From labor camp to classroom: Professor uses past to mentor
From being undesirable in a Romanian forced labor camp to a well-respected mechanical engineering technology professor, Raresh Pascali has come a long way.
Adviser, teacher and friend are all roles Pascali has had since his arrival at UH in 2005. The one trait he wants his students take away from all his lectures is self-reliance.
“I would like to give them a pocket knife and drop them in the jungle, and I would like to see them come out with a jeep,” Pascali said. “Schooling is to build self-confidence.”
Pascali said he considers himself somewhat of an underdog. He sees some of his engineering students as underdogs too, mainly because they may have something to prove either to themselves or to their families, much as he did when he first arrived in this country.
“I came in with a lot of things to prove. This country gave me a second home when my country kicked me out; this is my adoptive country. Although I emigrated here when I was 20 years old, and now I’m close to 50, if you ask me what I am now, I am an American.”
Every April, Pascali coaches a group of MET students to compete in the Shell Eco-Marathon Americas at Discovery Green Park.
MET senior Alexus Romero competed last April and said she appreciated Pascali’s coaching.
“All the time, he was all over our team trying to give us a path to follow, checking up on us all the time,” Romero said. “He’s a great professor. He always pushes you to do things that you think you would not ever do.”
Pascali said he encourages his students to learn through trial and error.
“We want students to experiment. We want them to come to new ideas,” Pascali said. “Because young people and students in general will come up with new ideas that old folks, such as myself, don’t really see (from our) points of view. They will question the status quo.”
Pascali has had his own experience with questioning the status quo.
He came to the United States in 1986, during the economic crisis in Romania when Romanian President Nicolae Ceaușescu’s austerity policy was in effect. He said that it was around a time when opposing the government came with disastrous results.
“At that time they had a dictator, and I spoke against the government, and they didn’t like me much. So the United States intervened on my behalf,” he said. “[The Romanian government] said that they had to let me go. They actually almost kicked me out of the country.”
Pascali spent more than a year in a labor camp before he got a U.S. passport and emigrated from Romania. After arriving to the U.S. he wanted to make a better life for himself, but more than anything, he said he wanted to prove his worth to the country that took him in.
“I came in with a lot of things to prove. This country gave me a second home when my country kicked me out. I wanted to do relatively well by them,” Pascali said. “This is my adoptive country. Although, I emigrated here when I was 20 years old, and now I’m close to 50, if you ask me what I am now, I am an American.”
Pascali prides himself in his students’ successes, and he wants them to take on as many extracurricular activities as possible.
Robotics Education Program Manager Karen Cohen said Pascali was “instrumental in getting the student chapters of professional associations involved with youth robotics.”
“Today, many of my community robotics tournaments are staffed with UH students because of the groundwork he laid,” Cohen said.
Pascali taught MET students at UH for several years before taking his program up to the Northwest campus. He was the forerunner in setting up an endowment fund for the MET department at the central campus, and soon he’d like to start one at the Northwest campus. Pascali said he doesn’t see a day when he won’t be advising and counseling students.
“The only reason why I am still here is because it is the students that make this very special. For us — professors and instructors — we all feel the same way,” Pascali said. “When I see a student who is striving to make it better, not just for themselves but for everybody else, I am willing to be part of that.”