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Conversations with: young innovators challenge mentors

The Young Innovators Challenge (YIC) is a youth innovation programme designed to help youths in Malaysia develop technical and life skills in the areas of embedded system, problem-solving, innovation, and entrepreneurship through workshops, competitions, and an accelerator camp. This year, Yayasan Sime Darby has teamed up with social innovation consultant, Chumbaka and social innovation firm, Tandemic in bringing the Young Innovators Challenge 2017. 

YSD sat down with some of the mentors at the recent YIC Selangor State Championships to hear a little more about what goes on behind the scenes in the lives of a mentor for the competition. 

Born in Kuching, Sarawak, Chai Yee Ting, 21, is an Electrical Engineering student at Multimedia University, Cyberjaya. Volunteering for the Young Innovators Challenge (YIC) has not only developed her soft skills, but also helped her in learning about Arduino, an open-source electronics platform based on easy-to-use hardware and software, intended for anyone making interactive projects.

What made you want to volunteer for YIC?
I wanted to enhance my communication skills and my knowledge in engineering. Contributing back to society was also something I thought was very important to do. My friends are also volunteering and they encouraged me to join as well.

What are the kinds of things you need to do as a mentor?
A mentor’s job is to give guidance to participants in making their ideas a reality. For example, urge them to do more research on the kinds of prototype they want to build or search for solutions to problems they may encounter. Some of them are not good in physics and electronics, so they need extra guidance.

As a mentor, how familiar were you with Arduino before you volunteered to be a mentor?
Actually this is the first time working with Arduino, so we’re all learning together as well.

Did you face any challenges while mentoring?
It was about two months of mentoring and the main problem I faced was finding suitable time for mentors, students and teachers to meet and discuss.

What was the best thing about being a mentor?
Witnessing them grow from the very beginning and to see how far they’ve come now is really nice. Seeing the teams also successfully building their prototype with sheer dedication was inspiring for me to watch. I also mentored three teams from SMK Dengkil and two of the teams managed to get silver!

Is there anything you’ve learned about yourself as a person through mentoring for this programme?
I learned to be more comfortable communicating with younger students and the importance of teamwork.

Do you have anything to say to future participants?
I hope they will enjoy the process and don’t give up until the very end. I also encourage students to mentor for this because it is so meaningful as you are able to help younger students to pick up skills that I didn’t learn during secondary school. It is a great opportunity for them to learn.

Born in Perak and raised in Perlis, Ahmad Nabil Nasrudin, 23, studied Network & Telecommunications at IUT 1 de Grenoble, France. With his passion lying deep in engineering and practical applications, he continued his studies at Multimedia University, Cyberjaya in Electronics. 

How many teams did you mentor for YIC 2017? 
From SMK Putrajaya Precinct 11, four teams, but only two attended today. 

How did you hear about YIC? 
I was part of a group of apprentices for the Digital Home Lab; a project which aims to build smart homes that can be controlled entirely by smart phones and the internet. Dr. Ooi, who is part of the project and an engineering lecturer at my university introduced YIC to us and I was interested to volunteer as a mentor. 

What made you want to volunteer to mentor? 
I have been lucky enough to have received scholarships since I was in high school. I am always grateful for all the help I have received, so I’m always looking for ways to give back to society and help others. 

What has the experience been like so far?  
Tired but at the same time rewarding. Especially when you have to travel from Cyberjaya to the school and you have to accommodate your own schedule with theirs. During the holidays, everyone is back home and we need to communicate through the internet which can get quite tough because messages can be miscommunicated this way. The rewarding part is when you see the happiness on their faces when they accomplish to do a simple task or when you see them so determined to find new and better ideas. 

You must feel extremely proud of them.
Yes, I feel satisfied knowing that I was able to help them.

Can you bring me on a journey as to how it has been like as a mentor? 
Scared, because I’m very weak in communicating with other people. But on the first day I went to the school, it was really great as the teachers were really welcoming and the students were all eager to learn. From then on, it was much easier. 

