Having an unusual upbringing and exhibiting uncommon initiative and resolve, Dr. Rohini Desai Mulchandani has broken barriers throughout a remarkable, inventive career and an impactful, generous life.
Unlike many young women growing up in mid-20th century India, Ms. Mulchandani had parents who gave her the opportunity to “follow her dreams,” even if that meant “losing a child to America.” At age 19, after graduating from the University of Bombay (Mumbai) with a BS (Honors) degree in chemistry and a minor in physics, she arrived in the United States in 1964 to attend graduate school.
Read an alumni newsletter column by Rohini Desai Mulchandani about social distancing from an immigrant perspective.
“Getting a doctorate was actually my father’s suggestion at first,” Dr. Mulchandani recalls. He agreed to help pay for the first year of graduate school using her “marriage money” -- funds intended to pay wedding expenses of a female child. Paying for the rest of her education was left up to her.
Working as a graduate assistant, she earned her master’s degree in food science from Michigan State University in 1966. That fall, she came to The Ohio State University on another assistantship in order to earn her doctorate in dairy technology. She was a full-time student for three years, and following marriage and a five-year break, returned as a part-time student while working full time at Ross Laboratories in Columbus, the nutritional products division of Abbott Laboratories.
In order to complete the research needed for her doctoral dissertation, she worked in the lab at Vivian Hall (now a parking lot) after hours and on weekends. It was 1975.
“At the time, women were not permitted in the building after 7 pm.,” she said. So she had to assume responsibility for her own safety in order to receive the same 24-hour access to facilities as men had. She received her Ph.D. in 1976.
Her career at Ross began in 1973 and ended in 1998, with personal demands of marriage and family at times interrupting her job and her education. But she never lost sight of her goals. In the early years, as a food scientist at Ross, she worked on many product and process improvement projects. Among those products were Similac, Isomil and Ensure. In fact, her doctoral research project was an extension of one of these Ross projects to perfect an add-on heat treatment in the processing of nutritionals to improve their shelf stability. Such work experience at Ross opened doors to new product development projects.
“I entered Ross Labs as a novice food scientist and emerged years later as a product developer,” she said. “The transformation was so subtle that I didn’t realize it until a few years ago. The hands-on training I received at ‘Ross U’ was tremendous, and helped me, later on, to successfully transition into the role of ‘chutney lady’, operating a small business, where I was both product developer and business owner/operator, all wrapped in one.”
In 1998, after an unexpected layoff and official retirement in her early 50s, she founded Arjay Gourmet Foods, Ltd. On her own, she developed the chutney business, at first selling the gourmet condiments and seasoning locally at farmer’s markets, festivals and stores, and later expanding the territory, driving to numerous states east of the Mississippi River. “It was a very different life from the one I had known as a scientist. But I loved every minute of it.”
Throughout her careers, Dr. Mulchandani developed and/or commercialized 27 new products for sale in the United States and abroad, authored two patents, and won several awards both as a scientist at Ross and for her products and activities as a business owner. While she acknowledges that she accomplished this mostly through her own drive and determination, she credits her parents for their progressive parenting style in raising a daughter.
“I know that all girls in my school or college in India were not nurtured in this way,” said Dr. Mulchandani, now a grandparent herself and semi-retired from the chutney business. “Also having chosen a career in the sciences, I have worked in a ‘man’s world’ most of my life, and my strong sense of self has served me well. I am ever grateful to my parents for giving me such a healthy start in life.
“They expected nothing in return, instead instilling in me a strong sense of `paying forward.’”
Dr. Mulchandani has since made a generous donation to endow Ohio State’s Department of Food Science to partially fund activities of the Product Development teams in her name and during her lifetime, and established a legacy endowment in her parents’ names to fund, posthumously, one yearly graduate assistantship.
“I just wanted to help others the way that I was helped.”