“On a mission to mentor the students of today to be leaders of tomorrow” is how Sivakumar M. Srinivasan likes to identify himself in all his emails. As the new Dean of Students (DoST) takes office, T5E catches up with him and brings you an insight into his ideas and plans for the future.
I strongly believe that every one of our students has the potential to be a leader. So all my plans and work are towards achieving such a paradigm. IIT, in my opinion, provides a unique experience of living and learning to the best of the students in the country. Both faculty members and students live within the campus, creating an ecosystem that is full of opportunities for students to interact with faculty members in both formal and informal settings. However, we have a long way to go in terms of seeing such an atmosphere prevailing. I will strive hard to build an ecosystem that nurtures this.
Specifically, to mention a few plans-
(1) Improve the administrative machinery to provide better service to the students
(2) Conduct introductory coaching classes for various sports, co-curricular and cultural activities, thereby encouraging more students to take to these activities;
(3) Create enough opportunities and exposure to build a variety of skills through CFI and Mitr,
(4) Improve the CFI facilities for more number of students to engage themselves.
(5) Refine the Mitr structure to be more inclusive and able to reach out to more
(6) Encourage activities that are related to social causes to nurture social responsibility, sensitivity and compassion within.
(7) Strive to bring as many visionaries as possible to interact with our students inspiring them.
(8) Involve alumni in various activities and events and catalyze the bond between the alumni and the institute
(9) Find out ways by which students struggling with academics can get appropriate help.
(10) A constant dialogue with the students to stay connected with them.
What do you think is your first challenge as DoST? Are there any immediate changes that we can look forward to?
Students have voiced many problems with the administrative procedure. They feel that many things that are a compulsory part of their routine are long and circuitous. I want to make improvements to the administrative structure so that students are at ease dealing with their routines.
Very soon, we will be welcoming a fresh batch of students who have their own dreams and perceptions. I want to make sure they settle down quickly and are happy with the atmosphere in which they will be spending the next 4 years of their lives and deepening their sense of belonging at IITM.
In fact, we have already started addressing one of the major grievances (the food in the IIT mess) by bringing in new caterers which will, I hope, ensure that the food served is of better quality. I also wish to continue to provide enough opportunities for a student to ensure a well-rounded education. My dream: When a student graduates from IITM, he or she should be ready to step into this world brimming with confidence.
Has your tenure as MITR advisor impacted your views in any way?
Definitely! It was a unique experience in the sense that apart from the routine work related to being the Mitr Chief advisor, I had the opportunity to have close interactions with more than 250 students who shared their problems and struggles with me. I feel that this experience has helped me in understanding the students better, which will play a crucial role in doing a good job as the new dean.
There are two important aspects that I think all our students will benefit from by learning – one is planning and the other is engaging in a dialogue. Many students are not information-seeking. While a lot of information is available; there is paucity in locating the information resulting in an inability to solve some of their simple problems.
You had been the coordinator for the Life Skills course that was introduced last year. Do you think it has brought about a change when compared to other batches?
The answer is yes and no. Yes, in the sense that some tools with respect to life skills may have gone into the students’ subconscious minds. No, in the sense that I saw that at least 50% of the students did not feel enfranchised enough in the classroom setting. Involvement was missing. I found a lot of liveliness in the last component of the course in which they had to identify a topic for their ‘Social Responsibility’ project. Maybe, if they are empowered to discuss among themselves (as opposed to someone preaching a certain idea to them); it would have been more fun. I want to make this a priority when it comes to planning future classroom sessions. Also, I wish to reduce the number of hours per session.
Tell us about your time at IITM as a student– and any memorable experiences? Do you feel that the internet has changed hostel life drastically when compared to your times?
An overwhelming yes! Being a student was a memorable experience in terms of the freedom I had. Of course, all freedom comes with responsibility, which we learnt along the way. We had a lot of discussions in the corridors and wings and we used to go to the rooms only to retire. Corridor discussions and arguments used to be fun and engaging. We seemed to have a lot of time at our disposal. Today, with the advent of internet technology, Facebook has become the equivalent of corridor for you today. In recent times, whenever I have gone to the hostels, I have found the corridors empty and gloomy! In my opinion, Facebook can never substitute the experience of direct one-on-one interaction. This does not mean that I oppose the Facebook culture! The Facebook culture can add value to our lives as long as there is moderation.
The hostel allocation process underwent a change last year, concerning the first-years. Has it created any notable differences? Is the system going to be continued?
Firstly, it is a Supreme Court ruling that we have to allocate separate hostels for first-years, and in fact, we have been late in executing it when compared to other colleges and IITs. That being said, one of the important changes that I saw over the years is that a junior feels subservient to a senior, when compared to my times. When we were staying in the hostels, we used to move with seniors the same way as we moved with our batch-mates. We too had to be in a separate hostel in the first year and moved to another in the second year. It was Alakananda and Mandakini, if I remember right, that were allocated for the first-years. Of course, the aim, even then, was to avoid ragging to a certain extent. Looking back, ragging did help me in connecting to seniors. But it is very difficult to set a line that one shouldn’t cross when it comes to senior-fresher interactions.
As students, when we moved to the other hostels in our second year, we did not feel that we had missed out on friends that we could have had. In those days, the students in a particular branch used to be moved to a single hostel and there were several occasions to meet and therefore, building friendships was not difficult. From my experience as a student, I feel that the pain the students feel while moving from the fresher hostel to another is only transient. No senior could command us or order us around. But, today, I see a lot of this behaviour. Perhaps the reason is the hierarchical structure built around organizing the Shaastra and the Saarang festivals and similar events. In a way, a separate freshers’ hostel helps in building a confidence level among the first years such that they don’t feel obligated to do certain things ordered by their ‘seniors’ when they move to another hostel in their second year.
A lot of new infrastructure coming up in the form of hostels, canteens, etc. seem to be delayed due to certain legal issues. As students, what can we expect the future to hold for these?
This is only a transition period. It is only a matter of time before the constructions resume. In a year’s time you will find the change complete. As far as the facilities are concerned, I am sure the students feel that the facilities are improving. Facilities will be continuously improving so as to ensure that the living experience is memorable.
You have been teaching in IITM for 20 years now. Do you feel that there has been a change in the attitude of student joining over the years?
Yes, but it could probably be me getting old! In the initial period, I saw a lot of enthusiasm among students in academics. Of late, especially over the last seven to eight years, I do see a shift in the attitude of the students towards academics. It could be because of the nature of the jobs they get today demanding skills different from what they learn in the classrooms, Yet, it is glaringly clear that by and large the students feel that what they go through as curriculum may not matter that much in the final job they are going to get placed in. Therefore, they don’t pay much attention to the nuances of learning as far as the courses are concerned. It does affect our enthusiasm as teachers regardless of how competent we may be.
What message would you like to give to the students?
Always push yourself but not with respect to others. Challenge yourself instead of being competitive with others, since you should be able to motivate yourself regardless of the level of competition. Compete with your own self and excel. That gives you the taste of a beautiful experience.