An Engineering College, in Chennai

25 July 2019



An Inspirational Talk during College Orientation:

A Rite of Passage for Students.


Topic of the Talk: "The Transition from High School to College Levels of Education."


by Dr Eric Miller




1) List of Stories.

2) Notes on Entering College -- College is a Stage of Life and a State of Mind.

3) Notes on Leadership Styles.

4) Notes on Composing and Telling Stories.





1) List of Stories.



Stories that Dr Eric might tell


Three Little Pigs.

Stone Soup.

Peach Boy.

The Goose who Laid Golden Eggs.

Fox and Crane Serve Soup to Each Other.

An Old Man Plants a Tree.

Grasshopper and Ant.

Rama Pets a Squirrel.

Rabbit Thinks the Sky is Falling.

King Yaa-Yaa.

The Young Man Who Made a Princess Laugh.


(Titles of Grandmother Stories, Proverbs, and Idioms are in green.)



Some Stories that College Students could tell


Stories about something that happened in the last 24 hours.


Stories about overcoming challenges.


Story of life on earth.


Story of humans.


Story of Engineering.


Story of Plastic, Glass, Metal, Silicon, etc.


Story of the Computer Industry (Hardware and Software).


Story of Machines.


Story of Bridges, etc.


Story of Programming Languages.


Story of Electricity.


Your Life Story.

How did you discover, and how have you developed, your unique interests, talents, and skills?


Life Story of a great inventor, innovator, designer, scientist, builder, pioneer, and/or entrepreneur in a field of Engineering.  Tell about challenges that had to be overcome along the way.


Story (Case Study) of a great invention, discovery, advancement in your field.  Again, tell about challenges that had to be overcome along the way.


Story about an inspiring experience you have had with a mentor in your chosen field.


Story of how you became inspired to choose a specific field of engineering.


Story of how someone has supported, encouraged, had faith in you, and believed in you.




Fantasy Story: character, place, mission, obstacles ...




One way to create a Fantasy version of one's Life Story (or of a part of one's Life Story) is:


A) Tell or write the original story in 1st person ("I did ...").


B) Shift it to 3rd person ("She/He did ...).  In other words, project your experiences onto external characters


C) Shift the story to a different environment -- the characters could be royalty, animals, etc.


D) See if any metaphors or symbols come to mind that could be used in the story.  (A metaphor is a thing that represents another thing.  A symbol is a thing that represents an idea.)





2) Notes on Entering College -- College is a Stage of Life and a State of Mind.



In college, one would be engineering oneself.

Finding oneself.

Discovering oneself.

Creating oneself.



Engineering and Stories both involve dealing with problems and searching for solutions.





Leaving home (to some degree), and going to college.


Making one's way in the world.


In Fairytales, the main character is sincere, kind, generous and authentic, and wants to experience things for himself.



Naturally your professors will not know in what ways you are eventually going to contribute to the field.  Your professors' jobs are to teach you regarding known methods in your chosen field, and the history of that field, and to help you to understand the whole of the field.  It is up to you to take things forward.



You would be entering "communities of choice" -- that is, communities you would be choosing to join.  Especially professional communities which would have histories, famous members (alive and passed away), associations, meetings, journals, email groups, etc.  



Three suggestions regarding your intellectual development in college:






Get to work, and apply yourself.


If you do not study, apply yourself, and work hard, you would only be fooling yourself.


"You can take a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink." 



When a college class begins, a college student should have his/her notebook open to a blank page, with a pen in hand or nearby.  This applies for every class in one's college-student career -- except for when it might not be practical, or a professor might instruct otherwise.



Often, essential work one does during one's college years occurs outside of the classroom. 


For example, for me: videoconferencing.






Learn to "Think Critically."


"Thinking critically" does not mean, to be negative.


It means, to --


Approach a phenomenon from as many angles as possible.


Think about possible causes of a phenomenon.


Think about possible results of a phenomenon.


Think about possible ways the phenomenon is affecting society.


Think for yourself -- taking into consideration what all of the experts have to say on the matter.



Keep a journal -- on paper and on computer.


Write all of your thoughts regarding a topic.

Afterwards, go over it and see what is interesting.


Then you would discover what you are curious about and fascinated by.


Then you could come up with phenomenon-related Research Questions that you could ask yourself -- and state in the introductions of your Research Papers.


