Illuminating The Road To Alumni Relations: Prof. Sukadev Meher
Team Monday Morning recently had a conversation with the newly appointed Dean, Alumni Relations from the Department of Electronics and Communication Engineering, Prof. Sukadev Meher. In his conversation with us, he clears the air on many topics of the alumni domain. Here are the excerpts from the interview.
MM: Team Monday Morning congratulates you on the appointment as the Dean of Alumni Relations. Please tell us about your journey as a teacher and now as an administrator.
SM: I started my teaching career here in February 1989, so it has been almost 29 years. I have seen radical changes in the institute from simple REC with a few branches to a big university with many specializations. The club culture has grown, the institute is now active 24X7. Now we are at par with the premier Indian Institute of Technology's(IITs). As an administrator, I have been the HOD of the Department of Electronics and Communication Engineering. The society has changed much and we are now trying to cope up with the thinking of the present generation and remove the generation gap that seems to exist.
MM: What are your plans to strengthen the network of alumni relation and what changes have been brought about since you have taken office regarding the improvement of relations?
SM: I have been in talks with Vikram Rao, an alumnus of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. He is currently working in IIIT, Kancheepuram and we are having a talk about what way we can better our relationship with our alumnus. I have also learnt from IIT Madras, they send a mail to the alumni everyday morning. But our system does not allow more than fifty mails to be sent daily. So, I send mails to the alumni on the batch basis and try to maintain contact with them. I am intending to send a mail every week at least for a better relationship with the alumni.
I try to revert back to the alumni as soon as I can through phone or mail whenever contacted, a simple thing but immediate and prompt response helps to build a better relation.
MM: Leo Paulose had told of projects being provided to the students of NITR through NITRAA. What has been the progress so far regarding the same?
SM: The projects are being coordinated by the alumni without any Professor-in-Charge(PIC) appointed by the college. There are many teachers who are the alumni of the institute but their role as a teacher and as an alumnus is different. The connectivity of Rourkela causes another issue of not having the NITRAA meet here itself. I will be requesting the Director for an alumni week rather than a day. Another issue cropping up in this regard is the unavailability of funds for conducting the meet here which would have interested the professors to take up the projects.
MM: What were the decisions taken in the recent meet with the NITROAA president?
SM: There are innovation, incubation, and acceleration in the industry. The TIIR center at our institute has got the innovator and incubator cells, so we along with the alumnus are planning to set up an accelerator cell here. Also, a new scholarship for the students of NITR will be started from next year onwards.
MM: Can we have a forum for discussion of students interested in pursuing education abroad? If any form of MOUs can be signed if an alum is a professor is at a foreign university?
SM: We had circulated a notice regarding NITROAA president Birendra Jena, coming to the college and urging the students to meet him. But only ten to twenty students turned up for the event. There was the only single person coming from one branch and this was a kind of disrespect. But he was very happy with the hospitality we provided and immediately sent us a vote of thanks as soon as he left the institute.
MM: Are there any chairs being set up by alumni to help the deserved students?
SM: Seven scholarships are there from the 1982 endowment fund and two scholarships from one donor Pendiyar Rama Rao. He came to Hyderabad and we signed the MoU for a scholarship of rupees forty thousand per month to two students. Another problem is that there are only seven to eight scholarships by the alumni which are available. The alumnus want the students to apply for scholarships from other sources first and if they don’t get it they want the students to apply for these. Leo Paulose has also asked me for permission regarding the scholarship for Ph.D. students. The NIT authorities do not have any issue with the donations of the alumni.
MM: Is anything being done to improve the teaching learning process with the help of the alumnus?
SM: Dean of many premier IITs do not specifically look into the Alumni Relations part but also work in the Industrial Relations part. So, I have been in talks with the Director for the creation of a similar post. This will make the relationship pre-relation type rather than post-relation type. They will be coming to us for placements, internships, and personality development courses which will be an improvement in the teaching-learning process.
MM: Comment on the present student alumni relations and the college alumni relations.
SM: I do not have much idea about the final years being in touch with the alumni. The students in NITRAA went for the annual meet at Pune.So, there is a contact maintained between the alumni and the students. Regarding the college alumni relations, it has been improving in the last two years. It was almost dead three to four years back. With the new Director, there has been a complete change in the total scenario of the relation with the alumni.
