Meet Meghnaa Tallapragada
The first-place award in the Humanities and Design category at this year's Graduate Student Research Symposium went to Meghnaa Tallapragada. A second-year graduate student in the Department of Communication, her winning poster presented her research on "Public engagement in developing countries: A proposal for engagement for nanotechnology in water purification."
Tallapragada was born and raised in Hyderabad, India, and earned her undergraduate degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from Chaitanya Bharathi Institute of Technology (Osmania University) in Hyderabad. After being admitted to the graduate program at NC State, she credits Dr. Melissa Johnson with helping her make the difficult transition from engineering to communication.
So, what brought an engineering student from India to NC State in pursuit of a degree in communication? Tallapragada says that it was her father ". . . Srikant Tallapragada, [who] was keen on me pursing higher education from a good University and his preference was NC State. He was admitted to a graduate program in a US University in the 1970s (he still cherishes his admission letter) but, could not pursue it then due to personal commitments. I wanted to make this dream of his a reality and came here initially for my masters in engineering."
But during her first semester, she was forced to rethink her decision. With the help of NC State's Counseling Center, Tallapragada discovered that her interests and her strengths were in the communication field. Dr. Johnson proposed the ideas of combining her engineering background with communication and working as a research assistant with Dr. David Berube helped her tie the two fields together.
For her graduate research, Tallapragada created ". . . a public engagement model that can be used to introduce new technology to rural people in developing countries." Her model -– introducing nanotechnology for water purification as an example -- is not designed to persuade rural people, rather it gives them the opportunity to make decisions based on the risks and benefits associated with the specific technology. Tallapragada states: "The important element is that there should be exchange of information between the panel and rural people. The technical details can be provided by people in the panels whereas local knowledge and other specificities of these regions can be given by local people." She firmly believes that the key is two-way communication, a dialogue between the panels and the locals.
Tallapragada's approach to this communication issue is unique. She says that currently, the existing good research on public engagement has been developed in the western world. "Coming from a developing country, I was able to apply western theories and customize them to suit non-western developing nations."
And as she got further into her research, she discovered ". . . that it wasn't sufficient to develop one engagement model for all publics of developing nations. There are multiple publics in each country and each public (rural and urban) needs to be engaged differently."
The Graduate Student Research Symposium was Tallapragada's first presentation. But she says that she's rather surprised that she didn't ". . . find it difficult to design my first poster. My engineering background helps me think in lines of models, flow charts, and algorithms so, I was able to apply them to this study. I always found that people understood better when proposed ideas were presented to them visually." The only thing she would add to the poster is a definition for the term "public engagement" -- that way people can quickly know what the model is about. Winning her first poster competition was special, but it was made even more so by having her mother, Premalatha, here for the symposium.
When Tallapragada isn't working on her graduate research or in class, she likes to go shopping, catch up with her friends, or watch movies. She's also has a black belt in karate and was Indian national-level gold medalist in kick-boxing -- two things that have been put on hold for her graduate studies. But she hopes to get back to those some day soon!
With all these activities, it's no wonder that Tallaprgrada's advice to her fellow graduate students is to manage their time and connections effectively. "It is important to schedule your time and I find it helpful to keep weekly timelines. Developing good connections with your faculty and co-graduate students is also essential. Networking helps improve your knowledge and broaden your horizons."
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