Out of the Woods: Westport cracks open the door to town government diversity
Published 5:11 am, Thursday, February 25, 2016
Westport has long prided itself on being an "open" community when it comes to the diversity of its population from all racial, ethnic, religious, educational, and geographic backgrounds.
Although we did not start out that way when we were first incorporated on May 28, 1835, as a Connecticut town, with the assimilation of Italian, Irish, German and many other European immigrants during our formative years — including Catholics, Jews, Buddhists and people of other faiths adding to our original mostly Protestant population — we are now perceived by most national media as a model town where virtually anybody from any country can live, work and enjoy life here.
In fact, we celebrate national diversity annually by inviting members of the United Nations to come to our town annually for a day of recreation and entertainment with us in June.
The main purpose of jUNe Day is to promote world peace and international understanding through friendly interaction between UN visitors and their Connecticut hosts. The event is the actual embodiment of the goal of the original “working together for peace, freedom and justice” theme of the United Nations.
This unique-to Westport annual jUNe Day event was established in 1965 by the late Ruth Steinkraus Cohen, private secretary to Eleanor Roosevelt and founder of the United Nations Association of Southwestern Connecticut, in observance of the signing of the UN charter on June 26, 1945. The bridge crossing the Saugatuck River downtown was memorialized in her honor when it was officially opened on May 22, 2003.
Not only do we welcome people of all countries to our town, but we employ many and make an effort, when possible, to encourage them to volunteer for public service on our town commissions and boards.
One example of this that immediately comes to mind is the recent appointment of Vik Muktavaram, a Republican, born and raised in India, who came to the United States in 1994 to pursue a master's degree in computer science from Oklahoma State University. In 2004, he was awarded an MBA from Columbia University Business School. He has worked as a management consultant and an independent risk adviser. He was recommended by the Republican Town Committee and takes the seat vacated by Paul Block, a Republican board member who stepped down in January because of business obligations.
It is important to point out that Muktavaram undoubtedly was appointed based solely on his qualifications, including being a "team player," according to board Chairman Michael Gordon." We are all thrilled that Vik Muktavaram is going to be joining the board. He is both a professional and personal match for this board. His professional skill set is a great complement to all of our skill sets," he told the Westport News in an interview published last Friday.
"The six (members of the education board) are team players. We put the whole ahead of the individual and we know that Vik should be a great member of the team as well, and he's just a great guy," Gordon continued.
Board Vice Chairwoman Jeannie Smith said Muktavaram's skills and experience are impressive. His “global perspective on education, that's what won me over, by the way.”
Muktavaram's previous volunteer work included the Sunrise Rotary Club of Westport and his service on the board of the Bridge Acadamy, a school in Bridgeport.
The Westport News quoted Muktavaram as saying: "I've always been passionate about education, especially coming from a different country. I knew the system here, grew up with that system and then when I came here for graduate school, it was a new experience.
“My personal view is that education is so beautiful to the country, and that I have an invested interest in it because of the kids." He said he has two children in the Westport schools — Bedford Middle School and Long Lots Elementary School.
I am not suggesting for a moment that the "recruitment" of foreign teachers or experts in other fields be a goal of our educators. Rather, that we as a community promote the \concept that people who move here from abroad should be encouraged to play key roles in the continuing expansion of Westport as an "international community."
Woody Klein is a Westport writer. His column," Out of the Woods," is published in the Westport News every other Friday. He can be reached at email@example.com.