Then you could try to answer those questions in your Research Papers. 


If you might have a hypothetical answer that you want to try to test and prove, this is called a hypothesis.  You would need to support a hypothesis with evidence.






Organise and Accumulate your Notes, so you could Access them Easily.


In your notebooks --


Write a Table of Contents.  That is, on the first page of the notebook, list the notebook's page numbers, and next to each page number leave a blank place where you could later fill in the topic for that page.


Number the pages.  On the upper right corner, or elewhere.


When you write notes -- at the top of the page, write the date.


If you do these things, you would be able to access your notes easily and quickly.


Let your notes accumulate, build, and develop -- not be "scattered like leaves in the wind."



Also -- always number the pages of your written submissions.




Sigmund Freud, a founder of Psycho-analysis, said there are two basic things in life: Relationships and Work.  In both cases it is said:


"The course of true love never did run smooth"

(from the play, A Midsummer Night's Dream, by William Shakespeare). 


That is, there might at times be problems that need to be resolved.  Do not seek to ignore problems.  Rather, face them and seek to resolve them.




One may want a job, a house, a bike, a car, a husband or wife, children, and so on.


But to succeed in a profession, one has to love what one is doing.  Be curious.  Be fascinated.  Identify problems, needs, challenges -- and dream up and try solutions.  Ask questions such as,


How does this work?


How could this problem be solved?


What do people need and want? 


What would make their lives easier? 


What might they be willing to pay for? 


What is the need of the day? 


These are questions that relate to the study of Psychology, Culture, and Society.


Studying only Engineering -- and only the technical aspects of Engineering -- might help one to earn a degree, but this may not be enough to enable one to have a great career in Engineering.




Your professors will try to help you, but eventually, you will need to "stand on your own two feet."


It is not that you have come here to get filled up with knowledge, and then you will have a full tank.


You are not just a receiving vessel.


Developing your mind is an active process that you have to initiate and drive.


If you wait for other people's commands, you won't get very far.  People who are successful in science, business, and other professional fields do things by their own initiative, and have an inner drive.


The people who manage offices and labs want people who are creative, resourceful, and are self-starters.  They want people who do not always wait to be told to do something.


This may be a shock for you, because some of you may be coming from schools where you were constantly being told to sit down, be quiet, and stay in line.


College -- and especially this college -- is designed to stimulate your mind, and to help you to become an independent individual.


Your professors are "not here to teach you what to think, they are here to teach you how to think" -- how to investigate, how to research, how to approach, attack, and solve problems, how to find solutions.


Read something.  Write some notes -- this "plants a seed" in your own mind.  


"Sleep on it."


The seed would grow.  Nourish your mind with history, and known methods and formulas.  Your mind would inevitably create the new, the next steps.


"Rome was not built in a day."




"Today is the first day of the rest of your life."


And today -- as you are being initiated into college -- marks the first day you take charge of your own life, and your own future.


You are no longer just absorbing, reacting, passively taking it all in.


You are no longer a child.  You are no longer just "along for the ride."  Now you are the driver.  And you professors are your driving teachers.


You now are (or soon would be) "the captain of your own ship."


You are now responsible for your actions.  You are laying a groundwork for the rest of your life.



Your English professors would be helping you

A) to become more articulate,

B) to be more skilled at explaining what you have done and what you want to do,

C) to present project reports, and project proposals.



Regarding your classmates:


"If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go with others."





3) Notes on Leadership Styles.



Transactional vs Transformational/Charismatic





Leadership by Example:  Leaders exhibit behavior that others follow.  Others would behave in similar ways.




3 Types of Leadership


A) Transactional (contingent on rewards and punishments).


B) Charismatic (emphasising shared vision and values, and presenting a radical set of ideas designed to resolve a crisis).


C) Transformative (inspiring followers to embrace a new set of possibilities).




Transactional Leadership (also known as Managerial Leadership) --                                  


Employees are driven by hopes for rewards, and fear of punishments.


Transactional Leadership focuses on the role of supervision, organisation, and group performance; transactional leadership is a style of leadership in which the leader promotes compliance of his/her followers through both rewards and punishments.


Leaders using the Transactional approach are not looking to change the future, they are looking to merely keep things the same. Leaders using transactional leadership as a model pay attention to followers' work in order to find faults and deviations. 


