by Kaye Bennett
Suprotik Stotz-Ghosh ’95 counts among his heroes two figures from opposite sides of the globe. W.E. Upjohn, founder of the Upjohn Company and patron of Kalamazoo, says Stotz-Ghosh, taught him about legacy, while from the example of Mahatma Gandhi, he’s learned patience. Here’s how he’s tied those lessons together.
The American-born son of parents who moved from India to Detroit in 1961, Stotz-Ghosh says he was introduced to Kalamazoo College because he was recruited to play football, and he chose to attend because of the school’s global identity, its size, and the opportunity it afforded him to play baseball and football. Football is not what springs to mind when you hear a name like Stotz-Ghosh, or when you see the tall, thin 39-year-old, or when you find out that he wanted to major in English and always considered himself an artist.
As with so many other things in his life, Stotz-Ghosh’s interest in sports was very intentional. Although he loves sports and remains a huge Detroit Tigers fan, Stotz-Ghosh says, “My athletic skill was due to my drive to fit into American society.” He did that well, quarterbacking the Southfield-Lathrop High School team and catching the eye of K recruiters. His high school coach, he remembers, had asked Stotz-Ghosh if he’d ever thought about playing football in college, which, until then, he had not. Stotz-Ghosh says, “When you reflect on your life, a simple conversation can steer you.” He decided he would like to give college football a try, and his mother was impressed by K’s academic reputation.
Stotz-Ghosh liked the fact that K was the same size as his high school, and the Detroiter decided he could live in a small town for the next four years. “I thought I would move on after graduation.” He played football for K for his first two years and played baseball all four years.
Like many high-achieving high school graduates, Stotz-Ghosh says, “K’s rigor humbled me.” It wasn’t until study abroad that he finally became convinced that he belonged at K. Stotz-Ghosh spent three months traveling with students and professors from other Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA) schools. The students studied and did homestays in Germany, Poland, and England, examining the emerging democracy in the European Union. Returning home, Stotz-Ghosh says, “I started taking myself more seriously and trying harder. I felt an extraordinary gratitude to K for giving me this experience.”
He reflects on the role his Indian roots have played in his education and his career: “I’ve benefited from the way American society is constructed. My minority status, to an extent, pushed me through American society and schooling.” He acknowledges that he has experienced prejudice, but says, “When I broke the rules, I got a second chance. I think my teachers saw potential. That’s often not the case for other minorities or marginalized people.” He asks rhetorically, “Wouldn’t our community be more exciting if we gave everyone the chance to develop their potential and to get ahead?” This philosophy would guide many of his future career decisions.
Stotz-Ghosh refutes what he calls the myth that Asian-Americans in America are the “model minority.” His success was due not to race, but to his family’s culture. “We valued education. I knew from the beginning I would go to college,” he says. Stotz-Ghosh’s family did not give him a party when he graduated from high school, he says, because they knew that ceremony was just one small step on a long educational journey.
After graduating from K, Stotz-Ghosh found employment on campus for his first post-college job. He worked part-time at two not-for-profit organizations located at the Stryker Center, The Forum for Kalamazoo County and Healthy Futures. The jobs introduced him to people throughout the community and helped him see how he could make a career out of bringing diverse groups of people together.
But first: graduate school. At Western Michigan University, Stotz-Ghosh was gently guided away from fiction writing (by poet and WMU professor Stuart Dybek) and toward play-writing (with writer, actor, and WMU professor Arnie Johnson). Stotz-Ghosh says that people like Dybek and Johnson “gave me opportunities so I can see my own potential.” In addition to earning his master’s degree, Stotz-Ghosh’s years at WMU also allowed him to meet Julie Stotz, a Ph.D. candidate in the English Department. The two married in 1999 and today have two sons, Avi, 5, and Devin, 2. Julie Stotz-Ghosh teaches at Kalamazoo Valley Community College.
After WMU, Stotz-Ghosh worked at the Greater Kalamazoo United Way for seven years, serving as associate director of community investment. From there, he went to the Employment Management Services Division of the Upjohn Institute in 2007.
The four years he’d planned to stay in Kalamazoo had grown to 16. At times, he says, he struggled with the question of whether he had become too comfortable living here. But his hometown of Detroit was too anonymous, compared with the pleasure he felt being connected to so many people in this community through his work. He enjoyed recognizing people at Miller Auditorium shows and at the Farmer’s Market and at Art Hops. Connectivity, he was learning, was a human need, and Stotz-Ghosh believed he was finding that in Kalamazoo.
Both personally and professionally, Stotz-Ghosh examined the idea of quality of life. That’s where W. E. Upjohn comes in. Upjohn, says Stotz-Ghosh, not only knew how to run a business, but he also “spent considerable time building our community, and he left a legacy that deeply influences us today.” When his
"[Gandhi] helps me understand the pace of transformation."position ended at the Upjohn Institute in 2010, Stotz-Ghosh realized that he could go anywhere for his next job, “but I was glad I didn’t have to.”
Instead of relocating, he worked as a consultant, which included a contract for the Kalamazoo Community Foundation (KCF). Soon after, the KCF introduced a new position to support the development of The Learning Network of Greater Kalamazoo. Stotz-Ghosh applied for that job, got it, and in summer 2012 was promoted to the position of vice president of community investment.
The Learning Network, he says, is a large-scale initiative to rethink the way the Kalamazoo community looks at education, with a goal of better preparing all young people for success. The roots of public education in Kalamazoo go back to the 1850s, when this community became the first in the state to publicly fund a high school. The 2005 announcement of the Kalamazoo Promise Scholarship program was exciting and brought renewed attention to local education initiatives.
However, says Stotz-Ghosh, “as a result of The Promise, our community has learned that inserting a college scholarship is not sufficient to address the sometimes systemic barriers that students and families experience.” Viewing the Kalamazoo Promise as Stage 1, the community hopes that The Learning Network will prove to be Stage 2 of a community transformation focused on education. There are many local organizations and individuals working earnestly to address the problems of education, says Stotz-Ghosh, but we do not have a plan to align all those individual efforts to work toward shared goals. That’s the role that The Learning Network and Stotz-Ghosh hope to play.
It’s a huge and long-term project: The KCF has earmarked $5 million over five years, and the Kellogg Foundation will give $6 million over three years. Stotz-Ghosh feels that whether or not the community supports the new framework for improving educational outcomes will be determined in the next five years.
Five years, however, would be just an eye blink for Stotz-Ghosh’s maternal grandparents. Both were administrators for Mahatma Gandhi’s education system, tasked, Stotz-Ghosh says, with developing the curriculum to educate India’s poorest villages. Though he never met his grandparents, Stotz-Ghosh is proud of his lineage. He is inspired by their work and considers Gandhi a “guidepost.” Because Gandhi worked 33 years to see results, says Stotz- Ghosh, “he helps me understand the pace of transformation. He was a strategist, constantly adapting his approach to achieve India’s independence. He was the ultimate servant leader.”
Servant leader. . . Not a bad description of Suprotik Stotz-Ghosh.
Photo - Suprotik Stotz-Ghosh at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation