The Professor who doesn't let you get lost.

Khuswant Singh

Dr. Mohinder Grewal

In 1962, Mohinder completed his Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from GNEC and secured a job, which he detested. He joined as a Sub Divisional Officer with the Punjab State Electricity Department, but his heart clearly lay in teaching. He soon quit the job and started teaching electrical engineering at Government Polytechnic, Ambala. Simultaneously, he applied for a Master’s and Ph.D. degree in the U.S.


The idea to apply in a foreign land was sown in Mohinder’s mind by Professor Marwarde at GNEC who later went to do a master’s degree from Princeton University. “He was from South India and would encourage everyone to do a Ph.D. in control systems. Somehow the idea stuck in my mind, and I was determined to pursue that path. It changed my life forever.”


University of California, Los Angeles & McDonnell Douglas


Mohinder’s eldest brother, Tejinder Singh, had moved to the U.S. in 1953 for his higher education, and Mohinder sent his resume to him to follow it up for him. “Applying for universities was not simple in those days. It took me almost six months to apply, and finally, I got admission to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).” UCLA today stands as one of the most premier public institutes for research.


With dreams in his heart and admission to one of the top universities in his pocket, Mohinder reached America via Pan American Airlines in 1963 and joined the university in September of that year. As much as America was a fascinating country for a boy from Ludhiana, it didn’t take much for realization to dawn that his education and living were going to be an expensive affair. The multi-laned highways, speeding cars, neck-cracking skyscrapers, ravishing beaches, its liberal society and of course the blondes were a world as different from Ludhiana as chalk and cheese.


“I stayed with my brother for a few months. He was living in Los Angeles (LA) and working with the LA Water and Power as an engineer. However, his house was far from the university and I had to fend for myself, so I applied for an assistantship.” Mohinder’s teaching experience at polytechnic held him in good stead and he was lucky enough to get an assistantship in a lab, which supported his education. It was never going to be easy for Mohinder, but he was no mood to give up. With utmost dedication towards building a sound career, Mohinder Grewal completed his Master’s of Science in Engineering, majoring in control systems and computers, in 1965. A new world awaited him, almost promptly.


A company by the name McDonnell Douglas, a major American aerospace manufacturing company, approached him for employment as an engineer with them on terms that were very lucrative and with a placement in California. McDonnell Douglas was formed in 1967 by the merger of McDonnell Aircraft and the Douglas Aircraft Company and produced well-known military and commercial aircraft such as DC-10 and the MD-80, the F-15 Eagle air superiority fighter and the F/A-18 Hornet multirole. It was headquartered at St. Louis Lambert Airport, Missouri.


“They were looking for an engineer who had specialized in control systems and I had specialized in it along with computers,” said Mohinder Grewal. What is a control system in layman terms, I asked trying to understand as well as simplify the matter for the readers. “When the pilot pulls the rudder for take-off, all controls are done automatically and the system that ensures that all of it happens accurately is the control system.” “That’s easy,” I replied laughingly, knowing fully well that this was not the end of it.


In the same year, Mohinder was promoted to a senior engineer, and in this role, he designed the autopilot system for the Douglas Aircraft (DC)-10 aircraft. “You can still see a few of them flying around,” he says. “All of them fly on autopilot, and the pilot just sits there as it controls everything, and the automatic control system provides feedback for the services and the mains.”


This promotion marked a significant leap in his career, and recognizing the young man’s potential, the company applied for his citizenship visa as he was still on a resident visa, working for them. “It was a big moment for a boy from GNEC achieving this,” says Mohinder, with a smile that took him back at least fifty-seven years.


During this time, he also applied for a Ph.D. in Control Systems and Computers at the University of Southern California. He juggled between his work and part-time Ph.D. studies. McDonnell Douglas didn’t want to lose a talent like Mohinder Grewal, so they retained him part-time to help pay for his Ph.D. fees, as the expense was significant. However, fate had a different plan. In 1968, Professor George Bekey, whom Mohinder had chosen as his Ph.D. guide for his ‘original piece of work’ or dissertation, got a sabbatical leave to go to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


“I couldn’t have changed my guide because that would have meant starting my dissertation all over again,” exclaimed Mohinder as he guided me through his life journey step by step. Prof. Bekey’s sabbatical had a direct impact on Mohinder’s career, as he had to take leave from his company to join his guide at the University of Michigan. Luckily, as part of a Ph.D., every student gets a grant as a research assistant, and this took care of Mohinder’s daily expenses. During his stay at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, due to his immense study at UCLA, he was awarded a Master’s degree in Applied Mathematics.


Once Prof. Bekey’s sabbatical got over, Mohinder headed back to Los Angeles, where his company offered him a position as a senior scientist. Mohinder completed his Ph.D. with specialization in Control Systems and Computer in 1974, and the world was open to him. With such a vast study (Ph.D. Electrical Engineering, University of Southern California, Specialization: Control Systems and Computers; M.S. Applied Mathematics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; M.S. Electrical Engineering, University of California, Los Angeles, Specialization: Computer and Control Systems; B.S. Electrical Engineering, Punjab University, India, Specialization: Power Systems), he was one of the most sought-after professionals in his field.


Khushwant Singh