August 12, 2008

Young Mentors Lend Helping Hand to Friends on IIT Campus

By Hemali Chhapia

MUMBAI: Krishna Ramkumar and Devarun Ghosh may be leaving the IIT campus at Powai this year but the good that they have done will live on after them.

The two students, who have graduated this year, have put in place a system on the campus in which seniors will continuously monitor the performance of academically weak juniors and then do everything they can- inside and outside classroom to bring them up to the level. The informal mentorship programme has proved so successful that the volunteers who have queued up to join the programme include both students and members of the faculty.

These two sections, in effect, supplement each other's efforts in the "tracker system" , as the mentorship programme is called on the campus. Ramkumar says, "It is easy to know first-hand problems students are facing because you share the same hostel. Mentors track problem cases and then, with a faculty co-ordinator , help in guiding the student."

The issues do not have to be confined to the classroom. "It could be homesickness or a case of academic backlog or even an affair gone awry. We need to remember that these students are nothing more than teenagers or boys and girls in their early 20s," a faculty member said.

So, when a student did not have the money to pay his fees, Ghosh and his gang petitioned his case for the merit-cummeans scholarship programme. It is a government of India scholarship that provides full waiver of fees for economically backward. Again, when a student had problems keeping up with others in class, Ramkumar's team members counselled him to go in for a slow credit programme. "There is a stigma attached to the slow programme. But we tell students that going slow makes more sense than failing year after year," Ghosh said.

The trackers have also invited a team from IIT-Kanpur where a similar programme is running for the past 40 years. "We brainstormed on the techniques they use and how they track problems. Then we came up with our strategies," Ramkumar added. Mentors meet freshmen almost every day, helping them settle down. As IIT-B director Ashok Misra said, "We are doing our bit and it's working like magic."

As the IITs roll out the 27% OBC quota keeping the general- category seats intact , the population of SC and ST students is also going to rise. This makes a programme like this all the more relevant right now, say faculty members. The yearlong course for academically weaker students after the second semester started following recommendations of these mentors and electric engineering faculty member H Narayanan. Students who find it difficult to cope with the curriculum can take a year's drop, work on the subjects and get back to the second year in this programme.

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