While many struggle to read anything from cover to cover today, it’s not uncommon to find Shanthina Ravindran, faculty chair of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, devouring multiple books in one go. At the time of this interview, she was reading not one, not two, but five separate titles, a feat she often undertakes both for research and for pleasure. “I love how reading makes me think differently,” Shanthina says. “Reading keeps changing and challenging my own perspectives. It helps me to recognize that there are different facets to every topic so that I can better appreciate how things develop.”
Shanthina initially started out as a law student and graduated with a Bachelor of Laws at the University of London. However, she chose not to practice as a lawyer and instead decided to pursue her love for literature and teaching, earning a Master of Education-English Language degree at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Before joining DigiPen (Singapore) full-time in 2016, Shanthina taught part-time at a number of educational institutions, including the National University of Singapore and the National Institute of Education. Looking back on her journey as an educator so far, Shanthina is thankful for where she is. She is also especially grateful to former Dean of Faculty, Prasanna Ghali, for giving her the opportunity to start teaching as an adjunct at DigiPen (Singapore), where she subsequently got appointed to a full-time lecturer position and eventually faculty chair.
Teaching was something that Shanthina had always been interested in since it opens up many opportunities for self-learning, growth, and, of course, more books. That curiosity and thirst for knowledge is what drives her as an educator and is an attitude she hopes to inspire among her students as well. Currently, she teaches a mix of English, communication, and law modules on topics like composition, speculative fiction, graphic novels, research, reasoning, and writing.
In preparation for her classes, Shanthina reads widely on various topics and explores genres that she might not have delved into so deeply on her own. For example, while researching for her speculative fiction class, she plunged into the world of horror, studying the genre’s different branches and how they impact the reader, shaping one’s perceptions and thought processes. “Preparing for my classes makes me learn about and appreciate the subjects I teach in a more in-depth manner as well,” she says.
As an English professor in a school that focuses on computer science, design, digital art, and engineering, Shanthina acknowledges that it can be challenging trying to engage students for whom the humanities are not part of their core curriculum. Even though most DigiPen (Singapore) students do not have a social science background, Shanthina firmly believes that humanities subjects are for everyone, since society and culture are greatly shaped by the arts and vice versa.
In order to make the modules more palatable to her students, lessons are delivered through a variety of media like songs, poems, short films, graphic novels, and short stories. Additionally, Shanthina facilitates and encourages a lot of discussion in her classes. Heavy topics are addressed in a bite-sized manner that make them easier to understand. Doing this helps to engage students who may not have been keen on the subject initially. “These discussions help students realize that what we deliberate is a part of life. The themes that we discuss — such as racism, oppression, identity formation — are all very real and practical issues that they may experience or encounter in their lives someday,” Shanthina says. “What’s more, these themes also affect the way a person forms his or her thoughts, which ultimately affects bigger things like relationships, politics, and how families are shaped.”
Reflecting on all the modules that she teaches, Shanthina does not have a particular favorite class but instead becomes fully absorbed in every class that she teaches. As someone who is passionate about learning and education, it is only natural that Shanthina hopes for the same for each of her students. Her dream? That every DigiPen (Singapore) student will one day become an avid reader themselves.
“I’ve come to realize that my job is not to entertain my students but to impart knowledge, inform and educate them so that they can think deeper about real issues to understand society better,” she says. Shanthina stresses that students need to attend classes with the correct attitude, especially since a university education is demanding, and rightfully so. “I don’t want my students to just focus on passing a module but to appreciate how a module changes and shapes them. Getting the grade is one thing, but what matters more is that they also leave every class with a keener appreciation for learning.”