arlington, VA.