Optional Practical Training Offers
Accomplished Engineering Firm a Diverse Talent Pool
Gnanadesikan Ramanujanm, P.E. or “Ram” is the president and CEO of Detroit’s Somat Engineering firm. Somat’s projects include the University of Michigan G.G. Brown building addition and the I-75 Ambassador Bridge Gateway Project.The company was started in 1986 by founders Ramji Patel and Dr. Vijaysinh Mahida and was established with an interest in emerging infrastructure engineering technologies and environmental services. After originally being hired at entry level through Optional Practical Training, Ram worked his way up in the company not only with office work, but his initiative to learn all facets of the firm’s field work as well.His personal success, as well as the success of the company didn’t come without roadblocks.
At first,Ram’s journey to the United States in 1986 was not inspired by the traditional path of education or hopes of employment, but rather an his desire to travel. “Originally it wasn’t necessarily about studies, it was about seeing the United States.” said Ram.Though his father refused to give him money for exploring, Ram was promised a one-way plane ticket and seven hundred dollars for his admission into an American university. After getting his Masters in civil engineering from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee; Ram said finding work in his field down South wasn’t going as planned. Following his graduation, Ram worked a number of odd jobs for almost a year before joining his younger brother in moving to Detroit. “My younger brother found a job in Detroit working for GM and he invited me to come here.That’s the reason I came here, and sure enough, within two weeks of moving to Detroit I got a job at Somat where I still work.”
Before Ram became a U.S. citizen, he was hired through OPT (optional practical training).He contributed his current success to a multitude of reasons. He said one of the biggest factors was his boss’s experience as an immigrant. “I think a big factor in my success is the fact that my boss who owns the company is himself an immigrant. He could relate to my struggles, he could relate to my shortcomings, and he was able to see beyond those things and give me a chance.” Ram explained how he and his boss worked together to be successful as an American company by learning not only about what it takes to get the job itself done well, but how to run a successful firm with employees who understand proper business practices and customs.
Since its inception over thirty years ago, Somat has grown from one small office to six offices handling numerous high-profile projects across the country and even in India. Ram says this wouldn’t be possible without the talented employees Somat hires. “I think that if you take the easy path as an employer you could miss out on some great talent that is here in the country. At Somat where I work we have a really diverse group of people. We have immigrants from all over the world, as well as local talent. We also have people of all races and religions.” Somat has a long history of hiring employees through OPT. Currently, Somat has several staff members on H-1B visas, many of whom started on OPT. Ram says the mixture of backgrounds and perspectives of the company’s staff heavily influences their adaptability to a multitude of professional situations and helps them keep a diverse clientele base.