Sunday, May 01, 2016

The Dreamz Experience

Recently I attended the project exhibition at my Alma-mater. I was excited to sit through the presentation of a project group. The oh-so-familiar logo splashed on their opening slide:

Like the flashbacks in Bollywood movies, it all flashed in front of my eyes. Thirteen years! Its been thirteen years since the Dreamz Group has been guiding these capstone/final year engineering projects. Doing something consistently and with high quality for that long is certainly something.
It all began in 2003, when a group of us friends thought we should do something to build better engineers coming out of colleges. The decision was to focus on these final year projects, be good mentors to the students. And then identify challenging problems to solve, work on their solutions, and do so by following best practices from the industry.
The initiative was very successful. Our projects won prizes at prestigious institutes, presented papers at conferences like OLS, but importantly I believe it was an awesome learning experience for everyone involved, the mentor and the mentee.
We never intended for it to run this long, so we certainly must have done something right, probably accidentally, along the way. And I have been thinking what made it work, here are the top few. Most of these seem basic common sense, but hey, that’s what made it.

The “Why”?

We did a good job of internalizing why exactly are we doing this. It provided us a great anchor to base our decisions and take on new initiatives. Every year, any session we did with students, we reiterated publicly why we are doing this. We threw the doors open for anybody looking for help to reach out to us. I think these repeated public declarations, helped everyone internalize it. Probably like a pledge but with more earnestness and meaning.
A case in point is how we viewed other project guiding groups that came up over the years. We always aimed to get along well with all these. In fact, for students that had gone through our screening process, we also shared our true feedback about them and made referrals at other places for guiding projects. There is no rivalry in teaching, its a good deed.


After a couple of years of the activity, we thought: why should learning (or involvement) stop when the students finish off their projects? What else could you do? Since then the senior students were deeply involved with our screening process, running many rounds all by themselves. Some interested folks also acted as co-mentors for the next batches of students. Regular sync-ups ensured that the same values and ethos carries forward through the process.
In all of this, I think everyone developed a sense of ownership, and a community around this work. We made many changes in our processes and approaches, and almost every one of them came through by suggestions from the newly involved folks. We automatically kept up with the times, because a younger batch kept guiding us :).
Along the way, the baton of organizing and mentoring these projects has gone from multiple generations of students. My hearty thanks to all those who have been involved.

Mutual Respect

I learned many things through this activity, but the biggest take away, no doubt, was people.
While I was at this project exhibition (that I mention at the top), I met many folks who I had the privilege of mentoring. Folks, across multiple batches, few of the best students in the best educational institute, and who have gone on and made a difference.
I don’t meet most for years, but when we do meet, the mutual affection and respect gushes forth like a reborn stream at the sight of first rains. It is these bonds, these relationships that make it so worthwhile.

Times change, technologies change, and this initiative will continue to adapt and finally stop at some point. Till then, here’s to hoping more such fun experiences!

Thanks to pixabay for the title image.