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Ruminating about the glorious past – An interview with Prof. S.V Ramaswamy

Professor S.V. Ramaswamy has been associated with the College of Engineering, Guindy (CEG) since 1955. The observations on CEG pertain to the period 1955 – 1960, when he was a student.


Q1)  Tell us about some of your memorable college experiences.

During our second year (1957), a “Centenary Exhibition” with over 100 stalls was conducted at CEG. As a volunteer for the Catering Committee during the four day exhibition, I learnt a lot about team work and crowd management.

The educational tours were also exhilarating experiences. We travelled by open trucks to the dams in Ooty. The final year tour, lasting about twenty days, consisted of visits to the Nagarjuna Sagar Dam, Kolkata, and many other places.

My final year project work involved the design a sewerage and drainage scheme for the entire CEG campus, under the guidance of Prof. Sundaresan. This was an interesting experience and consumed the entire final term.


Q2) The campus has obviously changed a lot, when compared to your days. How do you feel about this change?

The intake for our batch in 1955 was only 120. There were students from many places and the total strength of the college was about 500. During our second year, the intake was increased to 180 and in subsequent years, to 280. There were only five engineering colleges in the state. There was just one girl who joined during our second year, and two more joined during our fourth year. Nowadays, girls outnumber boys in enrolment and a similar trend is seen in the faculty also.

The facilities were excellent during our years. The hostel rooms were spacious. Students from other colleges used to visit our college just for the excellent food in the mess. The teachers were easily accessible and took considerable interest in the extra-curricular activities of the students.

There was continuous construction activity to ensure more class rooms, hostels and administrative buildings, which is still continuing.


Q3) What were the major college festivals and symposiums during your time?

All the leading colleges in Chennai participated in the arts festivals conducted by CEG. The most attractive event in college was the Sports Day and there was always heavy competition for winning the “Champion Athlete Award”. A large number of students attended and supported CEG in the inter-collegiate games against other colleges. There were no symposiums at that time. But there were lectures by eminent individuals under the auspices of Students’ Association and Engineering Societies.


Q4) These days, many students claim that they are doing engineering due to parental pressure. What is your take on that?

During our days, there was no compulsion to pursue engineering. Engineering and medical college admissions were very difficult to obtain and were eagerly sought after. We joined engineering mainly because of the prospect of an assured job with good salary. Another major factor in choosing these professional courses was because there weren’t many other job opportunities available.


Q5) In conclusion, what advice would you like to give to the younger generation?

Students should keep learning throughout their career. Every stage of their growth involves a lot of learning. Right now, it is essential to learn and adapt. They have to develop their observational abilities, which will help in achieving their goals. They should also corroborate and scrutinize any information they receive.

Students should learn to be team players. They should make an effort to help those around them which will strengthen their network. They should be prepared to work in different work atmospheres and in different locations while seeking better opportunities and prospects.


Q6) We hear you are active in the Alumni Association. How does it feel to be back in college and work along with the young generation?

I have been associated with the Alumni Association from 1987 in various capacities - as Secretary, Editor of the Newsletter and as a member of Executive Committee. However, the members belonged to the older generation. Only a few young alumni members participated in the activities. After retiring as a professor, I am still in touch with the students of Geotechnical Engineering, my area of interest. I participate regularly in seminars held at different places in India and deliver a few lectures as well.


Q7) For many students, the experience of staying in the hostels is the most treasured. How was your experience?

We day scholars spent a lot of time in the hostels.  Once, the students of our class who hailed from Southern districts resented the ragging and wanted to retaliate. They procured a large number of bamboo batons and lathis and stored them in their rooms. The day scholars were asked to stay in the hostel on that particular night, when our tormentors (the second year students) decided to act. When our seniors arrived, they were appalled to see a belligerent and aggressive crowd wielding lathis and batons. The situation was tense. Fortunately, the faculty members who lived in the campus rushed to the site on hearing the commotion and defused the situation. For the next month there was regular patrolling by faculty during the nights.


Q8) Today, on an average, 1 out of every 4 students wants to be an engineer, and the level of competition has increased tremendously. What are your views about this?

Even before writing our final examinations, we had job offers from organizations like the Tamil Nadu PWD, TNEB, Tamil Nadu Highways Department and the Neyveli Lignite Corporation. Other avenues of employment were teaching, steel plants, Indian Railways, the Army, Air Force and private companies.

Now, the number of students graduating is very high, but opportunities are equally high in number. The opportunities were limited during our time since the major employers were the State and Central Government. Now, private firms are the major employers. Many engineering graduates find employment in other areas such as banking, administration, entertainment and some even start their own businesses. The number of students going abroad for higher studies is on the rise as well. In my opinion, the competition is not of concern since there are ample opportunities.


Q9) As a student, you represented the college in many sports. What do you think about the facilities and resources today?

I was a regular member of the basketball and football teams. There were long-standing rivalries between different colleges in various games. Encounters between these teams attracted large crowds. The newspapers also gave wide coverage to intercollegiate matches. The enthusiasm and support for the home team doesn’t seem to exist now. Actually, the students are not interested in the performance of the college and the University teams. This is in sharp contrast to the interest shown by the students and faculty in our performance those days.

The facilities and the resources for sports activities in the campus are very good, but there is scope for improvement in the utilisation of these facilities by the students.


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