East Mississippi Community College Vice President for Workforce and Community Services Dr. Raj Shaunak, at right, is the recipient of Gov. Phil Bryant’s 2017 Excellence in Local and District Government Award. EMCC President Dr. Thomas Huebner, at left, presented Shaunak with the award Tuesday, Sept. 5.
East Mississippi Community College Vice President for Workforce and Community Services Dr. Raj Shaunak, at right, is the recipient of Gov. Phil Bryant’s 2017 Excellence in Local and District Government Award. EMCC President Dr. Thomas Huebner, at left, presented Shaunak with the award Tuesday, Sept. 5.
From School Reports

 

Dr. Raj Shaunak wasn’t looking for a career when he volunteered in 1991 to teach math to adult basic education students at East Mississippi Community College. He had already achieved the American dream.

He stayed through the exodus of the area’s major manufacturers, rose to the top of the college’s Workforce Services division and helped spawn a manufacturing renaissance that has retooled the Golden Triangle.

On Aug. 3, Gov. Phil Bryant bestowed Shaunak with the 2017 Excellence in Local and District Government Award.

Shaunak, EMCC’s vice president for Workforce and Community Services, was one of two recipients of the governor’s 2017 Excellence in Government Awards, which recognizes and encourages innovation in public administration. Samantha Atkinson, director of the performance audit division of the Office of the State Auditor, garnered the Excellence in State Government Award.

“Samantha and Dr. Shaunak represent the best of public service,” Bryant said. “I am grateful for their work and am proud to present them with the Excellence in Government Awards.”

The Mississippi Excellence in Government Awards program was established by the Mississippi State Personnel Board at the direction of the Mississippi Legislature, and the inaugural award was presented in 2012.

In a press release announcing the winners, the Mississippi Personnel Board calls Shaunak a primary force in workforce and economic development in the Golden Triangle area.

“He played a crucial role in the recruitment of companies including Airbus, PACCAR, and Yokohama Tire Company to Mississippi’s Golden Triangle,” the press release states. “He has partnered with the Mississippi Development Authority to lead workforce development efforts for these companies locating to Mississippi. Dr. Shaunak is also a leader in innovative educational programming; he spearheaded the efforts to create EMCC’s Communiversity, a state-of-the-art career-technical facility with a hands-on museum.  Finally, he has partnered, authored, secured, and implemented many successful grants to benefit Mississippians.”

 EMCC President Dr. Thomas Huebner, who presented the governor’s award to Shaunak on Tuesday, Sept. 5, said the college’s role as an educational conduit to fuel a growing demand for highly skilled manufacturing employees is vital.

“The availability of high-quality technical education is a necessity for U.S. industries as they continue to transition to automated production processes,” Huebner said. “Raj understands that our commitment to providing that training ensures our local industries will have access to the employees they require, our graduates will be in high demand and our community will reap economic benefits.”

Of Indian descent, Shaunak was born in Kenya, East Africa and educated in London. In 1972, Shaunak visited his brother, a professor at Mississippi State University, fell in love with Starkville and decided to stay.

Shaunak and his brother started their own business and developed a power cable with low resistance that quickly became popular with utility companies. On Oct. 31, 1989, the brothers sold their business to Southwire Company.

At the age of 42, Shaunak had made his million and symbolically tossed his Bulova watch in the Tennessee-Tombigbee River.

 “I said to myself, ‘Raj, you are free now and don’t need to work on anyone’s time. Do what you want to do to give back.”

After a two-year hiatus traveling and filling his bucket list, Shaunak landed at EMCC, working for a couple of years as a volunteer until he was asked to help create a workforce development program at the college.

“Nobody knew anything about workforce development at the time,” Shaunak said. “It was a new thing starting at some of the community colleges. We had three or four people in what was called the Skill Tech Center.”

Over the next decade, from 1993 to 2003, the Golden Triangle lost 33 percent of its manufacturing jobs in a trend mirrored nationwide, Shaunak said, with a major blow coming in 2007 when Sara Lee announced the closure of its West Point plant.