Dr. J. M. Nair, Principal, Vivekanand Education Society’s Institute of Technology (VESIT), Chembur, offers her message to all students through an interaction with Shraddha Kamdar
I enter her office early, and she quickly clears up her time to see me as soon as possible. Warm and welcoming, she talks about the improvement of the students’ prospects and the initiatives that are being taken to help them at every step of the way. Dr. J. M. Nair, Principal, Vivekanand Education Society’s Institute of Technology (VESIT), Chembur, elaborates on methods of empowering the students in various aspects and how to encourage them towards knowledge.
Speaking on the aspect of the curriculum and its usefulness, Dr. Nair informs that the current revised syllabus is quite perfect and not outdated. She says that the students need to learn the basics to get ahead. She informs that the best way her students’ knowledge can be complemented is with regular skill-enhancement lectures by industry experts. Apart from that, there are many opportunities for the students to work outside the syllabus.
At VESIT, students are encouraged to take up interdisciplinary projects with mentors from departments other than their own, which provides a whole new spectrum of exposure. So students from telecom can work on IT and those from IT can work on electronics and so on. This idea was implemented five years ago, and is very popular with the students. “Students look forward to this activity every year, so much so that when the time comes to announce these projects, most of them are already ready with their ideas,” Dr. Nair says.
In fact, in the first year itself, the students engage in a programme called ‘Awakening the Scientist’, wherein they have to select a gadget and study the science, the technology and the applications around it. “They are not trained much in engineering in the first year, so we ask the students to suggest additions and alterations to the gadget as lay people. It works fabulously, since they are already learning how to work with each other in teams, and how to think scientifically. It is the preparation they need, the first step in helping them progress from being students to being professionals,” Dr. Nair informs. This year, the selection of the winners of this competition coincided with World Student Day. One fact that she says that enriches the faculty is that the students participate enthusiastically.
It, however, is not a case of all work and no play. Apart from the various academic and cultural societies, the college also has a sports council, which started a league festival based on all the sports leagues rampant in the country. In fact, it got so popular that now the selection of the student teams in the cultural festival – Illusions – also happens in the league format! “This is a way of promoting inter-class bonding so that students from various departments get to know each other. They are so enthusiastic about the festival that they work through their holidays for it. At VESIT we have so many activities going on that we have so many unique leadership positions to fill. My motto to strive towards is one man, one post, so that every student gets a chance to work in at least one leadership position,” Dr. Nair elaborates.
Everything that is mentioned above happens outside the classroom, on the students’ own time. Within the classroom, the faculty engage students with innovative teaching methods like the Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) method, which is a student-centred teaching-learning method, which also involves group learning, among many others. Students also learn through projects and case-studies.
Learning is on one side, but does she feel that students should have a say in what they are learning within the curriculum? Of course, we are talking of well-rounded students who are capable of contributing to such a discussion. “We have a department advisory board in which members constitute of faculty, alumni, students, parents as well as industry members. Students can be great contributors to the board in determining what part of the curriculum is useful and what is not. Even earlier, we used to invite suggestions from the students,” says Dr. Nair.
So students are learning to cope with their curriculum as well as activities outside it, and developing their own goals and knowledge. How can soft skills be incorporated in this scheme of things? Dr. Nair feels that soft skills are essential for the development of any person. “I strongly believe that your aptitude will get you the job, but it is your attitude that will take you further. And that’s why, we don’t have to focus only on short-term goals when thinking of soft skills, but life and attitude in general,” is her opinion. She further informs that students at VESIT learn through the language lab, and that some of the faculty members have proactively designed a skill programmes for students to work on their English language and business communication skills.
In fact, in extension to all these activities, the institute has initiated a book bank scheme, where apart from those books that the students issue from the library, students can keep certain books for a period of six months, for their research. In addition, to promote library reading, the institute honours those who are regular with their reading and issues certificates to them. This not only inculcates the habit of research, it also shows them the path to academic reading and writing.
In the end, however, this is all in preparation to land that coveted job! For placements, students start building their profiles since the second year onwards, when they still have a sizeable amount of time to go before sitting for campus interviews. In fact, experts brief the students on how to build their resumes and orient them towards participating in various activities. Before the final stage, the institute also conducts mock interviews for the students and offers them professional assistance to work on their resumes.
With that, students are also encouraged to take up internships, especially with start-up companies. Internships, according to Dr. Nair, may not give a student an extensive job experience, but they provide a bird’s eye view as to what is expected of professionals in the real world. VESIT encourages its students to be engaged with the company throughout the year, after college hours. “Personally, I feel that the plus point is that apart from learning how to apply their bookish knowledge at the work place, they will develop the simpler lessons of life – that one can learn from anybody!”
Thinking not only of the students, but the teachers as well, Dr. Nair as set up a Renaissance Cell with the young teachers at VESIT, because she feels it is they who will build the institution for the future. “Here, I am thinking of the next 15 years or so. Teachers from different departments come together, out of their own passion, and propose their initiatives. We already have eight such initiatives proposed,” she says.
Dr. Nair feels that whichever programmes students have chosen, the educators should create passion within them towards that field and the work that goes with it. “We are preparing them for the walk of life,” the eminent educationist states in the end.