Interview by Yash Panchal
Dr. Vijila Edwin-Kennedy currently holds the position of the Principal of KCLAS Coimbatore. Being the Founding Principal, she brings a blend of scholarship, professionalism, administrative competence and Integrity. She has a proven track record of being a visionary and an excellent administrator which has made her excel in Institution building. Her leadership and academic excellence enabled her to win several awards.
For her excellent and meaningful engagement with academia, Dr. Kennedy was awarded the Fulbright Scholarship in 2017. She is also the recipient of the UK-India Education Research Initiative scholarship in 2013 for faculty mobility. As an acknowledgment of her outstanding contribution to education and youth, she was invited to Helsinki, Finland by Euro-Brics Youth forum in 2015. She was also invited to present a paper at the ABBS conference in Moscow. She has also won several Awards for her leadership and academic excellence – Dr. Radhakrishnan Award for Excellence in 2017, Awards for publications in 2013, 2014 and the Best Teachers Award in the years 2008, 2009, 2010.
Dr. Kennedy is a leading educationist in the field of Management and has contributed in several capacities. As a professor in Business School and later as Director, she has lead several path-breaking and progressive initiatives in curricula, teaching-learning, research and collaboration with the Industry. She revitalized KCT Business School as the Director between 2011 to 2017 and she drove growth by tripling the students’ enrollment and propelled the school to be in the top 100 institutions in India through her vision, appropriate interventions, innovations, and invigorating culture.
Dr. Vijila Kennedy’s personal experience in the education industry
I am an Institution builder and a passionate Educationist with a strategic focus. In my 30 years of active engagement in higher education, under my leadership, departments and institutions have been created, crafted and built for growth and raising them to a ranking. Designing innovative and impactful processes, which are benchmarked to the best International Universities is my strength in building Institutions. I have led sustainable active collaborations with Industry and International Universities. I have led several development programs for Industry and NGOs.
I am a Fulbright scholar and winner of UKIERI scholarship. The latest awards received are Dr. Radhakrishnan Achiever Award in 2018, Dr. Radhakrishnan Award for Excellence in 2017, Nehru Best Faculty Award and RVS Best Faculty Awards.
I hold a Ph.D. in Organizational Management and have visited Universities in UK, Belgium, Germany, France, Netherlands, Singapore, Malaysia, Finland, Russia, and Israel. I am a registered volunteer with United Nations and Taproot.
Keeping high standards as a leader
The book ‘The Art of War’ written by Sun Tzu - the Chinese general, military strategist, writer, and philosopher inspires me to think critically about my leadership styles. It is important to have high standards for oneself, for colleagues and team members. The professional aspiration and discipline will pay for success and nation-building. Being strategic and wise is essential for building Institutions or organizations. I believe in taking the time to educate myself, develop our skills, and take the time to regularly reflect our abilities. It is essential to developing the wisdom necessary to make sound and strategic decisions. In leading others, one must gain the confidence of the team by inspiring personal action and display humanity by being open and transparent.
Challenges to deal with
Any institution will have challenges and the leadership should be able to change that into an opportunity! The major challenge is to mold students with the ability to think, to learn, and to express oneself both rigorously and creatively, the capacity to understand ideas and issues in context, and the commitment to contribute to the society.
The general education system in India is straight-jacketed, siloed and exam-oriented without building the skills for students to excel in life. Centering education upon these qualities, liberal is the best investment in our shared future of our nation. Educating parents, students and academicians that the philosophy of education is transformation is vital. As Aristotle also took the highest aim of education to be the fostering of good judgment or wisdom, which is sadly missing in general academic systems.
Liberal Education in KCLAS and views on KCLAS EDGE
Liberal Arts Education has just started taking roots in India through its well-established system in the US. KCLAS is a unique college in South India that is committed to the idea of a liberal arts education through which students think and learn across disciplines, literally liberating or freeing the mind to its fullest potential. A liberal education helps students develop a sense of social responsibility, as well as strong and transferable intellectual and practical skills and a demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings.
The focus of liberal education of KCLAS has made a deliberate move from making “I” shaped individual, focused on particular knowledge and skill-set to developing “T” shaped students who will gain deep functional expertise and a broad skill set and awareness
With this vision, the students are offered a plethora of opportunities to enhance their critical thinking, synthesizing skills, oral and written communication.
KCLAS EDGE has been introduced as a unique model that nurtures the broad development of the students and maps a synergistic relationship among intellectual, emotional, social, physical, creative, aesthetic and spiritual potentials.
KCLAS Edge is built on the model given by Jacques Delors, who headed The International Commission on Education for the 21st Century to UNESCO - Learning to Know, Learning to Live Together, Learning to Do and Learning to Be.
