Women's Day Special Edition
-Swapna Sundar, CEO, IP Dome
A Successful Woman Engineer? Or A Successful Engineer Who Is Also A Woman?
This is the question I asked as the Keynote speaker at the Observance of Women's Day at Mailam Engineering College on the 8th of March, 2013.
After a fairly long trip - during which owing to the threshing of grain on service lanes along the National Highway, we took a serene road - I reached the temple town of Mailam, and espied the tall, colourful and futuristic buildings of the Mailam Engineering College.
At the entrance I was welcomed by the gracious Principal Dr. Senthil and Ms. Vijaykumari who was instrumental in my invitation along with Ms. Sumithra who was coordinating the events.
A sumptuous banana leaf lunch had been arranged for me and the special invitees - the women members of the Management trust. Ms. Abhinaya, studying MBA and her team provided warm hospitality.
The college auditorium was filled to overflowing with about 850 women students of the college. Owing to paucity of space they had been unable to accomodate the men students and the women I year students. The atmosphere was festive and anticipatory.
The programme began with 'Thamizh Thai Vaazhthu' led by the students. The Principal's Welcome Address was an eye-opener for me. He spoke about the origins of the college which were started by the Mailam Murugan Trust to bring technical education to the surrounding rural areas.
The forty-Acre Mailam campus of the group houses both the MBA and engineering colleges and hostels for men and women students. The Trust in conjunction with the Mankula Vinayakar Trust also runs schools for medicine, nursing and other disciplines of higher education. I was delighted to learn that the number of women students in the college had grown from about 350 in 1998 when the college was opened to about 1500 in 2013. We were informed that the college first began observing Women's day in 2006 when the small group of women could be seated in a smaller hall. "And," added the Principal, "I am wondering where I am going to fit the women's day programme next year - perhaps in the open air auditorium!". He went on to extoll the virtues of the women students in the college - discipline, dedication to their field of study, patience, intuition and caring.
I was given 40 minutes to make my presentation. The presentation is uploaded here
I made the presentation as interactive as one can with an audience of 850 - which isn't much, but I found the response remarkable. Two girls - Vidya and Aishwarya - came up to make their presence felt at Slide 12, which was a really inspiring moment. I was given to believe that these girls from rural Tamil Nadu would need a lot of encouragement to break out of their shells; however, I found them ready to engage with the issues of the day, and also confident and willing to express their opinions freely. The credit definitely goes to the management.
A word about Ms. Vijaykumari who contacted me through a mutual friend - Gayathri, an officer in Central Excise. Vijaykumari is the Student Counsellor at the college. Students and staff informed me that she is doing a great job of supporting the students through issues of late adolescence and young-adult hood, complicated as it is in India with the high expectations of parents and cultural obstacles.
Addressing the students as engineers-in-the-making, rather than as young women, I pointed out the importance of maintaining relationships with women classmates, colleagues and friends which provides much needed support, strength and resource at crucial moments in our lives. I also pointed out that technical education for women is essential and that several women in the world have shown that technology is comprehensible and indeed can be mastered by women. Further, a technologically superior female work force is critical to a country's innovation goals and competitiveness.
I hope the students found my talk interesting and useful.
My talk was followed by a cultural programme with a bharatnatyam recital, several group dances, a mime on women's empowerment and dance aimed at raising awareness of the plight of Tamil women in Sri Lanka.
I enjoyed the event and look forward to future interactions with the Institution.
(c) swapna sundar, 2013