An interview with Board of Trustees member Madhavan Nayar

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Mon Feb 11, 2019
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Photo courtesy of Illinois Tech Office of Marketing and Communications

 

Before the open event announcing the winning team of Nayar Prize I and finalist team of Nayar Prize II, the Illinois Tech Office of Marketing and Communications and TechNews were given an opportunity to interview Madhavan Nayar (master of science in industrial engineering, 1968), the alumni and Board of Trustees member responsible for the one million dollar research prize.

Nayar began by recounting his time as an international masters student at Illinois Tech in 1966, pursuing a masters in industrial engineering. He recalled how he had a job in the university’s library, “stacking books on shelves” and found himself wanting a job with more adequate compensation. It was then that a friend referred him to a computer center campus and its IBM mainframe larger than the room we had the interview in. With undergraduate degrees in physics and electrical engineering, Nayar had no computer science knowledge but still found himself hired and designated as an operator of the terminal. Thus, Nayar’s tech career began with him being completely lost in a field he had no experience in.

After some rough transition and learning periods, Nayar would go on to pursue his own “marketable software ideas” and entrepreneurial enterprises (having founded Unitech Systems, renamed Infogix, Inc., in 1982). However, Nayar would also continue to remain connected to his alma mater. As Illinois Tech expanded its international programs in the 1980s and 1990s, Nayar was called back to work with connecting other international alumni to campus before spending another period of time away from the university.

In the 2000s, President John Anderson would invite Nayar to spend a weekend on campus and eventually join the Board of Trustees. Impressed by Anderson’s sense of vision, Nayar became one of the earliest donors to the project that would become the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship. After a mishap with his personal tax advisor, wherein a donation meant for Illinois Tech was almost sent to ITT Technical Institute, Nayar saw a need to help the reputation of Illinois Tech rise above its current standing, and thus he created the Nayar Prize.

Nayar described how the prize was originally intended to mainly elevate the stature of Illinois Tech while encouraging faculty to create breakthrough innovations with societal impact. However, as the competition proceeded, he saw how it evolved into its current focus on cross-disciplinary collaboration. “No longer [are these projects] a one-person accomplishment, but rather it is the accomplishment of a team.” The prize he created would encourage over 50 teams of faculty from multiple colleges and departments to work together on projects of high social gravity.

Thinking to the building the interview was held in, Nayar then made the connection that this collaborative and cross-disciplinary focus is the approach of the future, and the Kaplan Institute is an example of Illinois Tech making the right choice moving in this direction.

Nayar concluded this interview with his earnest belief that Illinois Tech is a “great institution because of its storied history.” The students, projects, and ideas that have (and continue to) come through this university have “unbelievable influence on Chicago, U.S., and the world.” He believes that current Illinois Tech students should feel fortunate to be associated with such a storied university. “I believe and hope that Illinois Tech will once again emerge as a world-class, premier educational institution.”

A detailed breakdown of the results of the Nayar Prize announcements that took place after this interview can be found in the article “Winning and finalist teams honored at Nayar Prize announcement” on the front page of this issue.

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Photo courtesy of Illinois Tech Office of Marketing and Communications

 

 

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2019 - Spring - Issue 3
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