PROFESSOR OF PHYSICAL EDUCATION
Dr. Kirpal Mahal, professor of physical education, has been an active and distinguished member of the Tusculum College faculty since 1994. But, have you ever wondered about how his life journey brought him to a small, private college in East Tennessee from his native India?
His life story is a series of unexpected turns, some daunting challenges and help from many people along the way that has shaped his teaching philosophy that focuses on helping students learn and grow.
The assistance he received from his teachers and the special interest they had in his success has led Dr. Mahal to give that same interest and help to his students. "When you see a student or students grow, it makes you feel so good," he says.
Dr. Mahal often receives calls from former students asking him for advice or just to let him know what a difference he made in their lives. In one such instance, a former student called to thank him for taking an interest in him and making him go to class, because without that interest he would not have graduated. Dr. Mahal recalled that the student, a football player, was a good person, but had a bad attitude toward his studies. However, with the attention from Dr. Mahal, that attitude began to change and he graduated.
"That is what we get from teaching," Dr. Mahal says of educator's motivations. "There is no price tag to that. That is why I teach."
But, all the students whose lives have been touched by Dr. Mahal would not have had that opportunity had he pursued his career aspiration as young boy in India - he wanted to join the nation's air force and be a pilot. However, his older brother entered the Indian Army, and his father had other aspirations for his younger son - to become an elementary school teacher. It was a government policy that teachers' assignments would be near their hometowns, which would make it possible for Dr. Mahal to help with the family farm.
Dr. Mahal was born in Pakistan, and his family moved to the Indian province of Punjab once that country gained its freedom from Great Britain. The family lost all they had in making the move, including some money his father had hidden away that was stolen during the moving process.
As a youngster, Dr. Mahal received one of his first helping hands. A bright student, his teacher encouraged him to take an exam to qualify to receive a scholarship to attend middle school. The trip to take the exam would cost 25 cents each way, but Dr. Mahal's father did not give him the money.
Distraught, the youngster ran to where the other students were gathering for the trip and told the teacher that he would not be able to go because he did not have the money for the trip. The teacher told him he would take care of the cost, and Dr. Mahal took the test and was awarded a scholarship.
A top student throughout school, Dr. Mahal earned his teaching certification and became an instructor in an elementary school near his family's farm. Teachers were only one of two careers that were allowed to "home school" themselves in continuing education, and Dr. Mahal's independent efforts earned him certification as a middle school language teacher.
Another of those unexpected turns came at the middle school where he had begun teaching. Just prior to a school assembly to celebrate "Children's Day," the headmaster of the school directed Dr. Mahal to give a speech during the program. However, when Dr. Mahal rose to speak, he froze and sat back down after telling the crowd he couldn't deliver the address.
Later in the day, the headmaster told Dr. Mahal that if he continued his education, he would be a headmaster in the future and would need to be able to speak in public. To meet this challenge, Dr. Mahal enrolled in drama classes and soon was writing his own songs and poetry.
Around this time, the Indian government opened a film institute in Bombay, and Dr. Mahal decided he wanted to attend with a new aspiration of becoming a screenwriter and director. As he was leaving to go take the entrance exam, the headmaster asked Dr. Mahal to seek his certification as a physical education teacher if he was not accepted into the film institute.
Although he ranked 18th among the applicants to the institute, it was not high enough as only those with the top 11 scores were accepted. Dr. Mahal then fulfilled his pledge to his headmaster by seeking his certification as a physical education teacher. This step in Dr. Mahal's life also was realized by the help of another - the headmaster paid for his first year of education toward physical education certification.
After earning a master's degree in physical education in India, Dr. Mahal decided he wanted to continue his education in the United States. However, in the early 1970s, it was a challenging task for a person from India to come to America to go to college.
Relations between the two countries were strained because of the United States' relationship with Pakistan, and a student from India had to have $3,000 in U.S. dollars in an account for their education before they would be allowed to enter the country. Dr. Mahal also had to take an English test, which he not only passed but also set a record high score.
But, that was not the only hurdle. The Indian government also had financial restrictions in place for students unless the person showed academic promise. That hurdle was also cleared by Dr. Mahal through his excellent academic performance.
Dr. Mahal was accepted into Howard University in Washington, D.C. to begin work towards his master's degree. Once arriving in this country, finances continued to be a challenge as foreign students were not allowed to work off campus for at least a year, a measure put into place to ensure foreign students had the financial means to pay for their education. Living off campus in an apartment, Dr. Mahal was able to find a job at the university's bookstore. As a student in the U.S., he found another helping hand in the form of a friend at the Indian Embassy in Washington who helped him adjust to the new culture.
How then did Dr. Mahal get to Tusculum? In the early 1990s, he was teaching at Kentucky State University and discovered a position was open at Tusculum. He did some investigation of the College and liked what he learned about the civic arts focus. During his interview, Dr. Mahal asked faculty members whether what was on paper was what he would experience day-to-day and was told it was. Once he came to Tusculum, Dr. Mahal said that promise was delivered. He has since become a respected member of the faculty, known for his commitment to student achievement and success.