Krishna Peapully is vice president and Highway Department manager in Texas and Louisiana for engineering firm AECOM—which recently relocated its headquarters to Dallas from Los Angeles. When Peapully moved to the U.S. at 21 from India to pursue a graduate degree in engineering, he navigated closed-mindedness surrounding those from other cultures and places.
Below, he shares his experience as an immigrant, how curiosity can spark open conversation, and the importance of promoting positive stereotypes.
“I grew up in India throughout my childhood and undergraduate education. My home was a big city called Hyderabad in south-central India. I’m not a small-town boy; I have grown up in a major city all my life. A big advantage to growing up in a big city of India was being exposed to an abundance of diverse cultures and backgrounds. I grew up with the mindset of accepting different religions, cultures, and language backgrounds; it was common to be amongst people who were different than me.
“Given the scarcity of engineering opportunities I was facing in Hyderabad, I looked at opportunities to pursue a career in the United States. I applied to Texas A&M University and was accepted. Given the state of my city back home, I wanted to pursue a career and master’s degree in environmental engineering.”
“When I arrived at A&M, it was not popular to be an international student. People didn’t even attempt to pronounce our uncommonly spelled names. Professors asked me if I wanted to shorten my name to something simpler, and I said ‘No, I go by Krishna.’ Over time I developed the confidence to stand up for my name.
“After I graduated, I went to work at the Texas Department of Transportation in a small town in south Texas. All I had known is growing up in a big city. It felt especially different as somebody who came from a different country. There was definitely a lot of curiosity where I worked. I was often asked, ‘Why would somebody travel 10,000 miles to come to Alice, Texas?’ The fact that I am vegetarian had people looking at me like I was out of my mind in the midst of Texan barbecue, too.”
“I’ve learned people are so curious to ask questions about different cultures and upbringings. I fondly remember when it was time for me to leave Alice, Texas, someone coming to me and saying ‘I have never known anyone from India, but you are leaving a fantastic impression of your country.’ I realized then that you represent where you come from: Wherever you are, you become a cultural ambassador for where you come from. You have the responsibility to be part of positive stereotypes.
“I have been told by a hiring manager that I would never be a project manager as an international person. That was such a shocking moment for me. I believe that at these crossroads, we should challenge and go against these stereotypes. I eventually was wanted for the position for which I was originally dismissed. I did not pursue it, but [learned to value employment] seeking trust and confidence in my professional ability and that disregards prejudices and stereotypes.
“When I came to the states, I learned that there are more people who are curious to learn more than those who want to stay biased. You need to have patience and provide background information because often curiosity leads to appreciation.”
Finding Confidence to Adapt to Opportunity
“I took every opportunity I was given as an opportunity to grow and promote positive stereotypes. My career eventually brought me to being named vice president of an international Fortune 500 firm, which is a big milestone for me to this day, especially thinking back to when I graduated in India and was asking myself questions of ‘How is this career going to happen?’ ‘What am I going to do?’
“Today, I lead a department of more than 130 employees across Texas and Louisiana. I am always advocating for my employees to find their confidence, raise their questions, put forth an idea, and vocalize a solution…When I mentor people, I aim to be as fair, honest, and consistent with people as I can and prioritize treating everyone with respect. I tell people, ‘You be fair and you attract fair. Approach circumstances with an attitude of adaption and the confidence to make your voice be heard.’ It doesn’t take a kid from India to come here to show proof of adaptability. We all have the opportunity to develop according to the situations we are given.
“I have seen Dallas positively change related to DEI. We are seeing growth and encouragement of diversity in every walk of life, career, and business setting. I see these changes and am hopeful they are helping bring the next generation up with better perspectives on diversity, equity, and inclusion.”