Auburn Spotlight, Viraja Khollam

"I really liked the concept of the Auburn Family. In my culture, family is given highest priority, which made my decision of coming to Auburn easy."
Viraja Khollam
President, Indian Student Association

Spotlight Interview

Viraja Khollam is a graduate student studying aerospace engineering from the town of Pune in Maharashtra, India. She is the president of the Indian Student Association and a graduate assistant for Auburn Global.

Why did you choose to come to Auburn?

When I was applying to different universities, I contacted professors asking about research opportunities. Professor Brian Thurow replied to me in less than 24 hours where as other universities took a long time or didn’t reply at all. His reply made me feel that I would be valued. Also, when I was going through the Auburn website, I really liked the concept of the Auburn Family. In my culture, family is given highest priority, which made my decision of coming to Auburn easy. Lastly, because of the weather: no snowstorms or sandstorms or any extreme weather changes.

How did you get involved with the Indian Student Association?

Indian Student Association, or ISA, helps incoming international students coming from an Indian subcontinent. We help them with free temporary accommodation as well as signing up for utilities and bank work along with initial grocery trips, if required. When I decided to come to Auburn, I contacted ISA and they helped me with everything. I was so overwhelmed by the generosity, I felt like giving it back to the community. In my first year as cultural vice president, I realized ISA has great potential to become bigger and greater, so I decided to run for president. Due to my previous work, I was elected unopposed which was a surprise for me.

What does it mean to you to work with ISA?

ISA taught me how to be a leader. It taught me that if you hit a dead end, then create your own door or window. In other words, don’t give up and you can always do better. It taught me not to cry or complain about belonging to a minor community on campus, but instead feel proud of being different and exotic.

What is the latest news on what ISA is working on?

ISA collaborated with UPC for an event, “Dinner and Dancing,” and theme was “street markets of India.” We showcased cultural pieces, hada henna booth and traditional dancers. ISA is also working on getting funds for bringing a band, which would be traveling to the U.S. from India for the traditional event “Navratri” — one of India’s most popular festivals. Apart from that, we are trying to create decorations for our signature event “Diwali: Festival of lights,” where President Jay Gogue is going to be the chief guest.

How can other students get involved with ISA?

Other students can join executive committee by becoming ISA officers or volunteer for certain events. We need volunteers because many team members don’t have cars, which makes transportation of goods on event day a problem. If they know how to dance, sing or play instruments they can participate in the cultural show for Diwali. They can join us through AU involve and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

What is your favorite Auburn tradition?

My favorite Auburn tradition is greeting the Auburn Family with “War Eagle!” While traveling in Mumbai, one of the largest cities in India with a population of 20 million, I was on one of the busiest streets and someone traveling on the sidewalk shouted, “War Eagle,” so I replied with the same intensity, “War Eagle!” We were connected instantly and conversed despite the people staring at us.

What are your plans post graduation?

I want to work in the U.S. for a few years in the aerospace field and also work on making fluid mechanics analysis better. I want to learn more about the American culture along with other cultures. If possible, I want to work for Auburn University and help other international students. I also want to encourage women from developing countries to join STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics.