Nirmala Prasad, principal of MOP Vaishnav College for Women, Chennai, is ready to take on any challenge that comes her way. Her ideas reshaped the curriculum at the college when she took over in 1997. “I wanted to change students from jobseekers to job creators. So an entrepreneurship cell was established. We were also one of the earliest colleges to train students in soft skills. We try to empower a woman to stand up on her own,” she says.
A BCom graduate from Andhra University (1971), Nirmala completed her MCom (1973) in Odisha University and went on to finish a PhD (1988) from University of Madras. She was the first HoD of commerce at Ethiraj College for Women, Chennai, in 1978. “The first batch of students went on to secure gold medals. That was the first success I tasted,” says Nirmala, who used to spend few days in the beginning of the year to enlighten students about the opportunities available in the commerce stream and help them set goals.
After 20 years at Ethiraj, she moved to MOP. “This was not a government-aided college. The challenge before me was to attract students to a new college with a fee that is double the amount charged by other colleges in the vicinity. So I decided to offer students something more than just the syllabus. We added soft skills, communication classes, personality development programmes and workshops. Students became confident. Our students were great brand ambassadors. Since they have been practically trained, MOPians were preferred for recruitment in most industries and companies,” she says. MOP also started offering (then) offbeat courses like journalism, electronic media and visual communication. The management also made sure that proper facilities were created to accommodate these classes. “This also played an important part in attracting students.”
With an idea to benefit the student community, Nirmala started new courses, which included project work. “Initially, students who were studying nutrition earned around `4-5,000 per month. So we repackaged the course and introduced food technology and management, which enabled them to land a job with a better income. Maths was offered with three different subjects like finance, insurance and IT, which helped students get placed in finance companies,” says Nirmala. These courses not only helped MOPians, but also made the college a preferred choice for Chennai’s eves.
Personality development programmes and other skills was made compulsory for all students. “BSc computer science students were taught a special skills course called software testing. Thus all software companies had to come to MOP if they wanted a software tester. We monopolised that field. It was a question of whether we had to compete with other colleges or monopolise to set a new standard. I chose the latter,” she says.
Students in the Entrepreneurship Development Cell are taught marketing skills through practical projects like a student start-up, student stock exchange and MOP Bazaar, where students can set up stalls and sell their products. It is also compulsory for students to choose an elective offered by another department for two semesters. For example, a BSc food science student can choose to study photography, which is offered by the media department.
Internships were also an instant hit with students when they were implemented as a part of the curriculum. “Students will gain work experience while interning. This will provide them with an advantage when looking for a job,” says Nirmala.
A major problem the college faced was infrastructure — MOP has no space for sports fields. Nirmala suggested that they use other grounds in the city and hire the best of coaches for students. She explains, “What if we do not have a sports ground, we can still produce international sportsmen. Everything was a challenge. Every adversity was converted into an opportunity.” They also faced space constraints when conducting seminars and conferences as the auditorium could only fit a minimum number of students. To overcome this, televisions were installed in all classrooms.
The college is now introducing BCom accounting and finance with chartered accountancy (CA). “There will be extra coaching classes for CA. Students would also be able to complete for CA-Inter exams while simultaneously completing their BCom exams,” says Nirmala. Though they still have a long way to go, she is happy that MOPians are successful in whatever they do, “We empower our students by instilling in them enough confidence to manage their life and its challenges.”