Parents, proximity led siblings to success


Amrut Shirodkar is the kind of proud parent who has memorized the date. His wife, Saroj, is preparing to bake the perfect cake. And their relatives and friends are counting on getting together once again to celebrate.

When it comes to graduations, they've had plenty of practice.

Seldom has a year gone by in the past two decades without the Shirodkars looking forward to a graduation ceremony. The Indian immigrant couple instilled such a drive to succeed in their four children that all have gone on from high school to earn bachelor's and then graduate degrees from the University of Maryland.

Their youngest daughter, Sandeepa, will be awarded her doctor's diploma May 24 from the University of Maryland medical school. She is the last to carry on a family tradition that has taken the two older daughters and son through the university's rigorous professional schools to become, respectively, a pharmacist, orthodontist and physician.

Theirs is a quiet success story, made possible by scholarships and hard work, occasionally noted by professors but mostly honored by framed photographs in a suburban Catonsville home. That's appropriate because it started at home with the dreams of a printer and his wife, who worked long hours running a convenience store, taught the importance of achievement and made sure their children got the college education their parents never had.

"I always had the wish to go to college," says Saroj "Rose" Shirodkar, who drilled into her children from their first days in kindergarten that "you go to school to learn."

Second only to their parents' encouragement, the Shirodkar children credit their choice of college to the close proximity of University of Maryland, Baltimore County. They grew up nearby, in Arbutus, before the family moved 12 years ago to a newer subdivision barely a mile from UMBC.

"Even though we got into other colleges, I think we felt, 'Why go to another institution when this one has an excellent reputation and is almost right in our back yard?'" recalls Sheela Kudchadker, 31, the second-oldest, who works as an orthodontist in Houston.

Sangeeta Shirodkar led the way 18 years ago, living at home and studying biology at the UMBC, which is known for its strong pre-med program. In 1988, she graduated and began training at University of Maryland's pharmacy school. She became a pharmacist in 1991, just as Sheela was getting her undergraduate degree, also in biology.

By then, their brother, Manoj, had turned down a competing scholarship offer from Loyola to follow his sisters. He, too, studied science and obtained his bachelor's degree in 1994. Two years later, Sheela graduated from the university's dental school. In 1998, Manoj completed his studies at University of Maryland's medical school in Baltimore.

As Sandeepa says, long before she was old enough to consider her college prospects, her decision had been made.

"I didn't even apply anywhere else," the 25-year-old says with a smile. It wasn't strictly a philosophical choice, she adds. "It was also practical. I was interested in medicine. We got scholarships. And we lived at home. It wasn't like a lot of Americans, who think as soon as they're 18, it's time to leave and go to college."

It was the kind of opportunity their parents longed for while growing up in a rural enclave in western India, not far from Goa, when it was a Portuguese province. Proficiency in Portuguese was required to pass fifth grade. Even then, formal schooling ended early. The closest colleges were in another state, in Bombay, seemingly a world away.

Amrut Shirodkar trained as a printer and found a government job in Uganda. While he was there, relatives arranged his marriage to Saroj. In 1972, the couple moved with their two young daughters to Maryland. He was hired within a few weeks at The Sun. She was almost as quick to find the right house.

"The children were just babies, but I saw the college here, and I was so excited," Saroj Shirodkar says. "I said, 'Here's a nice place, a nice college, and it's so close.'"

Her husband worked from late afternoons until midnight in the newspaper's composing room while she took care of the children. Eventually, they bought a convenience store on Dulany Street, near Wilkens Avenue, in Baltimore. They split the shifts and saved to further their children's college aspirations.

"My parents came here not having family here, not having an advanced education, and they wanted us to have opportunities," Sheela Kudchadker says. "Mom initiated it, and Dad reverberated it. It was always pushed: 'Study, study study.'"

They paid their first daughter's tuition in full, but the others received scholarships, including the University of Maryland Baltimore County's Presidential Scholar, the Maryland Distinguished Scholar and others.

Their family is close-knit, though some of the children have moved away. Manoj Shirodkar, a gastroenterologist, is completing a fellowship at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J. Sheela Kudchadker lives in Houston with her husband and baby daughter, Reena.

Sandeepa, who has chosen to specialize in pediatrics, has moved away from home but returns regularly.

Amrut Shirodkar, now retired, says he and his wife are "proud of them. They followed each other. They did well."

On one side of the fireplace are photographs of their children's college graduations. On the other are photographs from their professional school ceremonies. One spot is empty, but May 24, the wall will be complete.

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