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Entering the real world after years as a student can be a daunting process. Gita Balakrishnan explains how Ethos helps prepare young architects in India for the professional life.

Picture this. A young architect or civil engineer has graduated with a bagful of dreams, hopes and aspirations. Then, out in the real world, they are bewildered by the array of options that confront them.

There was a time many years ago when I was faced with this situation. I was unsure of what I wanted to do. Time passed and opportunities came and went. A trifle disillusioned, I chose to respond to an advertisement for a creative educationist in slums. It was almost as if I had found my calling. If only I had been guided into this field by design rather than by chance.

Now consider this scenario. A common platform connects the student fraternity of architects and civil engineers across our country. This forum helps them keep in touch with what is happening in different colleges; exposes them to the conscious choices being made by their peers; helps them answer their queries. This platform extends to interactions with professionals in different parts of our country as well as to opportunities across the borders. Such a network would certainly facilitate easy dissemination of information and help build confident professionals.

Hence, Ethos. Ethos is a consequence of the uncertainties that I faced as I made my way in my chosen career. The befuddling gamut of choices in the field were unnerving – choices in education, choices in trends, in materials, in technology and so on. I started Ethos with the objective of bridging this knowledge gap.

Ethos engages India’s young architectural and engineering minds in some friendly competition as a means of bringing them together. Ethos commenced its journey seven years ago with Archumen – India’s biggest architecture quiz for students of architecture. Archumen has become extremely popular with its target audience and has become a part of their annual calendar.

Archumen also travelled to Sri Lanka in 2006 where an edition was held in Colombo and the Sri Lankan champions, Sajeevi and Ranga from the University of Morotuwa in Colombo matched their wits with their Indian counterparts.
The launch of Bending Moment, a quiz on civil engineering, followed. The aim was to bridge the gap between these two groups. These two fraternities are incomplete without the other. Hence, Bending Moment and Archumen are held at the same venues to facilitate cross-learning and interaction.

Ethos also inspires the creative prowess of these students through annual design competitions like Transparence, promoted by Saint Gobain Glass India, and the IGBC Green Design Competition, promoted by the Indian Green Building Council of the CII. Ethos has also organised a competition on water-efficient design: Water – safe, sustainable and for all, promoted by an NGO called Arghyam.

These contests give the students an opportunity to focus on current issues and assess themselves against the best in the country. They also help them determine their strengths, their interests and to prepare themselves outside the constraints of a class room.

But there is still so much more that can be done too. Ethos has already started networking opportunities for young architects to match interest and aptitude with opportunity. We will be intensifying this effort and will extend the same to the fraternity of civil engineers.

Recruitment is still a major hurdle that needs to be addressed. Very few organisations identify prospective employees through the typical process of campus interviews in the field of civil engineering and architecture. For such an endeavour to succeed, students, faculty members, institutions and professionals need to play a proactive role. Colleges and faculty members need to encourage participation from their wards. They could also participate by reverting with regular feedback on ways and means to improve.

Recently, Ethos was asked to partner FIN, an Indo-French NGO, in evolving an eco-friendly solution for the structure of an ecosan toilet for a Panchayat office in a rural coastal Tsunami-hit village in Tamil Nadu. This toilet block was made self-sustaining with solar power and rainwater harvesting.

But although it was a tiny project on its own, it served as a replicable model for the villagers and a fertile practical learning ground for two students from NIT Trichy. This method of stimulating budding professionals on such critical issues is the core of what Ethos does. It is our belief that opportunities such as these will help develop responsible designers and these youngsters will evolve into mature and socially responsible professionals. 
Gita Balakrishnan is the founder of Ethos, and is based in Kolkata.

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