By Dr. Elsa Lycias Joel
An iconic white-domed building aka The Sathyabama University (TSU) stands tall on the sweat, blood and happy tears of a visionary who also nurtured an ambitious heart.
TSU has good news for all of us. Being “good” is not good enough. Being perfect seems to be the only way out in today’s quality-obsessed world. That’s exactly why Col. Dr. Jeppiaar established quite a handful of educational institutions with great panache. He believed he owed something to the society, the country as a whole. Thinking BIG was high on his agenda. He was enthusiastic to the extent of finding wind when nobody else could. Yes, he was a rough sailor. More an educationist than a politician, he fostered Sathyabama University, his second home, to produce a class of intellectuals who will provide the technological development of society. The most incredible people came along and poured their time, talent and creativity into Col. Dr. Jeppiaar’s project. Quality happened because every employee of the university committed to deliver 100 percent no matter what. It was also a collective commitment to root out mediocrity.
Post Tsunami Tamilnadu suggested that Col. Dr. Jeppiaar’s education-for-all theme came from a deep conviction than from a profit motive. Hundreds of tsunami victims were offered free education, vocational training and job opportunities. More than anything, most of the beneficiaries of Dr. Jeppiaar’s love and generosity addressed him as ‘Appa’. Under his wings, countless girls and boys learnt that they can meet many of the demands and overcome challenges of life with skill based education- practices, a tiny dose of willpower and an overdose of guidance. For many who thrived in Dr. Jeppiaar’s love, after his passing away, each day is a step towards healing.
Growing up with her father, Dr. Mariazeena had this feeling of profound knowledge seizing her every other day. Sometimes a lack of knowing and a desire to know. Under daddy’s wings, somewhere between an innocent daughter and an inquisitive teen, Dr. Mariazeena learnt to live with the sparks that flew off a man charged with so much energy. She was never expected by anyone to downsize her dreams. Her dad let her spin even more plans that seemed impractical to others. Raised to be a pious woman, Dr. Mariazeena is blessed to read signs and portents. Be it signing a collaboration or Memorandum of Understanding or deciding on a new venture, she rests in the confidence that it’s her father’s blessings that’s blowing her way. She quips, ‘Appa is the superstar. He lights my way’.
Getting into the groove of things, she took cues and consolation from the characteristics that united them rather than anything else. As Dr. Jeppiar and Mrs. Remibai Jeppiaar’s daughter, Dr. Mariazeena knows she has won the lottery to build lives. Through all her experiences, the one connecting thread that binds her will power and self discipline has been personal freedom, whether it’s to study, work or do anything according to the call of her conscience. Even as a kid, her existence was never defined by somebody else’s rules.
An educationist of marvelous energy, her fame spreads far and wide. Though the phenomenal success of the University might give the impression Dr. Mariazeena is a one-hit wonder, there is more to her as a philanthropist, speaker, writer and all round good woman. Let’s talk about the cool stuff first. There’s an incredible amount of interaction possible with the University’s environment. It doesn’t matter which faculty one belongs to, whether you are an undergraduate, postgraduate, research scholar or postdoc, the interchange or exchange of ideas flow non-stop between the professors, students and management. It’s all incredibly satisfying. Inclusiveness is another key to levelling up. Therefore, the force they unleash under Dr. Mariazeena’s leadership is top-notch.
After ISRO launched ‘Sathyamabsat’, a satellite designed and developed by the staff and students of Sathyabama University, the Chancellor’s name became a force to be reckoned with on the international stage too. Anon, in 2016, she was lauded by NITI Aayog and the UN for transforming India. Hand-picked as an achiever in the #100WomenInitiative – an effort by the Union Ministry of Ministry of Women and Child Development to recognize the contribution of women in various fields, Dr. Mariazeena was part of the luncheon with president Pranab Mukherjee. This honour did catalyze her responsibilities towards lives that will be based around learning.
