Is a university’s role to prepare students solely for a career, or to harness their potential for knowledge and self-discovery?
Kuhan Pathy was overwhelmed when he became the first Malaysian to complete a professional fellowship at the Tennessee General Assembly and be accorded official state recognition from its governor. Kuhan was shortlisted to represent Malaysia for the Professional Fellows Programme under the Young South-East Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI).
At the end of 2018, he spent six weeks in the United States with 18 other emerging leaders from Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia as part of the American Council Of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL) programme.
“I never thought it would be possible. I did not expect to work with local legislators, exchanging views from a Malaysian standpoint, and engaging in constructive discussions,” he says. “The experience was priceless. It gave me firsthand insight into public governance, political transparency and the legislative process in the US.”
The senior engineer, seconded from Petronas, previously served as Director Of Policy, Planning And Research in the Prime Minister’s Department. He attributes his achievement to his alma mater, Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP).
His education experience and involvement in extracurricular activities gave him early exposure to organisational and leadership skills. Time management, critical thinking and exposure to cultural diversity have all built a strong foundation for his corporate career growth.
“Undeniably, my position today is a testament to my UTP journey. Its holistic, transformational approach has developed and shaped us into community change-makers,” says Kuhan.
Reservoir Link Solutions Sdn Bhd executive director and CTO Anwarudin Saidu Mohamed believes his time at university taught him to be independent and resourceful. “The learning environment and curricula were designed to instil the confidence to challenge norms and ideas,” he says.
“These skill sets have greatly benefited my current organisation and me, ensuring that we look beyond boundaries in exploring new areas. This in turn has helped create opportunities to convert ideas into business prospects.”
Looking back, the petroleum engineer says the university indirectly contributed to the development of survival and behavioural skills, and character building, “UTP played a significant role in shaping who I am today,” says Anwarudin.
“It provides the environment, vast opportunities and networks. It is up to the individual to explore these for maximum benefit. My behaviour and thinking processes, to some extent, are the result of my five years of learning, interacting and growing up within the UTP environment.”
“We aim to provide enriching, rewarding and transformative learning experiences that nurture our students to become responsible leaders and model global citizens,” says UTP Student Affairs And Alumni deputy vice chancellor, Assoc Prof Dr Nor Hisham Hamid.
“UTP plays a key role in shaping a student’s life and character. Achieving the balance between the university being a place to discover knowledge and not just getting a good job upon graduation is a matter of harnessing students’ potential. It is more important for them to find their purpose while keeping the world at large in their view.”
He elaborated that, through the inculcation of UTP Core Values – collegiality, adaptability, accountability, integrity, respect – UTP promotes and supports personal, social and ethical needs and practices so that the university and campus community feel safe, welcomed and empowered.
UTP has an inclusive learning ecosystem that maximises opportunities for students to work with, learn from and develop meaningful relationships with the faculty. As a result, they gain memorable learning experiences that educate and inspire them to be agents of positive social change.
He further highlighted that UTP also offers the country’s longest internship programme, boosted by its strong links with renowned national and international corporations. Students return after their stints with renewed respect for work ethics, practical knowledge and valuable experience.
“We strive to provide a conducive learning environment and ethos that is more inclusive, aware, responsible and compassionate; recognising and celebrating diversity on and outside campus,” says Hisham.
On-campus student activities and involvements play a significant role in providing students with opportunities to develop their interpersonal and personal skills, capabilities, talents and interests.
Their participation in clubs and organisations will foster deeper collegiality between fellow students and create lifelong memories that will build strong bonds as proud alumnus. UTP students are given opportunities to pursue a range of extracurricular activities such as music, martial arts, entrepreneurship and debate.
Every year, there are more than 500 student-led activities one-third of which are community service programmes under UTP’s University Social Responsibility (USR) initiative. These include regular maintenance of old folk’s homes, youth outreach programmes as well as communication, science and mathematics activities in adopted schools.
To seriously engage with alumni, UTP established an Alumni Relations Office. The Head is Jennifer Freely, formerly an Associate Director of International Alumni Relations at Columbia University.
Freely notices that developing alumni relations programmes is gaining prominence in Asia Pacific and Asean. She admires her university’s foresight, “This will open up a whole new world of opportunities. UTP is creating professionals with a global mindset who will be going out in the world to leverage a global network.”
According to Freely, the ultimate aim of any alumni programme is to draw in alumni voluntarily to engage in a space that provides transformational growth for them, “They have to want to come together to share their experiences and engage with alumni across the university.”
To her, alumni relations is both an art and a science; she hopes to merge these disciplines into the events they are currently programming. Her department will also run with a start-up model, nimble and open to innovative ideas and suggestions.
Cross-generational and cross-disciplinary spaces will allow for effective networking and benefit leveraging. “We are very much involved in trying different events to get alumni to engage on a social level, but with real substance. We are committed to helping our alumni have the tools they need,” she said.
UTP will engage with alumni through various appropriate social media platforms, as well as by highlighting their members’ successes. A strong alumni community also serves as an advocate for the university’s integrity.
“The connection between the university and its alumni is very strong. And it can grow in many different ways- a shared experience that can be very fruitful in creating a legacy with a sense of purpose,” Freely concluded.