What were some of the challenges you have faced? 
I think the biggest challenge would be knowing how to communicate to different types of crowds. With the  students, there was a difference in age and I think trying to find a common ground between us and knowing how to capture their attention was difficult. 

Do you have a specific moment in this entire journey that stood out?
What really amazed me was when some younger students were able to capture a concept or idea much faster than the older students. This showed that if you are passionate about something, you will be able to succeed in it. It also shows that if children are introduced at these things early, they are able to pick it up very fast.

Would you encourage other participants to participate in the future? If so, why? 
I would recommend all students to volunteer as a mentor because it’s really rewarding. It can change you in many ways you’ll never know like helping you to improve communication skills, technical skills, time management and so on. 

Have you realised a difference in yourself as a person right now compared to before?
I’m definitely more open towards social communication now than before. Before this, I really liked to seclude myself. If there was a crowd, I would run away from them and just won’t talk a lot. I’m still somewhat anti-social but I’m transitioning slowly. 

Did the Train the Trainer (a two-day course for mentors) helped? 
Yes, definitely. It helped us in identifying what we need to refer to, where to find sources and how to reference them. The training helped us a lot. 

Do you have any advice for students participating in the teams for next year’s YIC? 
First, make sure you are able to adapt, collaborate and always be open minded. Sometimes when you think that you have the best idea, other people may not agree. You can share what you think but you must think the idea can always be improved. Things happen a lot faster and easier in groups. Always remember to work together. Working alone might get you there fast, but it won’t get you far. 

Having lived in Malaysia for three years now, Mohammed Hussein Saleh Mohammed Haram, 24, is a Yemeni student currently pursuing his Electrical Engineering degree in Multimedia University, Cyberjaya. His passion for leadership and education led him to become the president of the Engineering Society in Multimedia University. In 2017, he was appointed to be the chair of the Young Innovators Challenge (YIC) 2017 – MMU Chapter. 

How did you hear about YIC?
One of my senior lecturers Dr. Ooi contacted me as I am the president of the Engineering society in my university. He asked for my help to recruit mentors since I know engineering students from other events.

What made you want to volunteer?
Despite studying electrical engineering now, my passion was always management and education. I really love to teach people, I really love seeing others grow. I believe high school is a critical stage for students to explore different areas of study. Joining competitions and challenges like the YIC is important in the decision making process for tertiary education.  

What has the experience been like so far? 
It has been great since the beginning. I’ve never worked with Arduino and I’ve never simultaneously worked with programming and electronics together. It was great to learn. Some of the students had zero engineering knowledge; some didn’t even know how to make simple circuits. It’s impressive to see that in two months, they were able to come up with these ideas and make them into projects in a very short time. 

Were there any challenges you faced as a mentor?
Timing was one of the challenges. The mentors are from the engineering society so we had other events to take care of as well. It was really tough for us because we also had finals. Some of the students would also come up with these big great ideas but we didn’t know how to help them execute. This challenge however could be seen in a positive light because it forced the students to work harder and figure out how to build the prototype without too much help from mentors. 

What is the best thing about being a mentor? 
Helping students to identify their passion. 

What is your favourite moment during this competition?  
As the programme chair, today would be the best moment. It’s heart-warming to see all the students come together and seeing all of their hard work come to life. 

Was there anything in particular you learned about yourself? 
I definitely learned to identify my passion through mentoring. I love teaching. I’m also a math buddy tutor in university.  

Any advice for future participants? 
Putting the competition aside, this is a great opportunity to learn a new skill. Back in my country, all of this is like something you see out of the movies. We never had any of this to join or take part in. It’s an opportunity I believe students should not miss. It is also something you can add into your resume for the future! 

The YIC finals will be held at iM4U Sentral from 2-8 August 2017. For more updates on the competition, follow us on Facebook or YIC's Facebook

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Last Updated:
13 Jul 2017
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