The Institute Soapbox for the position of Co-Curricular Affairs Secretary (CoCAS) was held on March 6th at 6pm. The candidate contesting for the post is Kollipara Pravallika, a fourth-year student in the department of Civil Engineering. Though the turnout from the General Student Body was quite low, the Soapbox was conducted as per procedure, with the candidate making her presentation describing her vision and goals with regards to the co-curricular sphere of IIT-Madras. The soapbox was moderated by Swathi CS, Commissioner, Student Ethics and Constitution Commission (SECC). The proceedings were overseen by Dr. Thyagaraj, Chief Election Officer. Amrita reports.
Kollipara Pravallika – Introductory Presentation
Pravallika described her vision of developing an accessible, sustainable and efficient infrastructure to foster holistic growth of the co-curricular sphere in the institute, mentioning that she wanted a system that would be rigid enough to be stable, yet flexible enough to accommodate changes that come with time. She added that she would generate, communicate and deliver new opportunities to expand the horizons of innovation by the student community.
The candidate then talked about her plans for the Centre for Innovation (CFI) in order to empower innovation and explore untapped potential. According to her, a lack of regular monitoring is the main challenge for students in CFI, and hence a dedicated project review team consisting of senior members of CFI would help guide and monitor projects and also provide the project members a platform to gain from the experience of the review team members. Along with this, she proposed a system to build pitching skills in project members through specialized sessions. In the context of unutilised potential, Pravallika discussed her proposal to create an interest group for game development enthusiasts with a focus on VR and AR, as well as set up a chapter of the Mozilla campus club for the Open Source coders of the coding community in the institute.
She emphasized that Techsoc and Inter IIT Tech Meet are avenues to sharpen skills that are learnt through CFI. She then discussed the need to structurally revamp Techsoc, which has been seeing a decline in participation, by accommodating it under CFI together with the clubs, promoting coherence between club sessions and Techsoc events. She mentioned that there was a need to improve Inter IIT participation, and to have a formal mandate for the formation of contingents and the selection of a continent head. She spoke of incentivizing Techsoc by using it as a source to select contingent members, which would have the added benefit of formalizing the selection process.
Coming to Shaastra, she proposed a Shaastra Weekender which would be a pit stop of pre-Shaastra events. She also emphasised the need to revamp Shaastra publicity through online campaigning. With regards to further catering to varied interests, Pravallika discussed showcasing developments in defence technology by collaborating with different defence bodies so that people could see the kind of advancements being made in this field. She discussed collaborating with non-partisan organisations which implement technology in the growing area of interest of public policy domain in order to provide a bird’s view of e-governance. She also made other proposals for Shaastra, such as an interactive tech gallery of exhibits which are a fusion of arts and technology, Shaastra Umang-a festive zone consisting of informal events and games – in order to bring a more festive feeling to Shaastra, and an online grievance redressal portal on Shaastra website to address queries in a systematic manner.
Coming to the Entrepreneurship Cell (E-Cell), Pravallika talked about how entrepreneurship was still not considered a conventional career choice and how a lot of students have a mental barrier against it. She then discussed her plan to boost the brand value of E-Cell by acquiring International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification for the Entrepreneurship Summit (E-Summit), along with her plans of synergising with Techsoc by using E-cell as a medium to obtain Industry Defined Problems (IDPs) from start-ups, which would provide exposure as well as potential internship opportunities. She then finished her presentation with a display of her credentials: Project member for 3D Scanner & Electronics Club, Core member of Shaastra 2019, Core member of CFI, member of Inter IIT Tech Meet 2018 contingent and holder of a patent for a project under Envisage. After the presentation, the floor was opened for any questions from the executive wing and the General Students Body (GSB).
Executive Wing Q&A:
Swathi, the SECC soapbox moderator posed the first question, asking if the proposed position of a contingent head for Inter IIT Tech Meet would become a new Position of Responsibility (PoR) under CFI. In response to this, Pravallika said that this was just to cater to the formation of teams and guide their preparation for events. She also added that CFI did not technically have any PoRs as it is more of a community than an organization. The next question was from Mula Vamsi Krishna, current CoCAS, who asked her what her reason for applying for the position of CoCAS was, to which she replied that she had been a part of various clubs under CFI, which provided her with exposure and improved her skills and that she gained immensely from Shaastra as well. She mentioned that she had been a core member of Shaastra and CFI, and that she wanted to give back to both of them.
