The Amy Award Winner: Vanitha Suresh

Vanitha Suresh has accomplished an incredible list of professional and personal feats that showcase her creative talents and passions.
Vanitha Suresh with a large instrument

Among Vanitha Suresh’s professional and personal feats are her skills as a musician. Pictured with traditional Indian musical instrument, the tanpura. Photo by Paulius Musteikis

When a Siemens projects division came to Vanitha Suresh’s college in India to interview candidates for engineers, the recruiters announced that only men would be considered for the job. “I was the only one who raised my hand and said, ‘Why are you biased about hiring women engineers?’ ” The manager — who later became an amazing mentor, Suresh says — raised his eyebrows and tried explaining that the job was physically demanding with a lot of travel to remote sites and villages to complete tasks with many moving parts. “I said, ‘I really think that a lot of us are very capable and you should give us a chance,’ ” Suresh remembers.

The recruiter heeded the advice and included women in the 350 multitiered interviews they conducted at her campus. Suresh was the only woman selected among six other graduates to move on to the final interview stage along with top candidates from a few other colleges in southern India. Only seven people were ultimately hired.

Suresh was one of those hires, becoming the division’s first female engineer in 10 years, and the first engineer in several generations of Suresh’s family. “I can’t think of a single moment where I’ve ever felt like I couldn’t do something because I was a woman,” Suresh says.

Since then Suresh has accomplished an incredible list of professional and personal feats that showcase her creative talents and passions: She’s a software consultant who’s worked as a software developer in several industries, a Carnatic (south Indian classical music) vocalist, a musician, the executive director of the nonprofit Melharmony Foundation and the founding director of the nonprofit SciArt services. She also runs a music school, was the first Indian immigrant to become a master trainer through the Wisconsin Arts Board’s Folk/Traditional Apprenticeship Program and she holds two master’s degrees. She’s married to University of Wisconsin–Madison professor Krishnan Suresh, with whom she has two musically talented sons, ages 18 and 11.

On any given day, Suresh might be making plans for the annual Twin Composer Melharmony Festival she spearheads that features top classical music artists from all over the world. On another day she might be working with Dane County school band and orchestra programs to bring globally acclaimed musicians to perform and speak in front of students. At night you might find her mentoring a second-generation Indian musician through her music school, Arohana Arts Academy. On the weekend she might be singing in a concert (she’s performed in places such as New York, Dallas, Chicago, San Jose and India’s Madras and Bangalore in the past). And somehow, on top of a full-time job as a medical software consultant, she also finds time to run SciArt Services, a nonprofit she founded to introduce kids — especially girls, minorities and underserved students — to fields in both STEM and the arts.

Suresh doesn’t keep a penny of the money she makes from her music school; profits go right to SciArt Services, including her initiative to award annual scholarships to underserved children, specifically girls, in India to pay for school and arts education. She has a particular soft spot for single women with children — her father died when she was 9, leaving her mother to raise four children by herself. “Having gone through a tragedy in life so early, she has been amazingly resilient,” Suresh says.

Suresh’s mother is one of her biggest inspirations, along with her immediate family, aunts, uncles, siblings, friends and her guru. Close friend and nominator Sara Parthasarathy says Suresh is always looking to give back and help others. “But she doesn’t brag about it,” says Parthasarathy. “She’s quietly getting things done and quietly making an impact.”

Suresh’s hard work and selfless dedication remind Parthasarathy of another amazing woman — Amy Gannon. Parthasarathy, who founded an Indian spice kit and curry sauce business, Flavor Temptations, considered Gannon a very close personal friend and mentor.

“I saw about this award and the first person who came to my mind was Vanitha,” Parthasarathy says. “I just know Amy would have approved of Vanitha and would have cheered for her. She would have been so proud of what Vanitha has done.”

Read more about The Amys here.

Footer that says Subscribe with covers of Madison Magazine