MM: The alumni meet organized previous year by the alumni relations cell had a minimal participation of the alumnus. What is your take on this?
SM: The numbers have been increasing from the previous year of the NITRAA meet when there is a minimal participation it is with reference to the total number of alumni but the point is the participation every year has been steadily rising. The next meet is going to be organized in Delhi which is a central point of the country and is expected to have higher participation in the work for the meet beginning almost a year in advance.
MM: Why is the Alumni Relations office generally found closed?
SM: Many of the students are actually unaware that the Alumni Relations Office has shifted to the TIIR building. The office stays open when the office staffs come in, but the problem is that we do not have enough staff. There is a temporary worker, who comes in for some time. Due to this dearth of people to man the office, we are unable to keep the cell open for long, as an office consists of the office itself, and the office staff.
Plus, whatever help is needed or issue is to be taken up can be intimated directly to me or to the officer through the phone or mail. Everything has become virtual and easier these days. I have personally made sure, that I am available to everyone; be it alumni or students at all points in time.
MM: Although NITRAA is recognized as the largest student alumni network yet the alumni cell of the institute does not collaborate properly with it. Why not?
SM: The Alumni Relations Office and NITRAA are indeed two different bodies. But we work together.
The Alumni Relations Cell acts as a mediator between the institute and NITRAA and the alumni.
It relates things and information from the institute to them and vice versa. The Alumni Relations Office connects the alumni of the institute with their alma mater. We don’t have very big roles; we have a very simple duty; relate what the institute wants, to NITRAA and do the same with NITRAA.
MM: There was a proposal for incubation of funds by the alumnus for the entrepreneurs of NITR. What is the progress regarding the same?
SM: This is definitely in progress; many alumni came to our institute this year as well. They not only talk about incubating ideas but also about acting and helping as accelerators. They held sessions on how to get investments from proper sources as well. Not only are they interested in funding such entrepreneurs but also in mentoring them. This is what the budding entrepreneurs need; guidance in the sector that they are entering. The TIIR building provides a space for innovation and incubation coupled and supported by industrial relations. We are planning to have a center for acceleration at our Bhubaneswar center, which is the next step after idea incubation. Funding is also invited and expected from the Government at the Centre and the State and also from various companies.
MM: Are funds being provided by the alumnus for the infrastructural development, club growth, and the likes, at NITR?
SM: No, the alumni do not fund infrastructural developments mostly because the budget runs into crores and it is mostly not possible on their part to contribute such huge sums to make a significant and meaningful donation. But we can work to make them interested in funding such developments which are feasible on their part. This will take time. Here is an instance;
When someone comes to your house, you do not immediately ask them for help. You treat them well and maintain a good relationship with them over the years so that when the time comes, they can be of your help, if needed. So let us first build up a good relationship with them first.
Also, clubs like Tiburon and Team Roadrunner were funded and helped in kind. Tiburon was accommodated, free of all costs, in Singapore. Even in the NITRAA meet at Pune, the student members’ travel and accommodation expenses were borne by the alumni, only.
MM: What is being done in association with the alumnus to improve the placement scenario?
SM: Nothing has been done yet, but some alumni are indeed interested in venturing in this direction. We can definitely involve the alumni to improve the placement scenario at NITR. They can also help in improving our relations with the industries, which will lead to better opportunities for the students of NITR. The alumni who are interested in recruiting students from NITR do come without any invitation from our side.
MM: The website with the contacts of alumni has seen significant improvements. However, since sufficient publicity hasn’t been generated, many students are unaware of this. How can your office help to improve this scenario?
SM: Actually the website hasn’t been updated completely and properly. The old contacts and addresses are majorly outdated. NITRAA has a team of people who are actually contacting the alumni to update their details on their database, which will later be uploaded to the website. They started from batches in the 1960s and have contacted many people and updated their information in their database. They have the updated ones until the batch of 1982, and they did so in a year. We are and should be concentrating more on obtaining their phone numbers and mail IDs.
MM: What is your message to the student community?
Students should have a good relationship with their institute, especially after they graduate from it. You should try to learn and know more, in the fields that they are interested it, be it reading or playing. You should try to love life and all the things that you do. First have a good relationship with yourself; this will inspire you to love your institute and surroundings more.