Monica Shukla-Belmontes was born the day her father started teaching at Chapman College, grew up playing around campus and attended an on-site pre-school for children of faculty and staff.
More than 30 years later, she and her father, Associate Professor P.K. Shukla, taught an MBA class together at Chapman University – garnering an almost-perfect student evaluation rating while they were at it.
“I have seen at Chapman classes co-taught by a husband and wife, but I don’t recall ever seeing a father-daughter co-taught class,” P.K. says.
“We have different teaching styles,” says Monica, an adjunct business and mathematics professor. “He’s more structured and I give more interactive exercises. It was really fun co-teaching.”
Home Away From Home
They are not the only Shuklas Chapman students have encountered – P.K.’s wife and Monica’s mother Yatri Shukla became an adjunct math professor at Chapman after teaching middle school science for 20 years. The Shuklas have welcomed Indian international students to Chapman, cooking them meals from their home regions.
“I would comfort the parents by telling them, in their native language, their child will be fine and they have a home away from home,” Yatri says.
The Shuklas’ guesthouse was for arriving students until they could find housing.
“I’d help them find an apartment, get a bicycle, I’d take them to buy essentials,” Yatri says.
Chapman President Emeritus Jim Doti wrote in a 2008 email to the Shuklas that “I understand you and Yatri not only go to LAX to pick up Chapman students coming from India, but you also open your home to them. In fact, I hear we have a new hall in Villa Park: Shukla Hall.”
The Shuklas may also hold the unofficial record for most Chapman degrees in a family with three alumni: Yatri has three (an executive MBA, an MS in food science and a teaching credential), Monica has five (a Ph.D. in education, two MS degrees and two bachelor’s degrees) and P.K. and Yatri’s daughter Amy Alfi – who works in education for Amazon Web Services – has three (an MS and two bachelor’s degrees).
Heritage of Teaching
Working as educators is in the Shuklas’ blood. Yatri’s parents and extended family were educators in India. P.K.’s father, Kantilal Shukla, was a business professor at community colleges in Los Angeles and his grandfather was head of a high school in India. P.K. taught with and filled in for his father when he was treated for cancer.
“I had one Chapman student who said, ‘So before I graduate I have to go through the Shukla gauntlet,’” says P.K., who teaches in Argyros College of Business and Economics. “I said, ‘What’s the Shukla gauntlet?’ She said, ‘I had your wife for middle school – I had to pass her class, it was really hard. Then I had to pass through your daughter Monica’s class – math is not my favorite subject, that took a lot of effort. And it is all good because your class is the easiest.’”
On the first day of classes this year, two first-year students were comparing their schedules and were confused because they both had “Shukla” as the professor at the same time, but in different rooms. One of the students recognized Yatri Shukla on campus as his middle school science teacher, and she explained that one Shukla was P.K. and the other was Monica.
“She’s had a few students who were her middle school students who are now her college students, and then they have my dad later for the upper-division courses,” Monica says.
The Shuklas have continued P.K.’s and his father’s practice of filling in for each other, guest speaking in each others’ classes or, in Monica’s case, hiring her father last minute to take over an unstaffed class at UMass Global, where she’s an associate dean.
Monica also convinced her mother to teach at Chapman.
“I’ve been in classrooms since I was a child. Education is fun – I enjoy being an educator,” Yatri says.
The day Monica gave birth to her second child during the pandemic, her mother logged in to teach her daughter’s virtual class.
“I’d just had a baby that morning and instead I was like no, I’ve got this,” Monica says. “So I was teaching my Zoom class from the hospital.”
Her commitment to teaching reflects that of her father, who is on track to have taught the most students ever at Chapman since starting in 1985. He has taught during Interterms, summers, taken on large core required business classes and overloads, and skipped sabbatical opportunities.
The morning their family returned from a cruise, P.K. wanted to disembark in time to teach a Monday afternoon class.
“He never wants to miss out on a day of teaching,” Yatri says.
P.K. says he was the only Asian full-time faculty member when he started at Chapman. He and Monica are now faculty advisors to the South Asian Student Association and the family has co-sponsored the annual Diwali celebration on campus. P.K. is a co-founder of the APIDA Staff and Faculty Forum.
P.K. saw Chapman grow as his children did. One professor recalled Monica driving her Barbie car on the sidewalk on Glassell Street, and Monica remembers rolling down a hill in Attallah Piazza.
Now, P.K. and Yatri bring their grandchildren to campus.
“So far at Chapman I’ve taught a father and later his son as students in my class,” P.K. says. “I’m going to retire eventually before I have a grandchild saying, ‘You had my grandfather or my grandmother in class.’ That’s sticking around too long.”