Many engineers knew early on that they were destined for their chosen career. Maybe they liked to build things, or they appreciated the mathematical order that permeates the discipline, or they have an intrinsic talent for solving problems. Vishvas Chalishazar had all of those qualities. He wanted to be a professional actor.

“From a very early age, I loved being on stage,” said Chalishazar, a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science who came to Oregon State from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. “Right up until the time I went to high school, I thought about studying acting.”

During his early teenage years, Chalishazar put his energy into stage craft, performing near home as well as in France and Belgium. “My idea was to go to Mumbai and study acting instead of going to a traditional high school,” he explained. “I auditioned for acting school and I was accepted. If I had gone, I would have worked with one of Bollywood’s famous directors, but I would have had to leave school immediately to go live in Mumbai away from my family.”

That’s just not how things are done in Gujarat, which has a reputation for producing astute business people, according to Chalishazar. His parents assumed he would attend high school and join the family business — a small factory that manufactures corrugated cartons. “My ideas about acting caused a little trouble in the family,” he said. “My parents were afraid of me going to Mumbai just fresh out of 10th grade. They feared I was too young. They wanted me to finish high school and then follow my dreams.”

It was a tough decision, but ultimately Chalishazar figured he’d probably make a better engineer than an actor. But even during his undergraduate years at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science’s Dubai campus, he stayed involved with the theater and even collected half a dozen awards. He also won many intercollegiate chess tournaments along the way.

After receiving his bachelor’s of engineering degree, Chalishazar went back home to learn his father’s business. “I wanted to make sure I knew how it operated in case I needed to join it at some point,” he said. (His father first worked at the factory as an employee. Then, a few years later, he bought the entire company and has been the running it for past 25 years.)

Chalishazar’s next stop was Oregon State, where he’s now immersed in his advanced studies under the guidance of advisor and mentor Associate Professor Ted Brekken and once again finding success. In February, he took first place for best overall poster presentation at the annual Graduate Research Showcase. His work addressed what’s needed to make the electrical grid more robust and resilient. “We’re trying to figure out how to increase the chances that hospitals will continue to receive power after an earthquake,” he said.

Chalishazar expects to earn his Ph.D. in 2018 and plans to work in the renewable resources field. “I want to stay here for a few years to learn the industry,” he said. “Eventually, I hope to return to India to form a start-up — perhaps a non-profit — that can help make renewable resources available and affordable to underprivileged communities.”

It sounds like the perfect role for him.

— Steve Frandzel

Published Date: 
Thursday, March 23, 2017