Pooja Kumar is a third year student from the department of Chemical Engineering. Fondly known as ‘Enthu’ Kumar, Pooja tells us about her two year long journey with Avanti. Read on to find out more….
JEE days are one of the most memorable times in the life of any IITian ( Let’s not crib about the JEE ranks anymore 😛 ). What if you get a chance to relive those days from a slightly different perspective? Sounds fascinating right? This was precisely what I got to experience by being a part of the Avanti Team 😀
Here is how it begins
As a freshie, I was really excited about trying out different things in insti. Replying to the s-mail from Avanti, calling for applicants, was one of the good decisions I took. As a matter of fact I had always feared writing formal emails back then As a mentor at Avanti, I was required to visit Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya(JNV), a school in Pondicherry, (3 hrs bus journey from Chennai) once a month. Initially, there were slight hiccups from the family about the trip but I managed to convince them by mentioning that the team will ensure my safety. So there began my journey with Avanti.
I joined as a mentor coordinator wherein I was allotted a group of 6 JEE aspirants along with 3 other mentors, each of whom handled two of these mentees.
The first trip
I still remember my first trip to Pondy. It was a full team trip. That particular day, I got introduced to 40 new people from insti who later became my Avanti family. Besides that, the students at the JNV were very welcoming which motivated me even further. One could feel the aura of happiness and excitement around.
I was flabbergasted hearing about their aspirations and their strong motivation towards achieving great things. Hats off to those kids who had left behind the comforts of home for one main goal, the JEE. I could feel a genuine sense of responsibility in me to guide them through this phase. They had a strong belief in us as well.
We also visited the beach after having lunch bidding adieu to the students at the school, only to experience the thrilling group games you can play at the beach with a group of friends. Imagine a freshie, fresh outta factory, getting to do so much in just the second week of insti. All of this was a very new experience.
The Mentor Coordinator
As an MC, I was once given a role to prepare a test paper. I needed some expertise with MS word which I lacked back then. The mentor manager back then actually took time out of his schedule and walked me through the entire process in person instead of just giving me a three line answer. The amount of commitment the seniors showed in guiding the freshers was enormous and that was something I looked up to in the team.
We kept in touch with the students in Pondy through regular phone calls. Full team meetings and Subgroup meetings nearly once a week ensured that we are on par with their academic status. We analyse their test scores, make schedules for the forthcoming weeks and plan tests to gauge their performances. All these made me feel nostalgic about my JEE days.
A day at Pondy
Every time I go to Pondy, I am typically accompanied by a group of 4-5 other mentors. Choosing to wake up at 5 am on a lazy Sunday undoubtedly needed a tad bit of motivation. But the trip had always been worth the fight that goes into it, be it the journey or the time spent with the students in the school.
Despite a tiring journey, I somehow feel rejuvenated the moment I see the students. They greet me with stories of different kinds ranging from their scores in the last exam to their laborious hostel life. Nevertheless most students await our visits with a bunch of unsolved doubts.
I remember, once I was teaching a topic in Permutation & Combinations, we tried to explore different variations of a single problem. The amount of involvement and the curiosity that they showed amazed me. Often my fellow mentors had to literally drag me out of the classroom as it was getting late and I would be deeply engrossed in clearing doubts. Sometimes we do reach insti late in night. However, the nice thing about my team is that the guys ensured that they safely drop me back to the hostel.
Applying for Mentor Manager
Small moments of recognition by our peers, the tiny little satisfaction that one gets while fulfilling a simple task and above all the feeling that is got when another person actually believes in you that your decisions can make a difference, has no words to be explained. It’s a feeling that keeps you moving despite any kind of hurdles.
The team culture at Avanti is phenomenal. This added with my enthusiasm to lead a group of people aligned towards mentoring for JEE, motivated me to apply for the post of Mentor Manager the following year.
It was a tough decision to make as I always felt I was a young little girl. TBH I did have a lot of hesitations initially if I would be able to manage the entire team. Even if I could pull off the mentor team in insti, I had a huge challenge of breaking the ice among the mentees, getting them to open up to a girl was indeed a tough task.
However, the transition was smooth. The guys did really open up a lot. They in fact got a homely feel addressing me as a didi and yes they respected my words as well. Though it all turned out well at the end there had to be an extra amount of preprocessing done in order to establish myself successfully as the first girl manager at Avanti fellows, Pondicherry chapter. 😎
As a manager, I had set goals and principles for myself. Have always felt I should treat the team the way I would want my leader to treat me. I took up the role as though it was my first job offer.
I was slightly worried if people would take my words seriously as I was always seen as a fun-filled and jolly going person. But people clearly differentiated work from personal life. It was sometimes funny when my friends used to casually play around after the meeting is done and remark saying, ‘We can pull your legs now, the meeting is over!’ 😛
Nevertheless, Mentor Manager of class 12th students was not an easy journey. The head, The strategist, A senior co manager 😛 , The center manager, The mentor coordinators, The mixed faction of mentors, The interns, The varied kinds of mentees. Phew! That was a lot of people to handle.
Meetings and not just meetings! 😀
Meetings were regularly held with prefixed agenda. I used to carry a fat diary, which later transformed into a personalised WhatsApp group which had every thought related to Avanti. I always wanted everyone to keep up with the time and that sometimes used to backfire. This was the only place I was probably sincere. ( Believe me, I am late to quizzes as well 😛 ) I will have to rush from my mess to CLT stairs ( Yeah, that has been our meeting spot over the years) gulping down a few bites of chapati and scrolling through 20 chats to finish off the necessary stuff before the meeting.
Despite all the last minute cancellations, emergency meetings and busy schedules everyone turned up on time. Such was the sincerity and dedication that my team showed. I am still proud of it
With the mentees!
Each day at Pondy was a unique experience. There was one day when I had scolded the students so heavily that the other mentors who had come along were awestruck as they had never seen me angry before. The lecture was actually worth it. I got a mail the following day from one student confessing about his mistakes and asking for advice. That moment I felt like, ‘Yes, I have actually had an impact.’
While a few students willingly come and share their progress and expect tips and comments in return, there are also a few who are ‘introvert-ish’. There was this one day when I was taking a walk with one such student when he suddenly burst out crying, confiding to me about how he had wasted a few precious months doing nothing. At that instance I felt that trust dawning upon me.
Wait. Not all days were dreary and senti. Most students out there were North Indians and converse majorly in Hindi, while my hindi tho bahut boori hi hothi. I used to tell them stories of insti life.
Apart from just the visits, we used to have regular calls and sometimes conference calls. I used to cherish those moments when I used to lie on my sofa and some 10 guys on the other side would have to scream to be heard from their dormitory out there. Typically these calls would range from 1-2hrs if I planned to talk to each student in succession.
I was very new at this when it started, but I learnt a lot along the way. Especially being a manager I was able to see things from a very different perspective. It was fun to get things done. For once I realised getting things done is sometimes harder than doing it ourselves .
That moment when some 15 people cling onto your every word, with vivid eyes. That’s when you get a feeling of pride ( the gethu feel, you know 😛 ). One of the best teams I’ve worked in insti so far. It was not only for the cause but also for how inclusive the team was.
The amount of impact our team was able to make on their JEE marks was just one side of the coin. At the end of the day I am happy about the fact that the presence of mentors in these 2 crucial years have created a long lasting impression in the lives of the students.
I have gathered a lifetime full of memories to talk about, not all of these can be expressed in this one small article. We’ll have a Ramu meetup if you wanna know more 😛