Elucidating The Path of Student Welfare: Prof. Simanchala Panigrahi
On a warm Thursday afternoon, Team Monday Morning had the opportunity to have a conversation with Prof. Simanchala Panigrahi who has been recently appointed as the Dean of Student Welfare. The academic year witnessed a multitude of changes and fresh new beginnings ranging from the restructuring of Student Activity Centre(SAC) to the initiative of the Student Counselling Program, to name a few. Following are the details of his responses concerning various pressing issues pertaining to the welfare of students and the institute.
Monday Morning (MM): Team Monday Morning congratulates you for taking up the position of Dean, Student Welfare. Being one of the senior-most faculty members of NIT Rourkela, you have held several responsible positions and have extended your services for nearly four decades. Please tell us about your journey as a teacher and a mentor.
Simanchala Panigrahi (SP): I started my career as a teacher and rendered nearly 40 years of service as a teacher. As a professor of Physics, I love teaching and until now I have guided 14 PhD students. I have seen NIT Rourkela in its REC days when it was a joint venture of the State government and Central government. The fund was very limited, unlike the present times where funds are being poured due to its national recognition and importance. We started our journey of research with a constraint of money and limited facilities but it could never cease our indomitable determination.
When there is a will, there is a way.
I have supervised the institute with a limited fund constraint as well as with surplus funds.
MM: What are certain important activities that are unique to our institute for the welfare of students?
SP: Presently, a student should have a healthy body as a well as a sound mind for their holistic development. Every student is unique and has a special talent which needs to be nurtured. So, apart from Academics, we also focus on the extra-curricular activities of the students where they can actively participate and bring laurels to our institute in various realms. To motivate students to participate in extracurricular activities, we have a Student Activity Centre (SAC) which comprises of 4 societies: Art and Cultural society, Games and Sports society, Technical Society, and Literary society.
The objective of the SAC is to provide a platform for the students’ to showcase their latent talent and foster their unique endowment.
Moreover, we have initiated the Student Counselling Program which aims to help the students tackle stress and anxiety due to academic and non-academic issues that they face in their day to day life. A counsellor and a psychiatrist have been appointed to counsel the students who are suffering from any kind of psychosomatic issues.
MM: You have witnessed a lot of transition in your service-career here. From REC to NIT. From one Director to another. What transformation have you witnessed among students of different generations? What’s your take on the advancement of technology and the transformation from real contact hour classes to virtual classes?
SP: During the early days of my teaching, knowledge was the only teacher driven. But, in the present times, the teacher is only an igniter of the mind who kindles the flame of knowledge which is just a click away from our reach (online courses and information in the web). Nowadays, students are much more talented and smarter as compared to our generation, as knowledge is available everywhere and they are exposed to advanced technology. The IQ level has increased due to the evolution of knowledge. But, that doesn’t mean technology can replace a teacher.
MM: Tell us something about the restructuring of the SAC and the changes thereof. Has it affected the administration or student community in any way? How far are these changes “constructive” on the side of the students?
SP: The different societies have been slightly modified and the expenditure on the fests have been reduced. This has affected the administration and the student community both positively as well as negatively, as every decision has its own outcomes. The expenditure and resources of the SAC are being judiciously utilised after the restructuring of SAC.
We are discouraging mindless spending of money which made us a little unpopular amongst the students.
But, this is for their own benefit. In addition to that, we also take the students’ feedback into consideration and make necessary changes.
MM: Please tell us about your unique plans during your tenure as the Dean Student Welfare and the ways your office is prepared to do so.
SP: Presently according to the Ministry of Human Resources and Development(MHRD) guidelines we are going to organise “Rashtriya Ekta Divas”. The theme is “Unity in Diversity” and we are planning to conduct various events on the aforementioned theme all across the year. Moreover, we have planned to spread the message on ill-effects of ragging through a drama or a street play to create awareness amongst the students. Through various programs, we will also be spreading awareness messages to the nearby villages of NIT Rourkela.
As an institute of national importance, one of our objectives is to improve the “Scientific literacy” in each and every aspect and to upgrade the living standard of nearby villages. So, we are planning to adopt some villages nearby NIT, Rourkela. Through NSS and SAC activities, some of the students will impart education to the villagers and create awareness about the various issues pertaining to them.
MM: Many female residents of the campus show concern that gender inequality and female representation in various activities needs retrospection. What is your take on it?
SP: Gender justice is the need of the hour. There is a small proportion of females representatives at SAC, mostly nominated by the Dean or the Director. To promote women empowerment, one initiative that can be taken is reservation of some posts in SAC and other important positions. Also, doing more on the line, we could invite speakers to give sessions on gender inequality and women empowerment. Some other non-conventional way of spreading the message could be through street plays.
MM: Recently, the administration has restricted the mobility of students outside the campus. The fear of mishaps in picnics may be one of the reasons for a circular. But the way it is treated is in fact much too serious and students’ mobility, say, within a proper setup or at non-dangerous places, could possibly give students a much-deserved break. What’s your say in it?
Students may find it hard to agree but all these decisions are taken keeping in mind the welfare and safety of students.
The number of mishaps at picnics has seen a rise in the last few years. Then again, there are parents who would support this decision. And thus, a webmail was circulated banning all sorts of group activities except academic and scientific. Moreover, there’s no harm in taking permission from the officials before any such trips. You could be accompanied by a faculty so that the administration could be held accountable for any such mishaps. Most of the times, restrictions are made for safety and security of the student mass, and there’s nothing wrong with it. The security of the girls is also our primary concern.
MM: Do you think that student welfare, faculty welfare and staff welfare are integrated sites for the holistic development of the campus? How does your office coordinate and negotiate among these three pillars?
SP: This is basically a nomenclature for dividing the work of a Director. The institute consists of faculties and students, both academic and non-academic. The issues of the students within the working hours are attended to by the Student Welfare, faculties are attended to by the Faculty Welfare and the non-teaching or administrative professionals are handled by the Staff Welfare. These are the subunits of sharing the responsibilities. Just like a good physique reflects sound health, sound mind and perfect posture, similarly, all the three counterparts need to work hand-in-hand for the proper functioning of the institute. There lies a good coordination among the departments because all the Deans enjoy a good rapport with each other.
MM: What’s your message to the student community in general?
SP: Students should develop cohesiveness among their friends and seniors. Giving back to the society in one way or the other should be the primary concern by different activities such as NSS, NCC or any other social service clubs. But, this shouldn’t happen with the academics on a stake, that being the major factor, it will get you a good job or help you move forward in higher studies or research. Students should not be involved in ragging or any such cases.
As the saying goes ‘Give it, to get it’, you must earn the respect of your juniors and not expect it from them forcefully. Following the correct path rather than the wrong path should be our main objective.