Sridevi Venkatachalam, Lady Doak College

Walking Extra Miles

“I have always been a people person,” Sridevi Venkatachalam said, and that trait prompted her to reconsider her career path after earning a PhD in chemistry from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology. Soon after graduation she took a position at a refinery in Chennai, where she worked in a modern laboratory with sophisticated instruments. “The work was challenging for my brain,” she said, “but I wanted more for my heart.”

She decided to return to her home base in Madurai with the goal of “giving back to the home soil that had nurtured me.” In Madurai, she joined the Department of Chemistry at Lady Doak College. “Lady Doak College is a place for people who are passionate about teaching,” she said, “and who are willing to walk extra miles.” She walked those extra miles as she adopted a “beyond the blackboard” approach to teaching young women.

Dr. Sridevi, center, with students at Seoul Women’s University.

The 2016-2017 United Board Fellows Program marked another turning point in Dr. Sridevi’s career. “A kind of transformation took place,” she explained, as she learned more about whole person education. She began to take a closer look at the social aspects of teaching. “Before, in a class of 50 students, I would look only to the brightest students, and often overlook the slower or more timid students.” Now she wonders why a student chooses to sit in the corner of a classroom and not participate. “Is there some problem in her background or in her day-to-day life that is having an impact on her learning?” Dr. Sridevi asked. “If the problem can be identified and rectified, then her learning can take off.”

Students also need to learn about relationships, as Dr. Sridevi observed during her two-month fellowship placement at Seoul Women’s University. As part of the university’s Bahrom Character Education program, students live together in small groups for ten days at the start of each academic year. It’s an environment that encourages them to discuss issues and interests with each other. Year by year, they build a deeper understanding of themselves, others, and society. “These students have been coached from a young age to excel in the classroom,” Dr. Sridevi said, “so a key part of this model is that it takes place outside the classroom. It shows them how to excel in their social lives.”

Dr. Sridevi in her classroom at Lady Doak College.

Lady Doak College also emphasizes learning outside the classroom: its Life Frontier Engagement initiative encourages senior-year students to apply their classroom knowledge to social problems. Dr. Sridevi is eager to share this Lady Doak model with faculty from Seoul Women’s University, and a recently signed memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the two institutions opens the door for exchanges on whole person education and other aspects of teaching and learning. “The Fellows Program is meant to create collaboration and community,” Dr. Sridevi said, and through the MOU, ongoing contact with United Board Fellows, and other exchanges, she is expanding the community for whole person education.