Woman Of Substance – Dr. Maria Zeena
She’s a force to reckon with in the world of education. Managing Director of the acclaimed Sathyabama University, Dr. Maria Zeena has made a name and space for herself in the education space, especially across South India. The daughter of the iconic Col. Dr. Jeppiaar, she leads her life based on the impressive ideals of her father and, following his edicts, strives to excel at everything the she does
Live and let live is the motto of the impressive Maria Zeena. Occupying a position of great influence and responsibility in society, she believes in carefully using her powers in the right way. Says Maria, “I want to work for the welfare of my country. We provide value based education at Sathyabama, so that students can learn to care for their country, and not just for their job.” Founded in 1988, Sathyabama University was established with a mission of taking the technical education standards of the country to the next level.
Ideally, Maria would love to see students working in villages as well, so that they can get a first-hand feel of the real India and learn what the country needs. She adds, “The next generation can pave the way for the future but their values need to be right. It is up to us to impart the right values and work ethics to them.” Maria is a refreshing change in the education sector wherein most are in the rat race for the best possible job and pay packet.
A Legacy of Excellence
Sathyabama is famed for its strict values and discipline and she imparts the same to her children. Married for 17 years to Dr Marie Johnson, a national basket ball player, she has 2 daughters, one in 10th standard and the other in 7th standard. Her most important message to her children? “Love everyone and put a smile on other people’s faces. We all smile a lot! It is very important to show utmost respect to people and only then can you gain their respect in return. I also teach my children to never underestimate the work of another person. And if possible, never say no to another person unless you cannot help them fulfill their dreams,” shares the charming Maria.
This is something Maria learnt from her illustrious father, Col. Dr. Jeppiaar who taught her to never underestimate anyone. Col. Dr. Jeppiaar is a passionate educationist and a philanthropist and his words and way of life have profoundly influenced her and are her source of strength.
She is also keen to continue her dad’s legacy but in her own way. She says, “I will take his principles and implement them in my own way. Things were different 16 years back. I cannot wear his shoes. The road is more difficult now. But I can traverse it easily as I have his blessings.” Maria is also influenced by the iconic late MGR, former chief minister of Tamil Nadu, of whom she has fond memories. “He fondly named me Anbu Nila. He passed away when I was just 6-7 years old. But I still follow his principles and the values he inculcated in us. The leadership values my father taught me were imparted by MGR to him,” she shares.
A Pioneer with a Difference
In 2001, after finishing her education, when Maria took over as the Managing Director, there were around 4000 students at Sathyabama. After years of hard work and perseverance, she took the number up to an astounding 25000 students. An impressive growth by any standard! The university has also enhanced its prestige due to its technical edge and focus on philanthropic activities.
No wonder then, Maria is known as a leader in her own right and it is her dream to create leaders out of her students. An alumnus of Churchpark and Madras University from where she obtained a doctorate in women empowerment, she encourages her students to take up different leadership activities to develop their potential. She shares, “We want to mould students into the type of citizens the country needs. I believe that students just need a pat on the back and it is up to us to support them in realising their dreams. The pressure is more on institutions today. Earlier, we were just educating them, but now we have to get them the right job too. We also want them to focus on becoming entrepreneurs. We believe that to be successful, you need to persevere.”
A Leader Extraordinaire
Of her future plans, Maria says, “I want to give my students the chance to engage in different activities, like adopting villages etc. Just in the last 2 years, we have provided 1000 students with free education and we want to continue full steam ahead. We also launched Braille application forms for the first time this year. I am also planning to do something for war widows soon, and that should materialise by next year.”
Despite her family legacy, she is not planning to enter politics at the moment. She says with a smile, “When I am already in the hearts of the people, why do I need a separate seat? Having said that, one should be open to opportunities and one should never say never!”
With so much on the horizon, it’s no wonder that Maria has a permanent smile on her face. She says with a laugh, “I am known to be talkative, positive, active and always smiling. My husband is just the opposite – he is a man of few words, and my elder daughter has taken after him. My younger daughter is talkative like me. But I credit him for my success as he has let me be what I want to be. He has supported and empowered me.” That is the secret of her successful relationship and of her impressive growth in her professional life. She adds as she ends on a high, “Being a woman is a celebration. We are very professional in our attitude. People should not look upon women doing something as a wow factor. We do things in our own way and are as good, if not better than men in all spheres!”