A Benison for Freshers: The Student Counselling Programme
The recently rolled out Student Counselling Programme came in the form of a messiah for the newest members of the NITR family. Intended to provide emotional, academic and financial aid to students in need, this programme may make the future batches lucky in a lot of ways their previous batches were not.
Student Mentorship Program was an initiative of Monday Morning. Anurag Saha Roy, a graduate of NITR and a mentor of Monday Morning, ensured its implementation in the autumn of 2016 when the freshmen were allotted mentors. These mentors were selected from applications which were invited from the final year students. Team MM had also set up the guidelines for the proper selection of mentors. These were mentioned in a previous article, the link for which is given below.
SMP had many benefits and had the potential to grow into a successful platform for interaction between students of different branches and for the juniors to tap into the experience and wisdom of their seniors. However, it soon gave way to SCP- Student Counselling Program.
Student Counselling Program has been initiated by Director Prof. Animesh Biswas. It is based on the model of the Counselling Services Cell present in IIT, Kanpur. SCP is different from SMP because apart from focussing on the problems faced by freshmen in academic and non-academic activities as SMP did, SCP also pays due attention to their mental and emotional state.
SCP is headed by Prof. K C Pati, under whom three full-time counselors will work. There will be fourteen coordinators; six from UG and eight from PG or research programs. A total of about 110-120 (116 this year) mentors will be overseen by these coordinators. The mentors will guide their mentees and advise them to consult the counselors; if the situation demands.
Monday Morning And SCP:
A program of the scale of Student Counselling Program, which deals with important aspects of a student’s life such as his/her emotions, financial difficulties, and career advice, has to be well formulated and systematic. It’s structure and working style has to be first formulated, scrutinized and tested before it’s confident execution. Hence, after the initial proposal of SCP, it was time to decide the Why, Who and How of SCP. To kick-start the process, the concerned authorities needed a group of students and faculty who would help organize SCP. The SAC office bearers were approached first during the summer break, but the time of approach being a time when most students were out of station, the required response could not be elicited. That is when it struck Professor K.C.Pati, that SMP, though not a very successful venture was a program with great potential proposed and brought to action by Monday Morning, under the guidance of Prof. Bansidhar Majhi.
On 21st June, he approached the present Chief Coordinators of Monday Morning to help him begin giving shape to SCP. It was debated at that time and even later that it was biased to choose Monday Morning for the task. Prof. K.C. Pati justifies his assigning Monday Morning this task as follows.
Once I was made in charge of the Student Counselling Programme by the Director, I personally went around the halls of residence and interacted with the caretakers and tried to elicit some information from them. Next I tried contacting some students who I thought might volunteer, but it was the time of summer vacations and I didn’t get any response from the aforementioned students beyond the first call. Finally, I felt that I should contact Monday Morning to volunteer for SCP. This decision of mine was fuelled by the fact that I had been associated with SAC previously for 3 years and had seen the working style and culture of Monday Morning. Having seen their rigorous nature as well as their diligence and efforts, I entrusted them with the few initial tasks of SCP.
By 25th June, Monday Morning spread the word asking for volunteers among its members. A team of six was finally formed with five of them being UG third year students. The team was given a task to choose 120 Mentors by the 10th of July and at least 10 coordinators by the end of July.
The task was indeed herculean. The first subtask was to decide a panel for selecting students to be mentors for the SCP. Firstly it was thought that the mentors of the SMP should be a part of the panel. But even though SMP was the brainchild of Monday Morning it failed to create an impact. In a survey done by Monday Morning in February 2017, it was found that only 20% of the then first years were aware of SMP. This proved that the management was poor. Also there was no official record of how good the mentors were and hence the idea had to be scrapped. The second idea was to choose a panel consisting of random students, preferably UG Final Year Students with prior experience in leading teams. The idea was dropped due to two reasons. First of all, leading and mentoring are two different aspects, and therefore a person cannot choose someone to be a good mentor just because he was a good leader. Second, most of the final year students were busy with their internships and hence it was not the right time to approach them. The last and only option left was to consult the student counsellor. Unfortunately, the counsellor had just taken charge and visited once in a week and considering time constraints the volunteers went ahead with the task of forming a questionnaire which would help in shortlisting candidates. The questionnaire consisted of some situational questions on topics like homesickness, CGPA, balance between studies and extracurricular activities. The questionnaire was prepared by the 28th of June and then forwarded to Prof. K.C. Pati. After his approval, it was circulated via webmail requesting students to fill it up and the deadline was 10th of July, 2017. Since the volunteers were aware of the fact that most students won’t care to check their webmail, the link was circulated on social media platforms. Even though, they were aware that this link won’t reach everyone, it would still reach a majority of them. More than 200 applications were received from UG 2nd, 3rd & 4th year students and PG as well as research scholars. Given that it was also not a very plausible idea to give a single person to assess all the applications, each and every application was evaluated by four volunteers and aggregate scores were calculated for every response. All the evaluation reports were approved by Prof. K.C. Pati. Based on the final peer assessments, a total of 116 Mentors were chosen for the task.
