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Professor Susan Hagness with alum Nana Murugesan, his parents, and scholarship recipient
September 7, 2023

Scholarship honors a father’s dream for his family

Written By: Jason Daley


Dr. R. Murugesan isn’t an alumnus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but it’s hard to imagine anyone who embodies the spirit of the university more than him. That’s why his son Nana Murugesan (MSECE ‘01), vice president of international and business development at Coinbase and a former member of the ECE advisory board, established a scholarship in automation in his father’s honor. The 2022 inaugural award went to Mason Crooks, an electrical engineering junior who had recently completed an internship in laboratory automation at Exact Sciences.

The elder Murugesan grew up in dire poverty in Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India where he worked on farms for much of his youth. When a local free high school opened in the late 1950s, friends goaded his parents into sending him. Murugesan excelled in his schoolwork, eventually passing an exam that led to a government job as a telephone technician. Through another program, he was able to work and earn a bachelor’s of science degree in mathematics and statistics in 1971 and a post graduate diploma in instrument engineering in 1974. 

But his dream was to travel to the US and earn a PhD from UW-Madison’s cutting-edge electrical engineering program. In 1979, he finally got his chance when he was awarded a government scholarship to come to Madison; however, complications with a work contract meant he had to shelve that dream. 

Nana Murugesan was just a one-year-old when his father gave up his scholarship, but he and his brother, Ravi Murugesan (MSECE ‘07), grew up hearing passionate talk about the university in the distant Midwest. “The story has come full circle,” says Nana. “Our father talked about UW-Madison with me and Ravi since we were kids, and both of us came here to do our master’s degrees.”

The experience at UW-Madison didn’t disappoint, laying the groundwork for a successful tech career for Nana Murugesan. He started as an engineer for Cisco and then held various strategic and management roles at Samsung. More recently, he served as managing director for international markets and mobile partnerships at Snap Inc., which runs the social media platform Snapchat. Early in 2022, he took on his current role at Coinbase.

Nana says his education at UW-Madison laid a foundation in problem solving for not only being an engineer, but also taking on leadership roles in strategy, operations and business development. “Obviously, UW-Madison gives you a lot of great technical skills,” he says. “Madison is very welcoming for immigrants who come here from all over the world. That focus on being inclusive is something that helps me provide shared vision and clarity across various teams in different countries. A lot of great things came from my time at Madison.”

As for his father, while he still wishes he could have studied at UW-Madison, he’s grateful his sons could attend. He’s had a distinguished career nevertheless, working as an instrumentation engineer and consultant with many paper and industrial companies over the last 40 years and teaching engineering at several colleges. In 2013, after ten years of study, he was awarded a PhD from West Coast University, Panama. He currently serves as vice president of the non-profit Indian Institution of Plant Engineers, a role he relishes as he helps mentor the next generation of engineers.

Professor Susan Hagness with alum Nana Murugesan, his parents, and scholarship recipient
Nana Murugesan established a UW-Madison ECE scholarship in industrial automation in honor of his father, R. Murugesan. From left: ECE chair Susan Hagness, Nana Murugesan, Hemaprabha Murugesan, Mason Crooks and R. Murugesan.