This type of leadership is effective in crisis and emergency situations, as well as for projects that need to be carried out in a specific way.  Transactional leadership involves motivating and directing followers primarily through appealing to their own self-interest. 


The power of transactional leaders comes from their formal authority and responsibility in the organisation.  The main goal of the follower is to obey the instructions of the leader.




Charismatic Leadership --

A) Emphasises shared vision and values.

B) Promotes shared identity.

C) Models desired behaviors.


Charismatic Leadership --                

A) Leader has extraordinary gifts and qualities.

B) Community faces a desperate situation.

C) A Charismatic Leader presents a radical set of ideas to resolve a crisis.

D) A set of people follow the leader.

E) The Charismatic Leader's leadership is validated by his/her gifts and vision, and by repeated successes in dealing with perceived crises.




Transformative Leadership --

A) Anticipates trends.

B) Inspires followers to embrace a new vision of possibilities.

C) Develops others to be leaders.

D) Builds a community of learners who like to be challenged and who work for rewards (internal and external).


Elements of Transformative Leadership that relate to followers --

A) Inspires and motivates.

B) Stimulates intellectually.

C) Influences listeners towards ideals.

D) "Individualised consideration" (degree to which a leader has relationships with followers based on mutual trust).




An Autocratic leader dictates policies, procedures, and goals to be achieved, and directs and controls all activities without any meaningful participation by the subordinates.  Autocratic leaders tend to distrust their subordinates' abilities, and closely supervise and control people under them.





4) Notes on Composing and Telling Stories.



Story can be defined as, a series of events. 

Storytelling can be defined as, relating a series of events.


Stories can be models of the past, and models for the future.


A story packages data and gives it meaning.



Storytelling is a form of Public Speaking that also involves Acting (when one speaks and moves as Characters).



Two aspects of Storytelling work are:

1) Analysing, shaping, and creating stories (Content).

2) Coaching Performance Skills (Form). 


Basic Guidelines for Storytelling

1) Visualise.  2) Describe.  3) Mime (relating to imaginary objects, etc).  4) Become characters.


Three Types of Stories

1) Personal-experience stories (Autobiographical stories), and other Documentary stories.

2) Traditional stories (such as Animal fables, Fairy tales, Epics, and Legends).

3) Original creative stories.


Twelve Elements of Story

1)  The Title of the story.

2)  Characters (their histories, thoughts, decisions, follow-through on decisions, actions, etc).

3)  Characters' Ways of speaking.

4)  Characters' Ways of moving.

5)  Place.

6)  Time (continuous, or jumps, flashbacks?).

7)  The Storyline (also known as, plot) -- in one or two sentences.

8)  Objects in the story.

9)  Sensory Elements in the story: Smells, Flavours, Colours, Textures, etc.

10)  Emotions in the story (for the characters, the teller, and the listeners).

11)  Who is Narrating the story?  What is his/her Point of View, Tone of Voice, Attitude, Style?

12)  Point (Theme, Meaning, Moral, Message, Lesson, Take-away).


Ways of developing stories include:  1) Imagine a story.  2) Write it.  3) Draw it.  4) Tell it (as narrator, and as characters).  5) Physically enact it.  6) Sing it.  7) A team could perform it.


Regardless of whether a story character may be an animal, a human, or other -- all stories are about situations.  Story listeners can Project themselves into, and Imagine themselves in these situations.  They may Empathise and identify with -- and even possibly Imitate -- the characters. Considering if they might do things the same as, or differently from, how the characters do things gives the listeners practice for living.


One might identify a story's Turning Points, Defining Moments, Dramatic Moments, Moments of Decision, Moments of Truth, Pivotal Points, Crucial Scenes, Key Scenes, etc.


Dramatic Tension.  What is at stake?  What is a character's motivation in each scene?  Each action causes a reaction, and has consequences.  Seeds are planted -- when and how might they grow?  Suspense: When and how might anticipated events occur?



A Storyteller can alternate between speaking as the Narrator, and speaking monologues and dialogues as Characters.


A Storyteller's speech (as the Narrator and/or as Characters) can be:  Slow / Fast.  High Pitch / Low Pitch.  Soft / Loud.


Body Language of characters can involve Posture, Gesture, and Style of Movement.


A Storyteller could use Pauses and Silences with one's voice; and Stillness with one's body (strike a pose and hold it).



