Perseverance is often instilled within us from a young age. We are taught that if we work hard and apply ourselves, we can overcome any obstacle. We learn that we might stumble, but if we can pick ourselves back up and push forward, then we can become the most complete version of ourselves.
Rachel and Skaria Kalluvilayil’s story epitomizes perseverance. While theirs was not a traditional path, it shaped them into people who believe in the power of education, the importance of family, and the impact of investing in the lives of others, which are all values they have instilled into their children: Sanjay ’95 ’98, Sony ’00 and Sylvia ’02.
To thank their parents for providing them the gift of educational opportunities, the siblings established a Foundation Excellence Award (FEA) scholarship in their honor.
Paving the Way
Rachel was born in Mezhuveli, a village in Kerala, India, where she was raised by her grandparents after losing her father when she was just three months old. Always dreaming of being successful, she found her way to nursing school at Miraj Medical Center in Maharashtra, India, where she graduated No. 2 in her class. After completing her education, she later enlisted in the Indian military as a nurse, where she later met her husband, Skaria.
As the story goes, while working as an Indian military officer, Skaria was posted at a train station where he assisted Rachel with a ticket exchange one day as she travelled for her military admittance interview. He became enamored but only knew what hospital Rachel worked at and her first name. Despite parting ways on the platform, Skaria found her and for two years they exchanged letters before eventually marrying in 1971.
Due to nursing shortages in the 1970s, the couple found immigration opportunities to the United States and, in 1973, Rachel blazed the trail to America for her family. Skaria followed in August 1974, while their newborn son, Sanjay, was brought over in 1975 when they settled in Albany, New York.
Although Skaria lacked a higher-level education, he worked hard and moved his way up different organizations, from laundromats and gas stations to the New York State Education Department, all to support his family. In 1978, the family moved to Carrollton, Texas, where Skaria defied all the odds yet again and found work as an analyst at the Computer Language Research Company.
Through their journey, the Kalluvilayils realized the power and potential that education has on the trajectory of one’s life and sought to instill that within their children. They worked hard to provide each of them with the tools and opportunities they never had.
Three Siblings, Three Paths
Sanjay began his family’s Aggie legacy, graduating with his bachelor’s degree in psychology followed by his MBA. Despite obtaining degrees in different fields, he has no regrets and knows his diverse education has given him the tools to succeed.
“I’ve always asked myself where I want to be in five, 10 or 15 years down the road and then tried to identify how to get there,” he said. “My biggest piece of advice for today’s students is that you shouldn’t be afraid to create your own path.”
This lesson guided Sanjay in leadership roles at Ernst & Young Management Consulting, Ericsson, and his current role as a SVP, Strategy & Business Development at t3 Broadband, a telecommunications company, and is something he wants to pass down to future generations, especially the students who are awarded the family’s FEA scholarship.
Sony, much like his parents, took a less conventional path in life that ultimately led him to Aggieland. After attending a few other universities in Texas, he came to Texas A&M and never looked back. When the Bonfire collapsed while he was a student, he saw the power of the Aggie family firsthand. The experience left him incredibly proud of his alma matter, and he often reflects on the lessons of tenacity he gained as a student that shaped him into the person he is today. He credits his time in school and his MBA from SMU to his success as a Director at KPMG, one of the Big Four accounting firms.
Through his Aggieland experience, Sony realized that many aspects of college provide growth and development for students. “College is much more than just education in a classroom,” he said. “Social interactions and activities are also an important part of the college experience that are worth taking advantage of.”
Sylvia was essentially an Aggie before she even came to campus. Although she followed in her brothers’ footsteps, she made her own way once in Aggieland. As a national founding member of Delta Kappa Delta Sorority, Inc., a South Asian service sorority, Sylvia permanently impacted the culture of diversity on campus. Her involvement in the organization taught her the importance of engaging with diverse groups rather than staying in the bubble where you are comfortable.
After graduating, she decided to further embrace the principles of a good education that her parents instilled in her and pursue an MBA at the University of Texas at Dallas, leading her to a career in technology and to her current role at McAfee, a cybersecurity company. “At the end of the day, if you take everything away, the only thing nobody can take away from you is knowledge,” she said.
Paying it Forward
Reflecting on their unique story and individual journeys, the Kalluvilayils agree that education is the key to standing out and differentiating yourself. As a way to honor this mindset and thank their parents for their constant support, Sylvia, Sony and Sanjay created The Kalluvilayil Family Foundation Excellence Award to support deserving Aggies. To establish the $100,000 endowment, they leveraged their employer’s matching funds program.
Since 1999, Foundation Excellence Award scholarships have helped recruit and retain outstanding undergraduates from underrepresented groups, including minorities and those who face significant economic or educational hurdles. FEA scholarships are funded by more than $15 million in gifts and pledges that supported more than 500 students during the 2020 academic year.
They hope that through this scholarship, not only can many future students benefit from and pursue an education previously unavailable to them, but they can also pass down the same family lessons that guided them: the power of education, the importance of family and the impact of investing in the lives of others.
“We are thankful to God they decided to set this up together. It is best to give when you are in a position to give,” said Rachel and Skaria. “With how we struggled and sacrificed, we hope this will lessen the struggle for other families to receive a higher education and a pursue better life.”
Endowed FEA scholarships provide one student an annual stipend for four years and continue supporting a new student every four years. FEAs can be named in memory or honor of a person, class or organization of the donor’s choice. Gifts are tax-deductible, and many individuals choose to utilize their employers’ matching gift programs to fund their scholarship.
To learn how you can create an FEA, contact Annette Forst ’88 at (979) 458-0371 or by submitting a message using the contact form below.