Ambassadors of their alma mater
By Preethi Ann Thomas
19th November 2012 12:00 AM
College brought fun and learning for us all. It helped shape who we are today. It is only natural to want to walk down those corridors one more time and give back something. No matter where they go in the world, colleges take great pride in their students and always attempt to reach out and connect — to celebrate how far each of them has gone in life and to encourage them to share their knowledge. Giving back to the alma mater by way of donations, creating endowment funds or sharing knowledge, any gesture is always welcome. We look at how alumni of leading Indian institutes manage to stay in touch and in what ways they engage in constructive activities for the college.
Some active alumni associations in the country include the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Indian Institutes of Management (IIM), PSG Tech, Indian School of Business (ISB) and MOP Vaishnav College. The IIT Alumni Club is a great example of bringing together alumni of all IIT’s with its first physical premises established in Chennai. With 331 members, of which 67 are non residents of Chennai, the club hopes to expand to other cities with time. The Chennai Chapter of IIM-C alone has close to 250 members. Office bearers are elected and comprises dedicated members of the association. Sometimes it is through a mix of seniority and consensus, largely influenced by actual contributions and volunteer efforts of members. IIM-Ahmedabad has registered its alumni association as a legal trust, the first of its kind in the country, to give a proper foundation for its activities. The structure of leadership tends to be flat to improve flexibility and ease in decision-making.
The Pan IIT 2008 Global Conference, which was attended by over 2,500 alumni members gave birth to the idea of having an exclusive, yet informal setting for the alumni association members. After two years, the IIT Alumni Club, Chennai, threw its doors open for all IITians in November 2011. Fully functional by January 2011, the premises has conference rooms, a restaurant, gym and seating area for members who want to have meetings, arrange dinners or even meet up for coffee. Membership is exclusive, but it serves the purpose of bringing together IITians from all walks of life. Suresh Kalpathi, president of IIT Alumni Club and of Kalpathi Investments and AGS Entertainment, says, “The club is based on the exclusivity and strength of its members. There are various grades of membership (`1 -20 lakh) and the premises allow us to conduct social functions, meet with potential clients, conduct workshops, board meetings, industrial meetings, etc. As alumni association members, we are in touch through mailers and we welcome former students of IIT to the club.” Freshers have a day membership, where they can walk in on a particular day. On paying a higher tariff, they can use the other facilities the club offers.
IIT-M, along with other institutions sends out a newsletter, IITMAA Communiqué, every month to its members. IIM-A publishes a bi-annual alumni magazine, periodic newsletters and host reunions.
From sending emails to posting queries and requests online and offline, the alumni networks do a lot of work. To keep up with the current generation, they also have Facebook pages and offer networking options on LinkedIn. Mobilising participation is a great task for all groups as most of it is pro bono.
Mentoring and training
Many former students like to return to their colleges to pitch in wherever they can, and that includes mentoring and training. In this voluntary task, they bring home knowledge that one can only get through years of industry experience. Principal of MOP Vaishnav College, Chennai, Nirmala Prasad tells us, “The alumni of our college meet on Aug 15 every year. This is a date we don’t miss. About 40 per cent of our alumni turn up on this day. Around 120 MOPians have business ventures of their own, and around 55 of them showcased their businesses this year. We awarded them too. We have a business incubation centre now and have identified alumni as mentors for students.”
She explains that since a lot of the girls who graduate get married and settle in different parts of the world with families, it is generally tough to get them all together. Networking seems to be more intact as far as the male population is concerned. “Our alumni network members are of great help — they serve as guest lecturers and mentors and have helped place many students from our college,” says Prasad.
IIT alumni association members are also doing their part in giving back. They started a PAN-IIT Lecture Series (PALS I) three months ago, where they visited five colleges along with distinguished members of the association who gave lectures in each of the Chennai colleges — Agni College of Technology, RMK Engineering College, Rajalakshmi Engineering College, Prathyusha Institute of Technology and Management and Sri Sai Ram Engineering College. Topics ranged from how to prepare yourself to how to become an entrepreneur. It is purely voluntary and everyone does it pro bono. It shows the level of initiative and enthusiasm among the alumni.
