Dr. Adilah Ponnurangam holds a PhD in Geochemistry, and is a manager, an educator, a dispute mediator and a supporter, an understanding advisor as well as an assertive authority figure – in short: she is Resident Mentor at Constructor University in Bremen, Germany.
The cat, the heraldic animal of Mercator College, symbolically welcomes the new students into the community with a knightly accolade. Then they are smeared with blue paint and have to drink a shot mixed of unspecified ingredients, of which Dr. Adilah Ponnurangam laughingly said: "You will remember it for the rest of your life." Afterwards, everyone sings the Mercator chant as loudly and insistently as possible. All new Mercatorians go through this initiation ritual.
Welcome to Mercator college, one of the four colleges on Constructor University's campus, and home to 187 students from 60 nations. The college initiation rite is part of the community-building measures that serve a single goal: "We want to make students feel at home and part of a close-knit community," explained Adilah. She, too, lives with her family in Mercator College and is always available to support the students.
Adilah is a familiar face at Constructor University and has been around for quite some time – since 2005 to be precise. Back in high school in her home country Tanzania, a teacher drew her attention to an English-language university in faraway Germany. The university and country fascinated her, and she applied to study Biochemistry and Cell Biology. "When I was not only accepted, but even received a scholarship, there was no reason not to go," she said.
Upon arrival on campus, Mercator College became Adilah's new home; she drank the special Mercatorian shot and was smeared with the blue paint. She understands what it feels like for someone to leave their country at such a young age for the first time and move to a new country and encounter people of diverse backgrounds, cultures, religion, temperaments and customs. Back then, as an undergraduate student, she shared an apartment with a fellow student from Germany, with whom she is still very close friends. The principle of two students from two nations sharing an apartment with separate bedrooms and a shared bathroom is still part of the diversity lived at Constructor University. "In general, this concept works great," said Adilah. If conflict does arise, part of her job is to mediate it: "This is a great learning opportunity: When learning to deal with difficult situations we try to find solutions together."
After completing her Bachelor's degree, she continued her studies at the University of Bremen for a Master's degree. For her doctorate, however, she was drawn back to Constructor University, which was then called Jacobs University. "As soon as I step foot on campus, I get a feeling of familiarity and belonging," she explained its appeal. "People tick similarly, the campus is very beautiful and green, and it's a very safe place for everyone. It is a very special bubble."
During her doctoral studies, Adilah used to work as "Resident Associate," together with Resident Mentors and part of the college Residential Support System. "I always enjoyed interacting with students and being there for them," she said. So much that she considered exploring the world of Student Affairs.
In 2019, the university had an opening and offered her the Resident Mentor position. It was perfect timing. Adilah had just completed her doctorate, then a mother of two daughters just finishing her maternity leave. At this crossroad, Adilah opted for a career shift and accepted the offer for a job as a Resident Mentor for Mercator College. "Throughout my career, one thing always led to another and I am always learning and discovering new passions," she said. She believes the interdisciplinary education she received together with her experience in the different roles she has had at Constructor University, equipped her for her present role. "My experience so far helps me help students," Adilah is convinced. Not long after, during her first year as Resident Mentor, she was named "Employee of the Year" on campus. "So I must be doing something right," she said with a laugh.
"Here at Constructor University, I am part of the Residential Support System that helps in guiding and supporting students successfully through their studies," Adilah explained. The Resident Mentor Team (each college has a Resident Mentor), are part of the wider Student Life and Support Department working closely with the Community Coordinators and Psychological Counselors, to ensure that all students at Constructor University are well taken care of.
To effectively carry out her duties, Adilah is assisted by four Resident Associates, six College Office Student Assistants and fourteen Peer Counsellors. Together they make up the Mercator Residential Team. They host events, plan activities, cheer up students during stressful exam times, and do their best to make sure every Mercatorian is okay and thriving. "We're a close-knit community; we look out for each other," she said. And of course, students can come to her with any concerns they may have, be it social, academic, financial, health-related, or about residential living and life in Germany.
When it comes to work-life balance she admitted "I'm still working on it!" As a Resident Mentor, the lines between work and leisure are blurred since she lives where she works which makes it harder to switch off. Still, she said: "I really love what I do, I am needed, and my work is very fulfilling. Seeing students come in as very young adults, living independently for the very first time, overcoming all the stress that comes with university, developing as people and finally graduating and ready to take on the world as global citizens and future leaders, - just knowing that you played a part in that, is one of the most rewarding experiences.’’
This text is part of the "Faces" series, in which Constructor University introduces students, alumni, professors and staff.
Image 2: Mercator College, with the cat as their mascot, became Adilah's home. She too got smeared with blue paint, just like it is part of the initiation rite of Mercator until today. (Source: Adilah Ponnurangam/private)