In action, KCLAS Edge will give opportunities to:
- Broaden knowledge through interdisciplinary courses and workshops in art, humanities, science, mathematics, fine art, environment or social studies.
- Engage in critical analysis of social issues and work in teams to address them
- Enhance team working skills through peer learning about the latest trends and developments in the domain
- Deliberate on key issues and challenges facing the industry through guest speakers.
- Develop analytical and synthesizing skills by engaging in social and industry projects.
- Build physical fitness by engaging in sports and yoga.
- Augment mental well-being through professional counseling and mentoring.
- Heighten their creative and artistic skills through engaging in various clubs and forums.
Research focused vision of KCLAS
The Vision of Kumaraguru College of Liberal Arts and Science (KCLAS) is to become a progressive research focused Institution that instills a passion for life-long learning and mold young people to impact the world. Hence, the vision of KCLAS is beyond placements! It is to equip the students for life!
To actualize our vision, KCLAS works on the essential learning outcomes of a KCLAS program built on the framework designed by AAC&U: Integrated learning, Inclination to Inquire and Lifelong Learning, Intellectual and Practical Skills, Values in Action, Intercultural Effectiveness, Well-being. When a student progressively achieves this, his future is well directed – be it placements, higher studies or entrepreneurship.
Being available for the students
Student-centric leadership is essential for the success and sustainability of an Institution. Few things that are done as a culture:
- Talk to students, all the time! Meeting and talking to students in corridors, cafeterias, classrooms, open houses gives the opportunity to listen and learn, empathize and question, test new ideas and theories.
- Co-create student processes to engage with them and understand the thought process. Co-creation gives opportunities to discuss, debate, question, critique ideas in a group and motivate the students.
- Celebrate quick wins! This is important to motivate and enthuse the students to move forward in their initiatives.
Take on an ideal school environment
In Kumaraguru College of Liberal Arts and Science (KCLAS), we immerse the students in a culture which quips them for life. We aim to build a community of students who are intellectual, passionate, and progressive grounded in the values of respect and sincerity.
KCLAS programs stimulate the intellect to think critically, enhance your communication skills and become a more resourceful, innovative and self-confident person. Projects, debates on burning issues, thought papers, research, conferences, interdisciplinary learning, field visits, and internships deepen the intellectual pursuits and widen the breadth of knowledge.
KCLAS nurtures a culture of passion – a passion to excel, passion to enrich the entrepreneurial spirit by taking up responsibilities and passion to serve the community. The passion and joy of learning are instilled by getting to know the students and their interest, sharing their dreams and co-create student initiatives and make the learning meaningful.
We emphasize a culture of Courage and confidence to take a risk in pursuit of progress, creative, curious and deeply committed to the pursuit of knowledge, embrace diversity and inclusivity and are willing to engage with the local, national and global community
Goals in mind for KCLAS
KCLAS builds on our current strengths and we focus our energies and resources on the most pressing issues that we are distinctively positioned to address. The vision 2025 encourages multidimensional approaches to achieving significant goals in six strategic priority areas.
- Deep and Diverse Intellectual Pursuits: Offer diverse programs in the emerging areas of studies with deep disciplinary knowledge and a broad multidisciplinary approach. Every program offered at KCLAS will have high-quality enrichment courses and experiences with an interdisciplinary approach. Offer exposure and experiences to students to develop curiosity and critical thinking.
- Research with Impact: Create a good interdisciplinary research culture and intellectual community that promotes professional growth and benefits industry and society. Encourage originality, significance, and rigor in research with the highest standards and integrity.
- Leadership and Faculty: Build a talent pool of outstanding teachers, researchers, and artists in academic areas. Foster an exciting intellectual environment through dialogue and engagement.
- Transformative Student Experience: Provide an excellent learning opportunity to a larger and a more diverse student population. Offer unique and rich environment for holistic development. Provide a liberal arts experience, and fully equip students for the best of the diverse range of opportunities for study and employment.
- Local, National and Global Engagements: We will have strong, mutually beneficial relationships with business, government, the social sector, Academia, and the local community. We will be globally and nationally connected with academic institutions through sustained engagements in teaching and research.
- World Class Learning Resources: Establishing sustainable spaces and learning resources in support of KCLAS’s academic mission, research and campus life
Suggestions for the current youth
Students should embark on a journey of discovery designed to expand their horizons to realms that are never thought possible. Students should enjoy innovative programs, innumerable resources, and the benefits of strong community connections. Be open to experiment and be curious to think broadly, engage widely, lead boldly and live impactfully.