He then asked her about the many issues in the back-end organisation and implementation of Nirmaan to which she mentioned her plan for the integration for E-Cell and Nirmaan where E-Cell will be providing the necessary support and outreach for back-end operations similar to the relationship between CFI and Shaastra. On being asked about the groundwork she had done for this, she said she talked to E-Cell heads and the Sathyanarayanan Seshadri, the Faculty Advisor for Nirmaan who were all onboard with this plan.
Vamsi then asked Pravallika about the project review team, and whether it was a good idea to have the team that consists of mostly fourth-year students. He asked whether they could deliver, and how she would ensure the effectiveness of this team in case they slack off, to which she replied that she had talked to many senior members who had wanted a platform to share their experiences with current members, as well as that she has spoken to the current heads, and that they mentioned they were interested in contributing. She also said that the Project Management (PM) Team would be monitoring the progress made and the system will remain intact even if the members slack off. He then mentioned that CFI did a lot more work than what they projected, and asked how she would ensure that branding was done properly, to which she replied that the videos of club sessions would be uploaded on YouTube which will promote brand value and also so that anyone who wanted to join later after missing some sessions could still do so. She added that these videos would also be made available to IITs-Tirupati and Palakkad for which IITM is the mentor institute. On being questioned about the infrastructure necessary to accomplish this and which team would be responsible for it, she replied that they have the Branding & Engagement team for this and that some clubs had already been doing this and that it is possible.
He then asked her about bringing Techsoc under PM team, and how it would be implemented in case no one took responsibility for a particular Techsoc event as PM team is one of the most burdened teams in the institute. She first clarified by saying that Techsoc would in fact be brought under CFI and not PM team where CFI heads will have the responsibility of designing the problem statements of the events while PM team will have the responsibility of facilitating it on ground.
Pravallika was then asked by if the PM head would be held responsible if something went wrong, to which she said that the CFI would be responsible. On further pressing as to whether, as CoCAS, she would be holding the PM head or CFI head responsible, she replied that the PM head reports to the CFI head, and that this would be one of the managerial related aspects of CFI.
With regards to the Shaastra Weekender, Pravallika was asked by the current CoCas Secretary Vamsi Mula if she was aware of the similar initiative Sankalp which was scrapped two years ago as it was decided to be of no value, and what is it that she would do different instead. Her reply to this was that the demographics of students have changed and now that the freshers would be on campus during Shaastra and willing to participate, unlike before when they used to be not aware of what was happening during Shaastra. She also clarified that of course, this was not restricted to the freshers only, but would give everyone a flavour of Shaastra. When asked for a picture of what the Weekender would be like, she said that it would consist of a series of workshops and other related events, and other informal events to engage a crowd, such as science quizzes, science cluedo etc.
On being asked what the biggest team in Shaastra was, she correctly replied that it was the Events team. As a follow up question, she was asked about her ideas and vision for events and workshops, as they were the major source of participants, to which she answered that she wanted to create a new impact, by collaborating with companies and some government bodies and conducting events in collaboration with them. She also added that she would focus on quality instead of scaling up the number of events, and that she did not mention it on her manifesto because she felt that would be obvious. She was then questioned about the uncertainty and confusion surrounding the Shaastra Shows for the past 2-3 years, and about how it would affect a coordinator’s experience. Her reply to this was that they would have multiple backups of shows in different price ranges, so that at least one or two shows would definitely happen, and it would ensure an enjoyable experience for the coordinators as well.
He then proceeded to ask a few questions about Pravallika being a part of the executive wing. On being asked if she plans to involve herself in the work of other secretaries, Pravallika answered in the affirmative, and added that she planned to get to know the domains of other secretaries, and ensure a positive set of interactions. As a follow up question, she was told how collaboration would involve compromise on either side, and asked the extent to which she would compromise her coordinators’ interests for the greater good. To this, she stated that their experience was the most important thing for Shaastra, and there would be no compromise on that. Regarding Students’ Legislative Council (SLC), Vamsi mentioned that his interaction with the SLC had not been great, and asked in what contexts the CoCAS interacted with the SLC and Speaker, and how she would make sure the interaction would be smooth. Her response was that as CoCAS, she would be an elected representative of the students and that it was her responsibility to regularly attend SLC meetings, participate in the decision making, provide documentation, follow up and collaborate with standing committee for CoCAS.
