Saturday, May 27, 2017

A Mentor's Impact

Educationist Molly Cyril talks about her experiences at Stanford University, USA, when her former student, Ashwin Sreenivas, selected her as being his most influential school teacher

Photos: Ashwin Sreenivas and Molly Cyril; Molly with the other participants

By Shevlin Sebastian

One day in March, when Molly Cyril, the Dean and Director of The Charter School, at Kochi, opened her e-mail, she saw an unusual tag line: 'Terman Award 2017-Teacher Notification'.

She felt puzzled, as she clicked on the mail. The accompanying letter from Stanford Engineering College, USA, made things clear. Her former student, Ashwin Sreenivas had been selected as a recipient of the Frederick Emmons Terman Engineering Scholastic Award for distinguished academic performance at the university.

The letter, by Thomas Kenny, Senior Associate Dean for Student Affairs went on to state: 'We asked award recipients to invite their secondary school teacher, who was the most influential in guiding them during the formative years of their academic career. I am delighted that Ashwin has identified you as that person.'

Naturally, Molly was shocked, surprised and thrilled. She knew Ashwin, because he had remained in touch with her long after he had left school. Ashwin was an alumni of Choice School when Molly had been the Principal (2001-13).

Asked why he chose Molly, Ashwin says, “She was always very supportive. Whenever I wanted to take part in competitive exams or represent the school in different competitions, Molly Maam would allow me. Sometimes, she let me skip school, too. My successes were always celebrated by her, while my failures gently brushed aside."

Once, when Ashwin wanted to start a 'Model United Nations' competition, among the schools, Molly's response surprised Ashwin. “I expected a pushback, but Molly Maam immediately said, 'I believe you can do this. Tell me whatever you want and we will make sure it happens'. Thanks to this response, we were able to host the first 'Model-UN' in Kerala schools.”

Ashwin pauses and says, “If she had not been my principal, it would have been been nearly impossible to get to where I am today.”

So, on April 8, Ashwin and Molly walked into the Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Centre at Stanford. Around 40 teachers, from countries like China, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Germany and Iceland, apart from the USA, had also come. Some were English teachers, while others taught Chemistry, Biology, Computer Science, Maths and even Physical Education. Interestingly, Molly was the only Principal present.

After a welcome speech by Dean Jennifer Widom, the teachers were invited to talk about their former wards. And so the speeches began. As Molly listened intently, she found it an interesting experience. “I was able to see the impact of different kinds of teachers on their wards,” she says.

Soon, she noticed a common thread. “Many spoke about the humility in the students and their willingness to help others,” says Molly. “It does seem that, to be successful, you need to be humble. In the sense that this particular quality helps you go along a long way, apart from the need for hard work, perseverance, discipline and focus.”

Interestingly, Ashwin is the only Indian from India. There are two other American-Indians. The future looks bright for Ashwin. “He is one of the best students in my course,” says Advisor Gerald Cain, of the Computer Science Department. “I was most impressed with the open source work that Ashwin did. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to teach him and for the work he did, and I wish him all the best.”

Adds Molly: “I never for a moment doubted that Ashwin will do well. He is a brilliant boy.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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