Fung’s First Engagement: An MEng Love Story

By Caroline Osterman

At times, grad school can be difficult and stressful — but our students will tell you that it can also be enjoyable! Berkeley’s MEng cohort has a lot on their plate, from capstone projects to technical coursework, but they’re good at spending time taking in their year at Berkeley and exploring the greater San Francisco area. The Fung Institute provides orientations, brunches, and happy hours for students and alumni to mix and mingle, becoming lifelong friends and sometimes more.

Shilpi Mathrani (BIOE ’15) and Chaitanya Paga (ME ’15) are two alumni who met on the program and graduated three years ago — and the happy couple is now engaged! I asked the two about their life during and after their MEng program, and what their advice is for current students.

Tell us a bit about you.

Shilpi: My name is Shilpi and I am a Bay Area local, ever since I was born! I grew up in Fremont, CA, ventured to Berkeley for undergraduate studies in Bioengineering, and fell so in love with Berkeley that I stuck around for a Masters in Bioengineering as well. I currently am working at a consulting firm called ZS Associates located in San Mateo.

Chaitanya: My name is Chaitanya, I was born in India and moved to the US to get my Masters degree at Berkeley. I decided to pursue Mechanical Engineering during undergrad and continued that through my graduate studies. I currently work at Google as a Product Operations Analyst.

How were your experiences as MEng students?

Shilpi: I would say my MEng experience was one of the most amazing academic years of my whole life. I spent the year working on a capstone project regarding blood tests using a single droplet of blood, and as an extracurricular, I worked at a start-up in Albany called Mango Materials and was part of a dance troupe for classical Indian dancing called Kathak at Berkeley.

Chaitanya: It was an amazing year at my dream school! I learned a lot from my pool of professors and through my capstone projects, and made some good long lasting friendships. As an extracurricular I joined a Bollywood dance team on campus called Zahanat, and balanced my time between learning, the capstone project, and dancing.

How did you two meet?

Shilpi: I did my undergrad at UC Berkeley and loved my time there so much that I decided to apply for another year to do a 1-year masters in the Master of Engineering program. I was thrilled when I was accepted, and a Facebook group was created for people joining the program from all over the world to ask questions and get to know each other. I am generally an eager person, so I looked up people who were listed in the directory as our new starting class to see who I would be meeting come August when school started. One person piqued my interest — his name was Chaitanya. On the first day of class, I happened to brush by him and he stopped me and asked a single question: “How does GPA work here in the US?” He was from India and generally curious about this, and I was slightly disappointed that this was our first encounter! The next day, groups of people were forming friends, and I decided that since I had been to Berkeley for the last 4 years, I would show some people around campus. We started by meeting at the Campanile, the central clock tower on campus, and introduced ourselves to one another. This is the first time I “officially” met Chaitanya. Friendships were forming fast, and Chaitanya and I become very close friends over the course of a few weeks. It was about a month into school that he asked me out, and we’ve been going out ever since.

What made you think, “He/she could be the one!”

Shilpi: As we began spending time together initially and getting to know each other, I knew there was something special about Chaitanya. He was passionate not only about his studies, but also his love for dance and we shared this in common. Through our study sessions, adventures, and other program activities, we became very close and I loved spending every minute I could with him. At the end of the program, as we were deciding the next step of our careers and lives, it was clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to imagine a life without him, so we decided to brave long distance to stay together. It was a great decision, but I was also grateful that he moved back so that we could be with each other. I am looking forward to us now starting this journey that is the rest of our lives together!

Chaitanya: After dating for 2.5 years, we decided to take a trip India to visit my family and friends. During this visit she met my closest friends as well as my entire family. She stayed at my parent’s house for a couple of days and we took trips together to nearby locations from Mumbai. It was during this trip that I noticed she was very kind and loving to my parents and felt as if she was already a part of my family!

Do you have any special memories together from your time as Berkeley students?

Shilpi: During the program, despite having busy schedules and involvement in many extracurricular activities, we decided to make Thursday nights the nights to go on some form of adventure, whether it would be exploring a new restaurant in Berkeley, visiting SF or other cities, or trying something new. Since he wasn’t from around here, I made it a point to show him around, and during each break (Thanksgiving break, winter break, spring break, etc.) we would visit new cities such as Santa Cruz, Napa, Sausalito, Monterey, and more. We would have so much fun together visiting places! Additionally, we both have passions for dancing, and just as I was a part of the classical Indian dance team (Kathak at Berkeley), he joined the campus Bollywood dance team called Zahanat. We would make it a point to be at each of each other’s shows and cheer the other on during performances and competitions!

How was navigating life post-graduation?

Shilpi: The time that was most difficult post-graduation was initially getting settled into new jobs and figuring out where we would be. After graduation, Chaitanya got a job that took him to San Diego and I ended up working in San Mateo. The long distance was difficult, and our schedules made it challenging to spend a lot of time together. After a year of his job there, he decided it was time to come back to the Bay Area and found a new job in San Francisco at a company called 2600 Hz. Things were much better then, and it was great to be able to spend more time together! After a year at his second job, he again decided to make a change and landed a Product Operations Analyst position at Google. Near the end of August this past year, we decided that we wanted to take our relationship to the next level, and he proposed! It was a very romantic proposal, and he involved many of our closest friends and family by creating a dance routine that everyone danced to, flash mob style! This took place at the Campanile, the very first place where we had met each other for the first time. Now we are thrilled to be planning a wedding and to explore what this new chapter has in store for our life! (A video of the proposal is available on YouTube.)

Chaitanya’s surprise flash mob proposal for Shilpi at the UC Berkeley Campanile.

I saw you attended another Fung wedding recently. Tell me about that and what it was like!

Shilpi: Recently, our friend Naren had his wedding in Bangalore, India and it ended up doubling as a mini MEng reunion! A little under 10 people in our friend circle flew out to be there for his special day, and it was a beautiful and ornate few days filled with religious ceremonies, great ambiance, and tons of good food! We even surprised him by learning a dance routine that his sister had shared with us over YouTube and danced it “flash mob style” in the middle of the reception. It was a blast!

Shilpi with some MEng friends in India for fellow classmate Naren’s wedding.

Do you have any advice for current and future MEng students?

Shilpi: Your time at MEng will be one of the shortest academic years, but also one of the most memorable. I encourage everyone to make the most of it by meeting as many people as you can, traveling around with people and getting to know another person from a different background or culture, and taking advantage of everything the program, Berkeley, and the Bay Area has to offer!

Shilpi and Chaitanya are set to wed on December 23, 2018. Their How He Asked feature is available to read here. Congratulations!

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