Fielding questions on why Monday Morning chose third year students to set up this program, Mitesh Mishra, the former Chief Coordinator of Monday Morning said:
As per the proposal submitted by Prof Debayan Sarkar earlier in April, it was suggested that mentors would mostly be UG second and third year students and for the initial year, they would be chosen by a group of coordinators with the help of their contacts. However, the number of applications received from UG final year students was higher as compared to second year students and hence it was later decided that the majority of mentors will have to be from the former. Also, any person who has been inducted into Monday Morning has passed through a very rigorous process of selection and hence a Monday Morning team member can be trusted for doing a lot of activities. After becoming content writers, the chief co-ordinators go through an even vigorous process of selection. They work hard for MM, they are grilled and they are selected based on their performance and interviews. Besides that they are the ones responsible for Monday Morning, so if the organisation was given the responsibility, then the responsibility was given to its leaders and the leaders are the third year students.
While the first list of mentors was realeased on the 13th of July, the second was released on the 30th. The final list of mentors along with the alloted mentees was mailed to all the mentors on the same date. A link was made available on the squiggles of Monday Morning and at the same time a printed copy was pasted in all the first year hostels. The mentees were requested to contact their respective mentors by the 5th of August, 2017.
After the mentors were chosen, it was evident that to manage all 116 mentors and even larger number of mentees, there was a need to choose coordinators, people who had prior experience in managing both people and money. Once again, Prof K.C Pati felt that Monday Morning would be an apt organization to be trusted with choosing coordinators and also save a lot of hassle. However, it was clear that this would transfer too much authority in the hands of Monday Morning and tip the scales. Hence, the proposal was promptly rejected by the Chief Coordinators of MM. Instead, it was proposed that a minimum of 5 coordinators each from Undergraduate streams and Post-Graduate streams be selected through a rigorous and credible process of interview by faculty members and student panelists. The people who applied to become coordinators were screened; people who have had positions of responsibility or were involved in activities requiring organization and management were preferred. Thirty such people were selected from UG and PG and research courses. All of them were then interviewed by two special unbiased panels consisting of both faculty and student members. Out of these, six undergrad students and eight postgraduate students were selected who will be coordinating the activities of SCP. The panelists were given the criteria to judge the applicants as well as their written response sheets. The interviews for the coordinators were held on 3rd and 4th of August, 2017. The Panels consisted of the following members.
1. Ankit Acharya: A final year student, the former Treasurer of ASME NIT Rourkela Chapter and Review Writer at Cinematics.
2. Nishant Thacker: A final year student, a former secretary of Film and Music Society and has experience of managing several fests and events.
3. Prof. Dipti Patra: Associate Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering.
4. Prof. Suvendu Pattnaik: Assistant Professor, Department of Mathematics.
1. Nikhil Patwari: A Dual Degree final year student, former post holder in SAC and a MITACS research fellow
2. Prof .Alok Satapathy: Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering.
3. Prof.K.C Pati: Professor, Department of Mathematics.
Monday Morning passed the baton for managing SCP to the fourteen coordinators on the 9th of August, 2017. The selection of coordinators was where Monday Morning’s part in SCP ended.
Monday Morning was tasked with giving SCP a proper structure, which it did. It provided it with a managing student body and constitution to guide the mentors and the mentees. This body and the people in charge of SCP will now be responsible for its growth and success. The Student Counselling Programme has taken its baby steps towards development and hopefully will gradually achieve its target of making the freshers stay at NITR safer and more homely.