Pravallika was then asked about whether she would be open to sharing the Minutes of the Meetings (MoMs) of the Shaastra and CFI core team meetings with the GSB, and she replied positively, saying that since there was nothing wrong happening, there should be transparency. On being asked about her accessibility to the GSB, she said that a leader should be empathetic and understanding, and that she would try to reach out to everyone including team members and coordinators and try to live up to her vision of being accessible. When asked what steps she would take to achieve this, she answered that she would take measures such as attending town halls, encouraging CFI and E-Cell heads and core teams, and receiving feedback regularly.
Raghav, Executive Head, CFI remarked on the fluidity of the current structure of the co-curricular sphere as a whole and how it facilitates a system where everyone is working for the betterment of the co-curricular community. He asked for a round of applause for all the teams for working to put the co-curricular sphere of IIT Madras far ahead of that of other IITs. He asked her what her opinion was on the amount of time a CoCAS spends on the different verticals of Shaastra, CFI, E-Cell. Pravallika responded that in recent years, the CoCAS was not able to focus as much on CFI, E-Cell, Techsoc, etc. as they did on Shaastra, and that this should change. On being asked what she would do differently, she said that she would try and constantly be in touch with the CFI and E-Cell heads, and try have meetings together with all the heads where they could discuss the betterment of the co-curricular sphere as a whole.
The Cultural Affairs Secretary (Literature) Gear Harshith Srinivas asked her for her take on an EDM Show at Shaastra, to which the reply was that she had discussed the matter with the Co-Curricular Advisor, but he did not believe that it was in the best interests of Shaastra, and that they had other priorities.
The floor was then opened to members of the GSB for questions. Parthik Shah, Executive Director of the E-Cell team, asked about her plans to interlink the activities of Shaastra, E-Cell and CFI, and how to plan them for the maximum benefit of students. She replied that they could show people from these bodies the benefits of working together, and ensure their plans get implemented by sitting down together with all the heads and discussing it, and if the heads and secretaries were in sync and have a clear vision and path, everything else would fall into place. He then asked about the entrepreneurship course promised last year, to which she said that Professor Sathyanarayanan Seshadri was in the process of designing it, and that it would be out next semester or year.
She was then questioned by Nirmal Sharma, Events core, E-Cell, about the integration of E-Cell with Techsoc that she had mentioned, and how the IDP statements would fit into it, to which she replied that the problem statements for Techsoc could be either from the Shaastra Events, CFI or E-Cell and not CFI only.
Questions were then asked by Samarth, Finance core, Shaastra and CFI, about the mandate for contingent formation, and since the budget had not yet been approved by Director, about the plans for the contingent next year and where they would get funding from, to which her response was that there was an issue from the Registrar’s side last time, and that there would be no such confusion next year. On being asked if she had spoken to the Dean about it, she replied in the affirmative.
The SECC soapbox moderator then asked her if she was aware of the formation of FAC (Financial Accountability Committee) and her opinion on Shaastra submitting their accounts to FAC. She replied that she is open to this as there is nothing to hide and that transparency should be encouraged.
The question slot given to T5E was up next, and she was asked about ISO certification for the E-Summit and how it would be done, to which Pravallika responded by saying that the Shaastra Quality Management System (QMS) team works on recertification, and the development and association team of E-Cell would also be working on the same, and as far as the training for the ISO audits was concerned, they could integrate the process for the Shaastra QMS team and the development and association team of E-Cell.The second question asked was about one issue that her predecessor was not able to address during his term and how she would tackle the same, to which her answer was that he was not able to give attention to all the bodies under the co-curricular sphere, but mainly focused on Shaastra. She said that she would want to change this by being involved in all the bodies that came under her purview. On being asked what limitations her predecessor might have faced which kept him from focusing on all the bodies and how she would overcome them, she said that she believed the Shaastra Core team was more than capable of handling everything and she would leave most of the work to them, so she would have time to be involved with the matters of CFI, E-Cell, Techsoc, Inter-IIT and Nirmaan as well.
She was then asked by Nirmal to elaborate about the back-end integration of Nirmaan, to which she replied that the current plan was that they would share resources like the WebOps team, and E-Cell would help with the outreach for Nirmaan, and on being asked how this would happen, she said the process was already in place, and had started this this year. The next question was about her future plans to improve the brand of Nirmaan, as it provided pre-incubation to the ideas and products coming out of IIT-Madras, and Pravallika replied that Nirmaan definitely needed more outreach, and that it could be publicised through various social media platforms, and by using E-Cell’s reach to brand Nirmaan. On being asked how she would accomplish this, as E-Cell had its own functions to perform, she said that while E-Cell did have its own activities, it would involve small, simple things, such as the Nirmaan website currently being on the E-Cell website, and that they could first accomplish these simple things and then address how to specifically brand Nirmaan.