The success of the institution depends on how quickly the head pre-empts the change and adapts to the evolving requirements and Dr. Mariazeena does it the best. About the regular curriculum changes, Dr. Mariazeena seemed to have known that evolutionarily humans are wired to best respond to novelty. The fresher the stimuli, the more engaged the teacher and the taught are, the more impact it has on them and the more likely the society benefits from them. According to her, what’s missing from Gen Z is not a sense of purpose, but a sense of educational adventure that is actually kindled by the various platforms, such as those provided by her University. She digests the fact that the system of Education and Science undergoes a reform when individuals re-evaluate their capabilities and abilities. With students coming from varied socio-demographic backgrounds, with very different mindsets, the onus is on the professors to engage closely with students and therefore, teaching is learner-centric.
All universities ought to play an essential role in the development of ethical behavior in the society and TSU has been setting an example for decades. Talk to any student from TSU and we will be in a position to acknowledge that they place a greater emphasis on their role in the world as part of a larger ecosystem and their responsibility to help improve it. CSR activities are serious business in TSU, which has long been working towards encouraging philanthropy amongst the student body, including volunteering, student-led charity fundraisers, and community projects besides distributing university funds for charitable donation.
ED cell at the university gives every student a taste of what they can become in order to help drive change with innovation, where improved products enable new markets to be developed. Her loyalties are to her growth, to that which she created and the new projects she currently works on. Internal Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC) of Sathyabama University created to empower the faculty, Research scholars and students with in depth knowledge and awareness of current developments have been making significant progress since 2013.
Dr. Mariazeena’s enthusiasm for social service is contagious. Her contigent delivers consistently because the volunteers are recognized and adored for every task they perform. Challenges that come her way do work up a mental sweat. That also means keeping her psyche agile. Reaching out to the farthest ends, branching out for a noble cause is like playing a tough game to win. The trust created between the donor and benefactors is implicit that it drives the movement beyond the realms of normal efforts.
Whenever she is overwhelmed, she would watch the unending horizon, trying to see over the next hill or hoping for some grand new thing to come around the next bend. She has a supportive team, she asserts. There were times when Dr. Mariazeena knew she was looking up the face of a cliff as if wondering whether she could drag the team up. Looking over her shoulders at passionate eyes meant only one thing- soul grateful. People learn and grow through people. Inside this campus, I find people relating to an ultimate truth- Education is freedom. And they are clear and loyal to that. From their mentor, the staff has learnt that life is valued by the relationships one has earned. That makes Sathyabama university a family. Very often, small teams renew a pledge to exterminate poor quality. Not meddling with decisions made by faculty heads creates in them a self-worth and esteem. Essentially, she analyzes the actual requirements by putting together all the facts in a systematic manner. Admirable retention rates and departmental success speak volumes of how the faculty commit themselves to constant and endless improvement by putting themselves in the students’ shoes.
Around 2020 when the situation on COVID-19 in India was posing worrisome troubles with the third highest number of cases, TSU readily shifted to digital platforms across all fields. On top of partnering with the massive online learning platform ‘Coursera’ that offers a wide range of online courses, the captain encouraged her crew to exploit educational apps like SWAYAM – a Massive Open Online Courses platform. Kudos to this ‘Woman Of Substance’ who made sure nothing deferred campus placements. From familiarising the students with Employability Skill Assessment tests through Cocubes by way of video proctoring, to conducting virtual interviews between companies and final year students, everything was awfy. Subsequently, in 2020, TSU’s placement record was 88 per cent and the highest salary offered to a student was INR 41 lakhs per annum! The impact of Sathyabama University on the world at large was conspicuous as students found placement in sought-after destinations.
A stroll through the corridors and brief conversations with heads of departments reveal that there is hope and promise, always the thrill of another chase ahead. Sathyabama University, like an Art, is inspiring. The gentle sum of all the parts that go into it. It’s like all the individuals in an orchestra playing their parts, in the presence of an inspiring conductor, everyday.
During my days of research at TSU, I relished every slice of this place for 2 reasons
1. I felt respected, motivated and I could get on with whatever I went to do at the University.
2. My supervisor Dr.Valentin Abraham understood my concerns, engaged with me as best as she could, guided me into the fascinating world of qualitative research and helped me complete my doctoral studies on time.
Creating value to this temple of learning, experiencing flow, sharing a story, evoking energies and liberating minds tempered with a deep understanding of individuals and their potentials is Dr. Mariazeena’s way of recreating herself as a more and more perfect version of what she is. Most importantly, we are dependent on persons who set examples, persons who can symbolize what we are seeking and mobilize the best in us.