Two words engineering students in the city are familiar with are competition and pressure. The onus to excel is keen, but while some learn to be resilient, others cave in leading to a tragic course of events.
Authorities at College of Engineering Pune (COEP) have devised a unique system to identify students in danger of slipping into depression with the aim of hauling them back from the brink.
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Although the college has a professional counselling system in place, the job of counselling freshers has been entrusted to a handful of senior students. The move comes in the wake of the suicide of a first year student in the institute last year.
The practice, broadly titled 'mentoring freshers by seniors', will kick in from this academic year. Under the system, a third year student will be in charge of 10 freshers. The task of the senior student is to regularly interact with the students under his charge and in turn report his observations and findings to the professional counsellors on the campus.
They are then guided on how to tackle a potential problem. “Academic pressure is common at the institute among newcomers,” said Dr A D Sahasrabudhe, director, COEP. “This is not because academia is stressful, but the competition is severe. Students from rural parts who excelled back home suddenly find the competition at COEP, which has students from across the state, very stiff.
Each student at COEP is a topper of his school or college. They come with a baggage of expectations. Now, when all of them converge here, there is bound to be intense competition and some of them do not get the desired results.” “But getting stressed does not help.
Four years in a degree college is a short span in life.” The senior students involved with the mentoring initiative have been carefully chosen by faculty members. Dr S D Agashe, Dean of Student Affairs, revealed that of the batch of 740 from the third year about 80 were selected as mentors.
“These students have shown standard academic record and have been equally active in extra curricular activities,” Agashe said. Agashe feels that freshers relate better with a fellow student rather than faculty or counsellors.
“Students generally shy away from counsellors. They are not very comfortable with faculty members either. Senior students, however, are seen as those who have been through similar situations only a few years ago.”
The job of student mentors is primarily to identify vulnerable students. They are trained by professional counsellors at the institute to build a rapport with students under their charge and to identify the ones who are depressed or stressed.
Sahasrabudhe revealed that stress is more likely to show up in hostel rooms, unlike in a class where it can be easily spotted. Mentoring therefore would continue beyond class hours.
Kshipra Moghe, assistant professor of psychology and counsellor at COEP, said, “These student mentors are taught positive psychology, handling stress, happiness, organisational behaviour etc in the applied psychology class.
In the training sessions they are taught how to implement these theories.” Counsellors at COEP say they get about three severe cases of stress or depression every year.
Onkar Habbu, general secretary of the COEP and a significant contributor to the new system, said, “Students admitted here are gifted, but at COEP they suffer a huge backlog in academics.
This is not because their intelligence levels suddenly drops, but because they struggle to adjust to the new atmosphere. I have seen students going back home and not returning for days together.”
Onkar Ekbote, another student mentor, said, “Academia is not very difficult but we see many failures in the first year. There are issues beyond academics that have to be tackled.”
► Students from rural parts who had excelled earlier, find the competition very stiff. This often leads to stress followed by depression
- Dr A D Sahasrabudhe, Director, COEP
► Freshers relate better to fellow students. Senior students are seen as those who have been through similar situations only a few years ago
- Dr S D Agashe, Dean of Student Affairs