Driven by the phrase “aspire to inspire,” Kiran Bagalkotkar has spent her collegiate career as a consistent academic achiever, an avid researcher, and dedicated leader.  

Now, the industrial and systems engineering major from Yorktown, Virginia, is being honored as the College of Engineering’s 2019 Outstanding Senior.

Bagalkotkar self describes herself as a “mixed-race, freckle-faced woman” that represents how Virginia Tech is breaking boundaries and inspiring the next generation of diverse engineers.  

Due to her curious nature, Bagalkotkar became an avid researcher the minute she walked onto campus. She identified human factors and ergonomics as an area of interest and approached Joe Gabbard, associate professor in industrial and systems engineering and director of the COGnitive Engineering for Novel Technologies Lab, about his research and requested to get involved. From there, she began working as an undergraduate researcher focused on augmented reality.

COGENT Lab
Kiran Bagalkotkar with members of the COGENT Lab. She is photographed third from the left.

Bagalkotkar obtained valuable international undergraduate research experience related to augmented reality in collaboration with Gabbard and with funding from the National Science Foundation at the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom. She created simulated driving studies utilizing augmented reality-based head-up displays to study the impact of glance patterns on automotive driving performance and reaction time.

The undergraduate research experience solidified her interest in graduate studies.

Kiran Bagalkotkar
Kiran Bagalkotkar at the University of Nottingham

“Kiran is poised, confident, and extremely smart, but importantly, relatable and engaging when you talk to her,” said Gabbard. “Kiran’s passion about Virginia Tech, helping others, and constantly learning is inspiring. She is the single most impressive person that I have worked with, and I consistently find myself challenged by her.”

Bagalkotkar has contributed to five research projects spanning three different departments. She published a paper at the 2016 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition and is currently first author on a pending journal article.

She is currently applying her knowledge of user experience design with Redshift Education, a start-up firm in Blacksburg, Virginia, that focuses on designing student-centered learning and experiential learning systems. She has conducted studies and evaluated project-based learning lessons in virtual reality. She researched design principles, user experiences, and the intuitiveness of Oculus Go and Gear Virtual Reality lesson apps. She also designed features for virtual reality lessons, including notification bubbles, icons, user interfaces, and interaction methods.

Bagalkotkar gained professional work experience through five internships and one co-op with NASA's Langley Research Center, General Electric Aviation, General Electric Transportation, UTC Aerospace Systems, and Bank of America.

Last spring, Bagalkotkar led a small group of students in an unfunded pilot research project with COGENT and United Technology Aerospace Systems. Her leadership and dedication not only yielded a successful demonstration and presentation, but also impressed UTAS so much that they sponsored a senior design project for 2018-19, thereby allowing her team to extend that project for the full academic year.

With a desire to give back, Bagalkotkar applied for and was selected to be on the College of Engineering’s Dean’s Team, which she has been a member of for two years. This opened up a channel for her to serve the college and actively contribute to the college’s diversity initiative by encouraging fellow minority students to bring their unique perspectives to Virginia Tech.

Prior to her work with the Dean’s Team, she became a leader in Maximum Potential, a program that assists first-generation college students from underprivileged areas. There, she coached students on such topics as how to apply for college, how to write college scholarship essays, and how to submit a FAFSA.

Additionally, Bagalkotkar has served as vice president and now president of Alpha Pi Mu, the industrial and systems engineering honor society. In this role, she helped establish an alumni-student-based mentoring program, organized alumni panels for students, and organized networking events for companies looking to hire students in the industrial and systems engineering discipline. Under her leadership, the honor society has received the Outstanding National Chapter in the U.S. for the past couple of years.

In addition to the experiences and organizations that helped shape Bagalkotkar as an engineer, she has always striven for equal representation and support of women. She started as a member of the Hypatia Living-Learning community for women, became a mentor, and then joined the Galipatia Leadership Team. It was in Galipatia that Bagalkotkar taught other mentors to effectively support their peers.

Bagalkotkar's passion and willingness to help others is what drives her. So much so, that she saw the need for a women’s table tennis team and decided to co-found a team with little experience in ping pong.  

Bagalkotkar has also shown her dedication to service through participation in various events, such as Big Event, NRV Reading Hour, Micha’s Backpack, VTHacks, Pulaski Animal Shelter, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, Stop Hunger Now, Roanoke Mission Thrift Store, Blacksburg Community Center, and ReNew the New.

Bagalkotkar will be returning to the College of Engineering to complete her accelerated master’s degree in industrial and systems engineering while working for the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity as a graduate instructor.

“Virginia Tech has given me so many opportunities; I am incredibly grateful that I am able to come and give back to the university,” Bagalkotkar said. “I wish to serve my students with the same dedication that I received from my professors at Virginia Tech, aspiring to inspire the next generation of servant leaders."

Written by Linda Hazelwood