Ravi Santhanam, Founder and CEO at MetaDrsti Advisory and former CEO or Hindustan Motors, takes pride in being part of two alumni networks — President of the IIM-Calcutta alumni association and Vice President of the IIT Alumni Club. “Both networks run on emotional bonding and voluntary effort. That is what brings people together. IIM-C alumni’s lack of a physical premises doesn’t deter us from meeting. We are constantly in touch online and it is an active alumni chapter,” says Santhanam.
Annually, they conduct a one-and-a-half day programme for postgraduate students of IIM-C’s MBA course. This has been carried out for 10 years. “This is a significant value addition for students and us. The students form groups and give presentations on topics linked to their syllabus. We only do one-fifth of the talking. It is participative, competitive and relevant, yes. But it is also an opportunity for us to have a lot of fun and feel young again,” he explains.
Current postgraduate students work for 24 hours, interact with their seniors informally over lunch and coffee, and also have structured open houses, which provide a window for students to clear their doubts and get real world feedback. In the words of Santhanam, “These initiatives by the alumni are useful in three ways: First, it is an opportunity for us to give back to our alma mater.
Second, it is a platform for networking. And last, we come back with a fresh outlook, having interacted with young people. It helps that the content of these workshops is being published by the institute. In a limited way, we help our institute maintain a competitive edge.” The Chennai chapter of IIM-C also conducted a seminar called Beyond the Downturn with eight panelists and around 150 people attending in February this year. It was to develop an understanding of what the future holds, cutting edge information, etc.
Scholarships and endowment funds
Colleges across the country accept donations from their students to set up scholarships and endowment funds, mainly to help the less privileged. MOP Vaishnav College, having completed 20 years this year, has at least 45 endowments and scholarships instituted by former students. Alumni network members also join fund-raising initiatives. Those who cannot help with their presence, do so with generous donations from around the world. The alumni at MOP joined the fund raising initiatives of the college to raise close to Rs 7 lakh.
Alumni association members of colleges like PSG Tech and ISB recruit students from the college or help students prepare for placements. College can be challenging with so many options. It always helps students if someone who’s been out there shares his/her experiences with them to help make better choices or even offers alternatives.
The Office of Alumni Relations at Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, offers a range of services to former students — from organising events to ensuring a lifelong e-mail forwarding facility. They can buy ISB merchandise online, connect with classmates, participate in student orientation programmes and also mentor students. ISB has services like Refer a Recruiter, Mentor a Current Student and Refer a Prospective Student to add to usual acitivities undertaken by the alumni.
Not all work!
Academia has certain abilities like theoretical knowledge, just like the alumni have on-the-job experience. Cooperation between the two would have huge pay offs, believes Santhanam. “You don’t need huge funds, just motivation. Alumni meets have to be meaningful and enjoyable to mobilise people. These alumni meets are also a time for us to party,” he chuckles. “Zero bureaucracy and a spirit of camaraderie are essential for effective alumni networks, along with a liberal mindset and a ready acceptance of diversity. We have three-four parties a year, where everyone pools in and faculty members also attend these dos. From the first batch to the latest, everyone is welcome!” They also conduct cricket matches and other sporting events.
Many networks offer additional facilities to the former students. For instance, the Travel Desk at IIT-Madras Alumni Association takes care of the travel needs of all alumni visiting Chennai. They also offer guidance on procuring transcripts or duplicate certificates. The websites of alumni networks also form great platforms for job listings, like the one at PSG Tech. Interested freshers can apply for jobs that are listed by former students. Reunion schedules, campus news, activities conducted by each chapter, council members and meetings, photographs, etc are all updated online.
Geography becomes less relevant
It helps that everyone is well connected these days with the internet. Most alumni associations have web pages dedicated to updates and announcements including news about who married whom! Also included on these websites are contact details of other members. From organising meetings, conferences and family time to collecting funds for scholarships or college development and getting members together at least for coffee or a party, alumni associations work hard to keep former students connected.
Alumni meetings are a great opportunity to meet an old flame or catch up with back slapping buddies, talk about the misses and plusses in your life and who you used to be! It can give you new hope and bring back memories of some great times. Has it been long since you went back to college or heard from batch-mates? Maybe work and family and other commitments keep you away. Now is the right time to reach out to old memories and contribute to building some new dreams.
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