[By Vinodh Pillai]
Ironically enough, it certainly was a shining Friday morning when an enthusiastic group of 60 to 70 students from Taylor’s University Lakeside Campus embarked on a life changing journey: the SHINE Discovery Session. The SHINE students, along with SHINE Award Centre (SAC) staff members, left for a 3-days-2-nights’ stay at the Ontok-Ontok Chalets & Resort, Batang Kali, where their potentials and attitudes were challenged, and their characters and personalities put to the test in a self-discovery camp, the fourth and final session for the SHINE program this year.
The SHINE award program, the first of its kind in the country, is an achievement record that formally recognises and rewards all students who wish to reach their full potential, by taking part in fun and diverse extra-curricular activities both on and off campus, and keeping track of it all in a second transcript that will be awarded upon completion of the student’s particular degree program. Similar programs are carried out in different parts of the world, and Taylor’s University is the first tertiary institution in Malaysia that has such a program in place for its students: to help them stand out when they enter the working world by having that extra sparkling edge. Students are encouraged to sign-up for the next opening, when registration begins in January.
One of the criteria requirements that a budding SHINE student would have to fulfil in order to qualify for the second transcript after the estimated three year program is attending at least one SHINE Discovery session, in which he or she will participate in teambuilding and character-building workshops and seminars, as well as other endurance activities, such as a jungle trek, and going on a flying fox. This year saw a total of four sessions, while next year, plans are being made to facilitate a total of 15!
The day began with a round of piping-hot mee goreng, and an introductory session briefing by Gerald Raj, a learning skills development specialist at the SAC, following an icebreaker by Nicholas Chan, founder and chief geek of Yellow Shorts, a specialized consulting firm. Students were paired up into twos or threes and found themselves facing their newfound accountability buddy (or buddies): a personal companion for the three-year journey. The idea of accountability buddies was introduced to help students cope with their personal issues and identify their weaknesses and strengths, by introducing a peer-to-peer technique. After this proceeded lunch, and later, the students and staff checked into their respective chalets and dormitories (15-20 boys to a dorm, and 4-5 girls in a chalet) and prepared for the next item on the agenda.
Throughout the day, personality assessments, analyses, and informative talks were held, as well as relative and practical activities – such as the Spaghetti and Marshmallow task (in which the author’s group emerged as victors), and a self-reflection activity with LEGO blocks – not forgetting, of course, the many rounds of finger-licking-good meals, (including vegetarian dishes for those of us with such dietary preferences). In the Spaghetti and Marshmallow task, group members were faced with an intriguing challenge: how does one create a model of spaghetti sticks with a sturdy base, make it as tall as possible, have it hold a marshmallow on top, and make sure it does not topple over when the judges come by to evaluate it – all in 18 minutes? The pressure was high for School of Engineering and School of Architecture • Building • Design students, driven by the thirst to prove themselves and keep the reputation of their schools high. In the end, team Titans set the high mark for future SHINErs, with its 84cm tall tower – the highest ever recorded throughout all the SHINE Discovery sessions!
Excitement and suspense filled the air by the second morning. One thing, and one thing only was on everyone’s mind – the jungle trek. By 9:30a.m., everyone had gathered in the cafeteria, their bags packed with mass tins, garbage bags, water bottles, insect repellent, raincoats, raw meat, eggs, uncooked rice and vegetables, random pinches of salt and turmeric, and a portable stove, waiting for their next instructions from Mr Gerald. When everyone was set to go, we bade goodbyes to the toilets (the trek was to take a fair number of hours and there were no stops for potty breaks, we were told) and journeyed into the humid jungle, and up, up, up into the mountains. After a couple of hours we had arrived at our destination – a waterfall – but fate certainly had other plans set for us, as we found out that another group was already there, and using our space for their activities. Nothing could have dampened the students’ spirits, and we journeyed higher, and eventually settled down at the next waterfall we found.
The next task proved yet another challenge: we were to cook our own lunch, and present it to our SAC staff members too (yikes!). For those with little or no cooking experience, the fate of the teams was left to the Hospitality, Tourism, and Culinary Arts students. Chicken was marinated, vegetables and meatballs boiled, the omelettes turning out rather delectable-looking, while the rice and pasta was left to cook silently by the side of each team’s clearing. Students utilized the natural gifts of Mother Nature – the river water for washing the vegetables and drinking, banana leaves for plates, and chopped bamboo sticks for utensils. At the end of the task, we fed, we dined, and we packed for the return trip down the mountain, while the rain poured on.
On the third and final day, the students worked on creating our mission statement for the SHINE online portal (after a hearty breakfast of nasi lemak, sambal, and hard-boiled eggs, of course). Soon after, the students were in for a real treat – a flying fox adventure!
When asked on how she felt after the camp, Foundation in Communication student Lor Phaik Yee says, “They had good speakers – Mr Gerald and Mr Nicholas, for example – and, honestly, if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have felt so motivated and inspired as I am today. I was very impressed by their working attitude, their enthusiasm, and their commitment, primarily, to helping us SHINE students excel in the program. The SHINE Discovery session was a complete session because of them, and I thank them whole-heartedly.”
Students wishing to register for the SHINE program are advised to tune into the TU SHINE Facebook page (Taylor’s University SHINE Award Centre) for updates on when exactly the next registration will be. Registration to join the program now is, rather unfortunately, closed for this year’s intake.