Why a Rice parent, friend remains devoted to a school he didn't attend

Mallik S. Putcha, whose son graduated from Rice in 1991, establishes endowment in honor of parents.

Mallik S. Putcha headshot

Mallik S. Putcha feels an alumnus’ loyalty and devotion to Rice University, a school he never attended.

“All of my thoughts about Rice are happy. It’s a place that has been good to me and to my family, and I wish to give something back,” said Putcha, a systems engineer and independent consultant in aerospace.

His son, Dr. Girish Putcha, graduated from Rice in 1991 with a B.A. in medical ethics and health policy, and now is the chief medical officer and clinical laboratory director at Freenome, a South San Francisco-based startup. Mallik’s daughter earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago.

In 2019, Mallik committed $100,000 to establish an endowment for the Department of Computational Applied Mathematics and Operations Research (CMOR) at Rice. The gift supports CMOR’s efforts to fund graduate fellowships, research seed funding for junior faculty and a lecture series.

The fund is named the Lakshmi Narasimham and Rama Lakshmi Putcha Excellence Fund in honor of Putcha’s parents.

At the heart of Putcha’s longtime relationship with Rice is his friendship with the late C. Sidney Burrus, who died last year at age 86. Burrus was a member of the Rice faulty for 56 years. He served as chair of electrical and computer engineering 1984 to 1992, as dean of engineering from 1998 to 2005, and interim dean in 2010-11.

“With Sidney I could talk about anything,” Putcha said. “We could talk about electrical engineering, very technical things, about my school in India, about family, about what it was like to run an engineering school. He was always delightful company, a good sport.”

Putcha, 79, was born in India. He earned a B. Tech. in electrical engineering and an M. Tech. in advanced electronics, both from the Indian Institute of Technology at Madras, in 1964 and 1966, respectively. He came to the U.S. in 1972 to study at the University of Houston, where he eventually earned three degrees, including an MBA.

With the cooperation of Burrus, Putcha established various exchange programs with his alma mater, IIT at Madras.

Much of Putcha’s career in the U.S. has been devoted to aerospace engineering. He worked for Ford Aerospace, IBM and NASA contractors. As a software engineer with Boeing’s Space Integration Division in Houston, with a role in improving performance in the International Space Station.

In 2012 he retired as a senior systems engineer with Cimarron Inc. Since then, he has helped develop the spiritual app iBhagavatam Ani Mutyalu (iBAM) for the global outreach of Telugu spiritual and literary works, using mobile devices and platforms.

Since Hurricane Harvey in August 2017, Putcha has helped develop “System of Systems (SoS) Framework for the Houston 21st Century Water Resilience” with Burrus, other Rice faculty members and NASA/aerospace colleagues.

“There is so much you can accomplish with collaboration,” Putcha said. “I do miss Sidney, his intellectual inquisitiveness. And I miss his enthusiasm for collaborating with others. That is a lesson for all of us.”