Regarding Eye Contact:  One could look at individual listeners, look away, and look back.  Develop a rhythm in this regard.


A storyteller can interact with individual listeners, including by at times making Eye Contact with individual listeners while speaking complete thoughts -- both when narrating, and when role-playing and speaking as a character. 


When one speaks as a character who is addressing other characters in a story, one's listeners are placed in the positions of those other characters.  Story listeners can be encouraged to move and speak as story characters.



Options for story composition, exploration, and/or performance include: 

1) Tell an entire story, and discuss it afterwards.  Or, stop in the course of a story, and discuss aspects of it along the way.

2) Have one character do something a wrong way, and one character do it a right way.  Or, have a character do something a wrong way first, and then a right way.

3) Present a debate between characters.  Present a debate within a person (between voices / urges / ideas within a single character).

4) Speak with with story characters.



Benefits of Storytelling

* Encourages Listeners to follow good examples and avoid negative examples.

* Helps Storytellers overcome inhibitions regarding public speaking, and expressing oneself.

* Enhances verbal proficiency.

* Improves listening skills.

* Encourages creativity and imagination power.

* Improves memory.

* Makes one more aware of one's own culture and roots.

* Helps one face difficult situations. 



After Telling a Story

One might ask "Open Questions" (questions with no right or wrong answers), such as,

1) What is one specific thing you liked about the story, or the way it was told?

2) What is one thing you found unsatisfying about the story, or the way it was told?  Might you like

to add to the story, or change it in any other way? 

3) Might the story remind you of any personal experience, or of some other story?

4) Does the story seem to teach any lessons?





Online Resources


Wiki page for Engineering,


Links to Animal Fables (Panchatantra Stories, Jataka Tales, Aesop's' Fables) and other Folktales, including Fairytales,





Dr Eric Miller

(PhD in Folklore, MSc in Psychology)

98403 94282



World Storytelling Institute,

Chennai Storytelling Festival,

Storytelling Therapy Association of India --


Assistant Director,

East West Center for Counselling and Training,

Indian Institute of Psychodrama --



Dr Eric Miller Bio-data


Eric Miller was born, raised, and trained in storytelling, in New York City.  He has settled in Chennai.


He has earned a PhD in Folklore from the University of Pennsylvania (in Philadelphia).  Folklore is a field within Cultural Anthropology.


He has also earned a Masters degree in Psychology from the University of Madras.


Dr Eric first visited Tamil Nadu in 1988 -- 31 years ago.  At that time, he was studying the Silappathikaram, the Epic of the Anklet.  To get to know the story better, he walked in the footsteps of Kannagi, from Poompuhar to Madurai, and later to the Kerala border, a total of approximately 500 km.  Dr Eric wrote a small book relating to the story and this walk.


For his Folklore doctoral research in 2003 and 2004, he conducted fieldwork about various verbal arts with Kanikkaran tribal people in the mountain forests north of Nagarcoil.


In Chennai, in 2007 Dr Eric co-founded the "World Storytelling Institute", which he directs.  The WSI's mission is to facilitate research and discussion about, training in, and performance of, forms of storytelling -- as it occurs in performance, ritual, everyday conversation, and other contexts.


In 2011, Dr Eric co-founded the "Indian Storytelling Network".


From 2013 onward, he has directed the first 7 annual editions of the "Chennai Storytelling Festival". 


Dr Eric has taught college courses in Folklore, Storytelling, Acting, Public Speaking, American Drama, The Modern Short Story, Creative Writing, and Essay Writing.


In the USA, he has taught at St. John's University, Fordham University, and New York University (all in New York City). 


In India, he has taught at the IIT-Madras, the University of Madras, and the Image College of Animation (all in Chennai).


Dr Eric is also the Assistant Director of the "East West Center for Counselling and Training", which is directed by his wife, Ms Magdalene Jeyarathnam.


Dr Eric is helping to develop the field of "Storytelling Therapy", also known as, "Storytelling for Counselling and Coaching".  He has founded the "Storytelling Therapy Association of India", and now also works as a Psychological Counsellor.


Dr Eric conducts Storytelling-related Workshops for Educators, Mental Health Professionals, Life Skills Trainers, People in the Business World, Screenplay-writers, Young People, and others -- in-person, and by videoconference.