Nagi Naganathan arrived in New York nearly 40 years ago carrying two plywood suitcases, $184, and dreams of becoming an engineer.
Naganathan, who is the youngest of nine children and was raised in Kumbakonam, India, had heard from his father that if he wanted to eat, he’d better go to college; and if he wanted to eat well, he better pursue medicine or engineering, of which he chose the latter.
“I landed as an international student in JFK Airport in New York in August 1979,” Naganathan told an attentive crowd Friday. “I remember carefully counting how much money I had in my wallet.
“While I am blessed to have more in my possession today than I had in those suitcases, I have never forgotten where I came from,” Naganathan added.
On Friday, Naganathan — an engineer, former dean at University of Toledo, and Oregon Tech’s seventh president — stood before about 500 people, including a number of his immediate and extended family, for his formal investiture ceremony.
The ceremony officially kicks off tenure of a university president and sets the stage for his time at the university.
In the first investiture that Oregon Tech has hosted since late 1990s, Naganathan announced a $4 million foundation campaign to invest in moving the university forward.
Oregon Tech has raised approximately $3 million from large donations, including a $2 million donation from members of the late Dick Wendt and Nancy Wendt family for Oregon Tech’s new engineering complex.
Naganathan also said the university plans to break ground on major renovations to the university’s softball complex in June and to name it after John and the late Lois Stilwell, who donated $1 million to the university.
The ceremony was widely attended by local leaders as well as by Sen. Betsy Johnson, Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, and many of Naganathan’s family members from across the country and the globe.
Naganathan, flanked by university faculty, staff and Board of Trustees, urged the community and the university not to be “quiet” about its accomplishments and to set the bar even higher for the university.
“We will not let anyone tell us what we cannot do,” Naganathan said.
“As a polytechnic for the 21st century, we will defy the caste system in post-secondary education. We will create a new kind of workforce by creating a seamless pathway for our students in Oregon.
“We want every one of our graduates to walk with a quiet swagger,” he added. “A swagger of confidence, not arrogance.”
The ceremony also included the gifting of the Chain of Office, a medallion given to each of the seven Oregon Tech presidents, including former President Chris Maples and the late Martha Ann Dow, though not all during investitures.
The ceremony included remarks from Board of Trustees Lisa Graham, Steve Sliwa, and Stephen LeBlanc, interim vice president of University of Toledo in Ohio.
“Oregon Tech is trying to achieve its full potential as Industry’s university,” Naganathan said.
Naganathan said he would like to see industry professionals on the Klamath Falls campus on a regular basis, in order to build an even more seamless transition for students entering industry fields following commencement.
“This is something we must intentionally build on,” Naganathan added.