As Henry Ford famously proclaimed, “Whether you think you can or whether think you can’t, you’re right.” Throughout my life, I have learned that it is the mindset and determination which decides a person’s success or failure.
I share with you my humble story. I was a refugee child, who with the help of a brave, confident, and hardworking mother, I was able to realize my dream.
My name is Damyanti Gupta. I was born on May 10, 1942 in a very small village of Sindh, British India. In 1947, India became independent from Great Britain. This was not an easy accomplishment, as India was divided in two parts – India and Pakistan. The bloodiest partition in the world’s history happened in my country. The part of India where my family lived became Pakistan. There were riots everywhere, and my family had to flee in the middle of night to the coastal city of Karachi where we were loaded on the cargo ships.
We floated for several days before finally reaching Bombay. When we got off the ship, we were labelled as refugees. We couldn’t communicate with anyone because we spoke different languages. We wandered around from city to city looking for work, and we finally settled in Baroda, Gujrat where I was admitted into a refugee school. We used to sit on the floor in the classroom because there was no furniture in the school. I began learning three languages. One I had to write from right to left and two from left to right.
My mother, who had only a fourth-grade education, told me that by going to school, I would get something that nobody could take away from me – a good education. She promised to help me, but said that I would need to my part by being a good student. She reminded me of this every day and kept her promise until the end.
When I was 13 years old, our prime minister, Jawaharlal “Pandit” Nehru, visited our city. I was very excited to see him in person and to listen to his message. I found a place on the ground near the podium where he was to speak. Nehru said that after 200 years of British rule, India had no industry and that India needed industry. He looked at us and said that India needed engineers. Surveying the crowd, he said that he wasn’t just talking to the boys. He urged the girls to also consider this profession. This was the first time I had ever heard the word – engineer. I went home and told my mother that I want to become an engineer, so I began taking subjects to prepare me for engineering college.
After completing high school with very good grades, I was admitted into college for mechanical engineering. I was the first female to get into the engineering college. If being the only girl in the college wasn’t difficult enough, there wasn’t even a women’s restroom! I had to ride my bike over one and a half miles each way to use restroom. When the college’s Dean realized that I was there to stay, they built a beautiful ladies room just for me.
When I was 19 years old, I came across the biography of Henry Ford. In this book, Ford mentioned how he was successful in making cars affordable for the average-income family through his assembly-line concept. I began dreaming about one day working for Ford.
When I graduated from engineering college in my country, I applied to few universities in the United States for my master’s degree. I chose to attend Oklahoma State University because it was the least expensive of the universities I’d gained admission.
Sending their daughter to study in the United States was an incredibly big decision for my parents. This was going to cost them their life’s savings, and they still had three younger children at home. If sending their daughter to engineering college was not hard enough, sending her to the United States was unheard of. Even family and friends made fun of my parents at the idea.
My father was not 100% sure, but my mother kept her promise. I will never forget the conversation my mother had with my father while trying to convince him to let me study in the United States. My mother asked my father if he had ever seen her waste any money? She asked, “Do I go out to eat or go to the movies? Have you ever seen me gamble even one rupee?” My father asked why she was asking such silly questions. This is when my mother said, “Today, I am ready to gamble. She is going, and that is final.” There was no more discussion on the matter. This was her final verdict. No one said even one word after that.
I began my studies at Oklahoma State University inf January, 1966 where I was the first female engineer to be admitted. I graduated in January, 1967, and without hesitation, I headed to Dearborn, Michigan. I had no car, no boots – just my dream.
I became the first female engineer with an advanced degree at Ford Motor Company.
Damyanti “Rani” Gupta was born and raised during a very volatile time in India. Forced to leave everything they had worked so hard to achieve, Rani’s family fled to Mumbai. Her mother, who had only a fourth grade education, informed Rani the only thing that couldn’t be taken away was an education. And with those wise words, her mother promised that she would ensure Rani received an education. Rani first heard of engineering when she was 13 years old. It was at this time that Rani declared her desire to become an engineer. Rani was the first female to study engineering at her Indian college, and after graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, she began work in Germany. Rani later moved to Oklahoma where she was the first female to receive a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Oklahoma State University. After graduation, she moved to Detroit where she became Ford Motor Company’s first female engineer. Rani is the mother of two prominent sons, neurosurgeon and CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, and attorney, Suneel Gupta.