DEEPA KURUP

Now restricted to the IISc. community, this portal will soon be open to students.

The role of mentors or role models in the life of young adults cannot be emphasised enough. Be it an extraordinary teacher or a senior from college who challenged you to walk that extra mile, finding the right kind of mentor can change the course of your career. In the U.S., January has been observed as National Mentorship Month since 2002, an initiative that has even been formally backed by the government. So this year, U.S. President Barack Obama, in his message, encouraged his countrymen to “give back by mentoring young people in their communities who may lack role models, and pass on the unique and timeless gift of mentorship to the next generation.”

In India, the concept of mentorship has been informally around for ages. However, in the digital age, can this concept not be taken forward to a different level? An initiative of the Indian Institute of Science's Alumni Association (IIScAA) aims to take this simple concept forward — albeit on a digital or virtual platform — to help students. Last week, the IIScAA launched a web portal as part of its Knowledge Exchange Programme.

This initiative is currently open only to the IISc. community. However, in a few months, it will be opened up to the larger student community, promises President of the IIScAA K.R. Srinivasan.

Dr. Srinivasan, who came up with the idea for this programme, says a platform will be provided for interaction between those who seek guidance and support, and those who have the expertise to offer. Within a few days of its launch, it already has some 130 mentors from across the world — some faculty members from leading institutions in the U.S. and leading experts in different fields of science and technology — enrolled. Around 600 students from the IISc. community too have registered. “We have restricted it to the IISc. community only to let things settle and allow a mechanism to evolve. Once that is done, the larger vision is to throw it open to other engineering colleges. It holds immense potential,” he explains.

Easy access

Imagine if a student in Davangere can simply log on to a web portal and seek help from a field expert in Massachusetts to find out where he can access the right research material. Or for that matter, if students can ping an IISc faculty member (on this portal) and ask which IIT offers the best research opportunity in Microwave and Radar Technology, explains Vice-President of the IIScAA, Wing Commander H.R. Parthasarathy.

What is intended is very different from the run-of-the-mill mentor-mentee programme. “There is a reason why we have called it an exchange programme. We believe that there is a lot that can be learnt during interactions. Students too can be a source of knowledge for the mentors. I believe that IIScians can help society a lot, if there is a way for them to offer the expertise that they have. This initiative could be that platform,” he says.

IIScAA has partnered with ParjanyaTM for developing the software. The IISc Alumni Knowledge Exchange Programme consists of three features: k-Exchange (knowledge exchange and mentoring), K-Café (for discussions on special technical topics of interest) and Ping an IIScian (for the alumni to keep in touch). The online mentoring system will have successful entrepreneurs, technocrats, scientists and academics who can inspire and guide upcoming entrepreneurs, students and research scholars who wish to launch small firms or start-ups by turning their research into viable technology ventures, and eventually take right decisions to advance in their careers.

To begin with, mentors will be drawn from the IISc's alumni pool from around the world and then technocrats, scientists and faculty of the IISc. The mentors will then be in regular contact with their protégés (students, research scholars or other alumni members who are seeking mentorship) and provide guidance. Based on the protégés' areas of interest for mentorship, the software tool (designed by Parjanya) will present detailed profiles of mentors who match in their areas of expertise. Protégés can choose one or more mentors, and begin the interaction.

The main objective, as Dr. Srinivasan puts it, is to tap into the strength of the vast global pool of IISc alumni (and eventually non-alumni too) and work towards nurturing the next generation of entrepreneurs and researchers for the country.