Keeping Up With Alumni Happenings In Diamond Jubilee: Dean AIIR Speaks
A strong alumni network is an invaluable asset for any leading institute. NIT Rourkela in this regard is fortunate to have its alumni as global leaders in various sectors. The institute recognises the crucial role that alumni play in representing the institute globally and building resources for growth.
Team Monday Morning recently caught up with Dean Alumni, Industry & International Relations (AIIR), Prof. Abanti Sahoo, the Convener of the Local Organising Committee of the Institute’s Diamond Jubilee Celebrations. In her conversation with Monday Morning, she clears the air on events lined up for the ensuing Diamond Jubilee year, alumni relations and funding, NITRAA facilities, forging industrial partners, research collaborations, and much more pertinent issues.
Here are the excerpts from the conversation:
Monday Morning (MM): Starting with the events lined up for the Diamond Jubilee celebration, can you share with us some details of the cultural and technical festivals planned as part of the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations?
Dean Alumni, Industry & International Relations, Prof. Abanti Sahoo (Dean AIIR): All the details are not planned yet. However, we have appointed the department representatives for the respective departments. Through the representatives, I am planning to inform the Head of the Departments to arrange for science & technology-related activities at the departmental level, which would be open to both the students and the faculties.
For example, if the Department of Electrical Engineering is conducting the events, then we can invite all the Electrical branch students across the country to participate. Various activities can be organised depending upon the Department Committee's purview, like exhibitions, competitions, presentations etc.
MM: There are lectures by renowned people planned to be conducted every month. When is it going to commence? Are the lectures by renowned persons, a continuation of the NITRAA webinars or something more than that?
Dean AIIR: We have planned to start the lectures from February itself. I do not presume how far we will be successful in doing that. Recently, I have mailed Shri Kailash Satyarthi, recipient of Nobel Peace prize but he has not responded till now. Alternatively, I will be contacting the institute’s nationally renowned alumni for the lectures; just like we contacted Prof. Lalit Mohan Patnaik, Emeritus Professor at IISc Bangalore on 15th August. Similarly, many more alumni can be contacted.
I would reflect that before the pandemic, the student volunteers helped us in every regard. Now, owing to the pandemic, we are not able to take much help from the students. We can only discuss with department representatives and try to find out if any nationally renowned speakers will be available whom we can contact. Everybody’s cooperation is required. The lectures will definitely have something more than NITRAA webinars. I feel online webinars don’t have much impact on the audience, in comparison to a physical presence during the lecture. However, we are not sure whether speakers will agree to visit or not because of COVID-19. If they agree, we will be glad to welcome them.
MM: What is the status of the Diamond Jubilee monument which is planned to be inaugurated on the Institute Foundation Day this year?
Dean AIIR: We have floated the tender for the Expression of Interest (EoI), which means we are open to considering design proposals from different architect agencies. If we find the designs suitable, we will ask the parties to visit the institute and present their ideas before the committee. Based on that, 2-3 designs will be selected, and then we would ask them to submit their project quotations. We invited the EoI before once; however, we could not find suitable responses. Again, one more EoI was invited around mid-January for which 2nd February was the last date.
The last I checked; two agencies have submitted their designs. Apart from these agencies, four designs have been received from the students’ side. All of them will be shown to the committee, and the committee will decide and pick up the design that will be finalised for the construction of the monument.
MM: As the Alumni induction program will be happening in April as a part of the celebrations, can you shed some more light on it?
Dean AIIR: Up until last year, we had this alumni induction program on the day before the convocation. However, for the previous two years, we have observed that students who come get busy meeting their friends, and the number of audiences is a marginal low. Hence, we have thought about conducting the induction program separately and not combine it with the convocation. We plan to have the induction process in April before the final year students leave the campus.
We will be inviting some of the institute's top alumni to the program. They can speak about the importance of alumni for the growth of the institute. The program's main objective is to instil the feeling of connection to their alma mater among the final year students. We will also highlight the present alumni activities, and the alumni can also give some advice and guidance to the final year students.
Along with that, we have planned to develop a Corpus Fund. The final year students will be informed about the fund's objective, and they can even donate something for the fund when they are in a better position in the future.
MM: Can you please brief us about the Global Alumni meet that will be held in December 2021?
Dean AIIR: The Global Alumni meet will mark the closing ceremony of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. All alumni will be contacted to attend it. We hope to see at least 1000 alumni attend the meet along with their families. As a part of the event, some alumni will be felicitated as well. Along with that, retired professors and staff members who have contributed to the institute's growth will be felicitated too. In a pandemic situation, we think the event would be pulled off well majorly by our alumni support as we can’t rely on industries.
We are planning to invite the Hon’ble Prime Minister for the closing ceremony. However, that is a work in progress. Apart from that, we have also designed to conduct industrial exhibitions on the first day, and the institute's potential, i.e., the FTBI (Foundation for Technology and Business Incubation) prowess will also be displayed. If the alumni find our students to have greater potential, they can even sponsor many more projects. We even welcome the students to pitch in their ideas for the event. This is what we have roughly planned for the event. With due course of time, this will be further modified.
MM: It was proposed that an endowment fund of Rs 100 crore would be created to support Vision 2025. How would this fund help in scaling alumni relations and resource generation in the future?
Dean AIIR: When the alumni think for their institute to be counted as a world-class institution, a lot of funds are required, so we can’t progress smoothly without their support. Depending solely upon government funding is not the way, professors also have to carry out their research work and lab facilities. Institute-alumni relations is similar to the parent-children relationship. As the institute is their academic mother, in my opinion, the alumni should also contribute in some manner to their institution. They should feel proud of the institute in the same way the institute feels proud of them.
