Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Deeksha Dharmapal - Well-rounded

Today (4/7/2020), Deeksha Dharmapal defended her master thesis on Gross Domestic Product for short-term load forecasting.

Deeksha received her B.S. in Civil Engineering from Bangalore Institute of Technology, India, in 2012. Prior to joining UNC Charlotte in Fall 2018, she had several years of industry experience in India, with Amazon and EMC2 (now DellEMC). During her graduate study at our program, she also completed a summer internship at Bosch Rexroth, Charlotte.

During the past few years, I gave a departmental seminar to new graduate students every year. Deeksha is definitely the one that left the best impression on me. Most students at the seminar stayed quiet, while Deeksha was one of the few asking questions. Her questions sounded genuine and intelligent. Nevertheless, I didn't think she would eventually join my group, because she appeared to have a bright future on the managerial track.

Among the students in our program, the self-motivated ones start looking for their faculty mentor rather early. Deeksha took an unique approach. She showed up at one of my MS student, Shreyashi Shukla's thesis defense. Later she signed up and completed my forecasting course, which was a surprise to me.

When she told me that she wanted to join my group, I gave her the same task, passing two SAS programmer certification exams. She completed the base one, but failed the advanced one in her first attempt. The outcome didn't surprise me, because I knew her programming background was weak at that time. Most students at this point would just give up and look for other professors. She didn't. Finally she got the SAS Advanced Programmer Certification. Since she didn't pass it within the time limit I assigned, I gave her an extra task, which she completed in time. I brought her to BigDEAL as my MS thesis student in the summer of 2019.

The thesis topic I gave her was non-trivial. Economic indicators are typically used for long term load forecasting but not short term load forecasting. I asked her to investigate what are the situations that we should consider economy, GDP to be specific, in short term load forecasting. This research involves a lot of programming skills as well as knowledge in statistics.  She picked up those things along the way, and had the thesis beautifully done.

As a forecaster, I love to investigate the things that I failed to predict. I was wondering how a little girl Deeksha surprised me multiple times by pushing herself out of her comfort zone and fighting such a tough uphill battle. Through some casual conversations, I learned that she was a student athlete. She ran track for the most part of her student life - short distance sprints and relay. She was on the basketball and volleyball teams. Post marriage, she has been playing competitive badminton.  I guess the sports experience must have built her a strong heart!

Congratulations, Deeksha!

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