The Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA) invited Hema Shroff Patel ’86 to speak at a college fair in Mumbai, India. The Indian students attending the fair were potentially interested in attending colleges in the GLCA, including Kalamazoo College. Patel spoke to them about her liberal arts education experience and how it led her to a life in Mumbai as a businesswoman. She had special praise for Kalamazoo College.
Patel had planned on attending the University of Michigan to earn a degree in economics, but she began her freshman year after the semester’s start at U of M. Her solution was to begin her studies at K, with its later start date due to the quarter system, and then transfer. Patel hadn’t counted on falling in love with K.
“I ended up spending the four best years of my life at K,” Patel told GLCA members and students. At K, she learned how to be flexible and adaptable, she said. Patel studied economics, political science, psychology, anthropology, and sociology. She learned how to view opportunities from many different perspectives, how to find innovative solutions, and how to work with people from varied cultural backgrounds.
Her skills and education came together into a textile and weaving business called Amba that Patel began in Mumbai in 1999. Born in the United States, she moved to India 22 years ago to join her family and establish her business of traditional forms of weaving, block printing, and eco-friendly natural dyeing. Amba is a social entrepreneurship that supports craft heritage in rural India.
“I marvel at how much I have used my liberal arts education in textile revival,” Patel said. “I use my communication skills with people of many different backgrounds. I interact with weavers who speak no English. I apply political science when I apply for grants, and economics and finance in running my business. A liberal arts education opens doors to the global village our world has become.”