And regarding our part, conducting frequent meetings and get-togethers will foster the relations. To hasten the progress of the institute, the alumni should also contribute according to their capabilities. The endowment fund is created to initiate this noble cause.
MM: Setting up a Poverty Alleviation Research Centre with the help of an alumnus is truly worthy of praise. What more plans for programs and research centres are in the pipeline?
Dean AIIR: On similar lines of Dr Ajay K. Mohanty endowed chair professorship in the Department of Electrical Engineering, alumni have contributed to the Institute Chair professorship for the departments of Chemical Engineering and Metallurgical and Materials Engineering.
MM: NITRAA has started providing washing machines for hostels, and tea & coffee dispensers for departments. What is their exact progress? Has NITRAA planned to provide any other such facilities in the near future?
Dean AIIR: NITRAA has provided 150 washing machines to be installed in phases out of which 50 have already reached. Moreover, a proper pipeline connection has also been made regarding this. All machines will be installed shortly along with the coffee vending machines in every department office. Regarding other facilities in the near future, the executive body of NITRAA knows well; we don’t have a clear picture.
MM: The institute has decided to expand the existing NIT Rourkela Extension Centre at Bhubaneswar. What new facilities and services can we expect from the centre after expansion?
Dean AIIR: The main motive to create an extension centre at Bhubaneswar is because of the lack of airport in Rourkela. As a result, some companies are not visiting for placements and internship purposes. The Training and Placement facilities (preferably the Group Discussion and Interview rooms) would be set up along with guest rooms and catering service. In addition to that, world-class conference rooms would be made to host international conferences in the state capital as problems like accommodation and less international participants persist here.
MM: Shed some light on the establishment of the Multiactivity Center, which is also in the pipeline in this year-long celebration.
Dean AIIR: The Multiactivity centre comprises Indoor Stadium complex with the provision of Student Activity Centre (SAC) and open-air theatre along with proper yoga and dance rooms. The design has already been approved, and the construction process will start soon. More details about the sports complex of this Multiacitvity centre can be found here.
MM: Are there any plans for MoU with regard to collaboration with foreign universities on research work or student exchange programs?
Dean AIIR: A technical MoU has been signed with Prof. Prasant Mohapatra, Vice-Chancellor, University of California, Davis (NITR EE, Batch of 1987). This will facilitate research students and faculties of NIT Rourkela to visit them for research work for a few months. The funding part hasn’t been finalised yet. Another MoU has been signed regarding Research Travel grants, be it summer research internships or participating in international conferences. The class of 1994 has sponsored this grant of nearly 16.5 lakhs which is also now open to any alumni for donation.
MM: Being the Convener of the Local Organising Committee of the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations, how do you manage to find a balance between teaching, research work, and the role of a convener?
Dean AIIR: At times, it does get a bit difficult to find the right balance. There have been few instances when I have had to cancel my classes due to meetings and compensate them later on Wednesdays.
In the upcoming months, there will be a lot of work. We will be forming committees and assigning responsibilities. I earnestly hope that all the students join us till then so that they too can help us in making the events successful.
I believe that once you start working with dedication and sincerity, problems get sorted naturally along the way.
MM: What are your plans to forge more industrial partnerships with the institute in the future related to research collaborations and setting up funded labs in the institute?
Dean AIIR: I don't have much expertise on this issue at present. I have to contact our alumni, experts in the industry, for their guidance and support. Ms Soma Mondal, Chairperson, Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL), will be visiting the institute in a few days. We plan on having deliberate discussions on projects with her.
Note: Ms Soma Mondal visited the institute on 3rd February 2021.
MM: Can you please elaborate, how and in what ways are the alumni funds planned for spending for the upcoming year?
Dean AIIR: While interviewing for scholarships, we realised that many of our students are facing hardships and require urgent financial assistance. So our priority is to increase the number of scholarships to help them.
A Distress fund is also a plan to be unveiled soon. Suppose for some reasons, the earning member of the family has got problems and studies are hampered, in that case, some help can be given (the tuition fees will be covered at least). The class of 1969 has initiated this with a sum of 10 lakhs. Adding to that, another plan to be executed is having Gold medals for the Basic Sciences topper. This will be signed in the coming 3-4 months.
The alumni have asked us about what all requirements were needed to be fulfilled. We have listed two points before them, first being, air-conditioning of classrooms. In summer, we as professors feel uncomfortable teaching for an hour, and students are there for 4-5 hours continuously. Next is a wireless network connection to one hostel in the first phase. These are planned to be initiated this year, and I hope more such initiatives are taken and executed in the upcoming years.
Apart from these, various issues require attention. The list includes purchasing new equipment for labs, improving hostel facilities, and funds for SAC clubs, among others. We often don't have sufficient funds to back students' ideas or execute them efficiently. To overcome that, we plan to utilise the alumni fund for such situations.
It is important to note that we are facing a fund crisis. The government allotted fund is limited and entitled to specific uses. So if we can generate sufficient alumni funds, we will be able to spend generously for students.
MM: What steps have been taken to improve the student-alumni relations?
Dean AIIR: Alumni cell was established around 2010. And since then, we have been trying to forge our alumni relations. Many scholarships have been created after prominent alumni. We are moving ahead gradually, and the first step that we are looking forward to is alumni inductions. Subsequently, we plan to organise meetings so that students get to meet alumni directly, learn and take inspiration from them.
MM: What would be your final message to the students?
The students of NIT Rourkela are immensely talented. They need to explore and recognize their true potential. Always have faith in yourself, be honest, and work hard on your goals. Try to develop good habits and spend your time wisely. Our institute offers plenty of opportunities; make sure you avail each one of them.
Team Monday Morning wishes the celebration of Diamond Jubilee to be a grand success and the Alumni-Institute relations to be stronger and better than before.