Faculty Profile: Rohan Shirwaiker

There is a joke about fathers in India. A father says to his son, “You can study any field you want. As long as it is medicine or engineering.” India has a developing economy and engineers play a vital role in its success. So naturally, there is a huge demand for engineers. But, it was peer, not societal pressure that led ISE associate professor Rohan Shirwaiker to a career in industrial engineering.

Joking aside, Shirwaiker’s parents never pushed him into pursuing a field that did not interest him. He gravitated towards engineering because of his cousins and friends. “Peer pressure is very real, and I am glad I was surrounded by like-minded peers who valued education and engineering,” said Shirwaiker.

During high school, he took some technical electives that gave him a good feel for engineering problem solving. Although he did not understand the complexities of production and industrial engineering, the idea of working with machines and systems to help make “stuff” faster, better, and cheaper seemed exciting.

This newfound excitement led him to the University of Mumbai where he would receive his bachelor’s degree in production engineering. Although he was an average student in high school, something changed in college. “I started enjoying classes,” said Shirwaiker. “I loved what I was learning about design and manufacturing, and graduate school seemed like the logical next step.” And talk about peer-pressure, his entire group of high school friends went to the U.S. or Europe to complete graduate school.

After turning down offers from other schools including NC State (We can forgive him for that) Shirwaiker enrolled at Penn State. While working on his master’s thesis, he realized that he wanted to stay and pursue a Ph.D. During his time in college, Shirwaiker completed four industry internships. “Although I enjoyed those experiences, I figured that was not what I wanted to do as a career,” he explained. “Early on in my Ph.D., I developed an inclination towards academia, and having an opportunity to teach a class cemented my intent to become a professor.”

After finally making the right choice, Shirwaiker arrived at NC State in 2011 where he specializes in biomedical manufacturing. “I use the same fundamental industrial engineering philosophies and approaches, but I make products out of living cells and biomaterials,” said Shirwaiker. His 3D tissue manufacturing research team focuses on the design and manufacturing of living tissues that physicians use to treat diseases and injuries as well as in diagnostic testing and research. “In everything we do, the IE mantra of making ‘stuff’ faster, cheaper, better applies, but the stuff here is a living tissue and not a car or a pacemaker,” said Shirwaiker.

So when it comes to the joke about Indian fathers and their career advice, it seems that Rohan Shirwaiker got the last laugh. He chose both.