Next, she was questioned by Parthik regarding her vision for Nirmaan, and about the fact that the money allocated was used by a lot of startups to build their prototype. Shouldn’t the funds instead be used for market research, etc? To which she replied that it was subjective and depended on the kind of startup involved, and that Nirmaan also had a panel of professors who would ensure that the money would not be wasted. She was then asked about the problems involving the current Nirmaan team, where the startups incubated in Nirmaan were not getting the kind of mentoring they required, and about the current team not being competent enough. She replied that she had been discussing this with Professor Sathyanarayan and Adil, the current head of E-Cell, and that the problem was that the team was not big enough, and it was mostly consisting of 2nd and 3rd year students, so the best way to solve it was to loop in more faculty members.
As a follow up question, she was asked if she had talked to professors to get them on board, and the response was that they already had a huge board which conducted regular reviews, as well as a project manager to take care of the whole thing, and that the best solution was to involve the faculty members more.
Then, she was questioned by Samarth about CFI becoming a platform for projects to be pitched, when it should be a place for people who love tech first and foremost instead. Pravallika replied that CFI would still be a platform for everything, and that the basic motto of CFI was to understand the spirit of engineering, also adding that every project cannot and does not need to become a product, and that it should be left to choice. It is CFI’s responsibility to equip them with the skills. Then she was asked how the review team would review each project, to which the reply was that the current procedure was not very structured but the plan was to have a panel of 3 or 4 people who would try and guide them towards the right direction. Then, she was asked about the budget allocation in terms of how much would be spent on ‘fun’ projects, for competitions, or for socially relevant projects. She replied that the budget allocation would be very dynamic, and would be done for CFI as a whole along with the CFI heads. When further asked for her take on it, she said that according to her, anyone willing to work sincerely deserved to work on it. When reminded that 50 lakhs was the maximum they could get for the year, she said that competitive teams had their own sources of revenue, and CFI projects as well, and that with respect to this year, they did have sufficient money. On being asked if she thought that CFI had reached its expected level this year with respect to output and level of involvement of students, she reiterated that CFI’s primary goal is to provide students with a platform to work on a project, which she thought had been achieved. She was reminded that the CFI approved budget was around 45 lakhs , but till now the expense was only around 30 lakhs, so she was asked if people were not as interested in tech as before, and did she think the money allocated to CFI should be lesser? She replied by saying that the numbers did not show a lack of interest, but that there might be many other reasons (like technical problems, lack of procurement of materials, etc) for a project slowing down, and that these reasons needed to be looked into, and that there was no need to constrain the budget.
As a follow up point to that question, Raghav said that as a part of the managerial team, they needed to keep this budget running till July, and that they would be re-allocating some of the funds towards the competition teams, and far as the next year was concerned, they would leave it to Pravallika and CFI head for the coming year to talk to the administration and decide how much funds should be allocated.
Samarth also mentioned that when it came to Shaastra, they were forced to keep some buffers in their budget, and that they had also earned a decent amount of profit, and how would this profit be used? The response to this was that the budget from this year could not be used for the next, and since Shaastra was a non-profit organisation, it has to end up with zero profits. This money could be used by buying inventory items that would be required for the next year by teams like Envisage, and for CFI as well. On being asked by Samarth if this would be approved by the Shaastra Screening Committee, she said that as long as there was no misuse of money, she did not see why they would not approve. Parthik asked, continuing the previous question, whether there was a way the profit could be used to fund E-Cell activities, she said that this was something which would have to be discussed with the faculty advisors, but that it could possibly be used. He further mentioned that he had talked to the Dean, who had said that this could not be used, and asked Pravallika to shed some light on this. She responded by saying that she would go for further discussions regarding this. As a follow up question on Nirmaan, Nirmal asked about what Pravallika meant by involving more faculty members, and what their role would be. She replied that one of the major problems mentioned was that a lot of the project members, being PG students, did not answer to the junior students, and hence the solution to this involved the board of professors and the faculty advisor.
That brought an end to the Q&A session, and the soapbox was thus concluded.