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Padmasree Warrior Headshot

In Pursuit of the American Dream

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People may assume that with a last name like "Warrior," the baton of victory must have been handed to me. The truth is far from it.

I grew up in a small town in Southern India and spent part of my childhood home-schooled because I suffered from acute asthma. Restricted from outdoor sports and physical activities, I developed an interest in music, dance and art. I taught myself how to draw and paint. Books became my best friends as I read voraciously and escaped to imaginary lands. My mom was everything to me during this time - caregiver, teacher, friend and unwitting lab partner when I wreaked havoc on our home with science experiments! Even as a young child, I was very competitive aiming to rank first in all the subjects. Working off lesson plans delivered to my home, I became a fast learner out of necessity, as we did not have resources like the Khan Academy, Coursera or any MOOC education service back then. Early on, I taught myself to simplify complex concepts so I could commit them to memory. Mastering the art of simplification helped me with the gradual personal transformation from my youth. Today, my peers in the fast changing global technology industry value this ability as one of my greatest leadership strengths.

Each of us is shaped by our unique experiences, whether they are life experiences or professional experiences. The sum of these experiences constantly transforms who we are. Sometimes the transformation is gradual, almost indiscernible. And at other times it is sudden, where a single watershed moment - the "Aha!" moment - causes dramatic personal transformation.

An early watershed moment in my life was when I left home to attend the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi. I was excited to attend such a prestigious school, yet I was anxious about leaving home. I felt isolated as one of only five women in my class of over two hundred students. I still recall the advice my dad gave me back then, "You've chosen your path, now it's up to you to make the journey interesting." These words echoed in my mind when I encountered my next significant watershed moment and decided to pursue the "American dream." Making the decision to move from India to the U.S as a graduate student was easy; the hard part was the harsh reality of arriving at the JFK airport on a one-way ticket with less than $100 in my pocket. The year was 1982. I struggled through my first Cornell winter with a coat I bought at a garage sale for $10!

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Padmasree Warrior, IIT Delhi, 1982

The greatest thing I did to jumpstart my career was to say "Yes!" and seize opportunities. I accompanied a friend to a career fair at Cornell university, filled out an application while I waited for her, flew across the country for an interview at a place I'd never been, put my doctorate degree on hold to accept an engineering position at Motorola in Arizona. The experiences I have accumulated since then have transformed me gradually over the past 30-some years. I don't notice the change in myself but when I now meet my childhood friends in India they tell me I am different - more confident and independent than before. Part of appreciating how far you've come is remembering where you've come from. The love for art that I developed as a sick child is still strong in me. The sources for my creativity to this day are painting, poetry and literature.

Fast forward to 2014. I am passionate about paying it forward and helping others pursue the American dream. Change is born within us, but grows only when we've touched someone else.

This personal history is an important part of who I am today. The immigrant experience is one shared by many Americans and it is part of what makes this country great. I am a proud member of the honorary board of Welcome.us, an organization focused on celebrating America's unique immigrant heritage. During this June, in honor of the first-ever Immigrant Heritage Month, Welcome.us is encouraging Americans to share how they first felt welcome in the American experience. Each time we share our personal journey, it is another opportunity for someone else to see himself or herself in our story. And that bond - that shared experience as Americans - is powerful. Visit Welcome.us to learn more about Immigrant History Month and share your #welcomeus story.

This article is part of a series that will run throughout the week in celebration of Immigrant Heritage Month, a commemorative project that celebrates the United States as a nation founded and fueled by immigrants. To learn more, please visit Welcome.us.