Through work, research and life, Meghnaa Tallapragada stresses the importance of being multi-dimensional
From a young age, Meghnaa Tallapragada’s parents pushed her to be multi-dimensional. They knew it would be important to encourage this quality in a child so focused on academics. Even now, Meghnaa admits she probably would have been content spending her time solely in the pursuit of an education in electrical engineering in Hyderabad, India. Multi-dimensional wasn’t really on her mind.
However, it was this push from her parents that led her to salsa dancing. And karate. And kickboxing. And knife making. It’s also what prompted her to switch academic disciplines once she came to America and discovered the field of communication. Meghnaa didn’t let her past dictate what she would do next, and the value of openness to new things—both for herself and others—has fueled her teaching, research and life ever since.
“No one should ever allow anyone to put them in a box,” Meghnaa says. “You shouldn’t even let you put you in a box. I’ll consider myself a success if I never allow it to happen and if I help others do the same.”
She found communication when she came to North Carolina State University to pursue a master’s degree. She never realized that science communication could be an area of study, and she was immediately attracted to exploring how science can be communicated in ways that draw people in as opposed to pushing them away.
Meghnaa says that in a world increasingly connected, politicized and sensationalized, it is crucial that people get real, accurate information. She feels it’s just as important that this information is provided in a way that allows people to care about it and find it useful.
This is why Meghnaa’s research focuses on how scientists and organizations concerned with science can better communicate with and invite people to engage with their work. What might sound simple on the surface gets complicated when particular issues—think climate change or the use of GMOs—come with political baggage.
“I want to know how communicators can present a topic or a new finding without being automatically put into a political corner,” Meghnaa said. “I also think scientists shouldn’t dismiss the non-scientist. Everyone has experiential knowledge that can be just as valuable as knowledge gained in a lab. I love studying how those two sets of knowledge can work together.”
Meghnaa joined the faculty of Clemson’s communication department in August 2017. She said she was attracted to it because of its young, energetic faculty and the obvious growth in the department over a short period of time. She said the thoughtfulness put into her campus visit and interview by the department and college really sealed the deal for her.
That interview only skimmed the surface of her background, which her fellow faculty have come to know over the past year. They expected thought-provoking discussions on science communication theory from Meghnaa. They’ve gotten that and more, including the occasional self-defense tip.
Martial arts were something Meghnaa took up in the third grade in the name of multi-dimensionality. She went on to earn a second-degree black belt in karate and a national championship in kickboxing before high school. At one point, she was training, studying and sparring seven days a week, alternating between karate and kickboxing.
As a full-time faculty member, she’s discovered hobbies that are better suited to a busy schedule. After watching a series on bladesmithing, Meghnaa has recently taken up knife making as a hobby, along with a somewhat toned-down version of the exercise regimen she “enjoyed” in India.
She’s still looking for the right place to spar that isn’t so “limited.”
“There aren’t many places around here that feature full contact,” Meghnaa said, “but I still work out every day because I’m used to it. I find other stuff to do. For Valentine’s Day, I got a pair of nunchucks!”
Meghnaa earned a Ph.D. and M.S. in communication from Cornell University, a M.S. in communication from North Carolina State University, and a B.E. in electrical and electronics engineering from CBIT, Osmania University. She was also a Vartan Gregorian Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center.