#MASJAN15 In Retrospect: Part 1- How I Got the Most Ridiculous Job Imagined

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Minggu Aluan Siswa. The orientation programme that all new students of Universti Teknologi PETRONAS had to go through. A one-week long full of briefings and introduction to the facilities in the university from the management, along with the help of facilitators, senior students who willingly volunteered themselves to assist throughout the programme.

It’s the best ever programme that I was able to be involved in during my studies. Most probably because I suck at handling events involving various degrees of technical know-how, and my not so prolific stint with some student bodies. Yes, I under-performed in most of my endeavors, but not in MAS, as I was able to do many great things with the team I was part of.

Somehow, I was selected for the first time ever to actually lead the team of facilitators. It was surprising, as I was ending my studies by that time, and to be called back to action for a last hurrah of sorts is humbling, and also a challenge.

A ridiculously tough challenge.

This write-up is intended to be shared for UTPians- both students and the management, to understand some of the interesting challenges we, the team of facees, have bravely faced. It was by far the most radically changed of all the MAS before it, and I am willing to share on how my thought process was in coming up with certain decisions and how we faced some obstacles. It should be interesting for non-UTPians as well, you might learn a thing or two.

The first part is an origin story of how I grew up with joining MAS, and how I eventually got the most ridiculous job imagined, given the worst of all circumstances.

So, how did I got the job? It’s a long, personal story.

I entered UTP in January 2010, and my MAS experience was surprisingly wonderful. Of course, the disciplinary sessions by night is the most painful to bear, but other than that, I’ve learned a lot. The highlight of the experience has got to be the facilitators. The activities where the seniors lead and designed are professionally executed, even the sillier one, like ‘gunji cha-cha’, ‘dungga’ and the rest are easy to grasp as the facees have no problem in instructing and doing it themselves.

It would later inspired me to join in the ranks of being a facilitator.

And not long after that, I got my first gig as a facilitator. Somehow I got an early start- along with a few friends, we were given the opportunity to join MAS May 10- they have a staggered roll-in of students at the time, so we were involved with the third, small batch (not the main one). A number of us had to facilitate our own peers (and for some, former classmates back at school) which was a bit awkward. We hid our year of study until the end of the programme, a shocking plot twist it was.

My first proper experience would be for MAS Jan12 (Awesome!). Being entrusted to lead the Accomodation department. Despite beinng the head, I had trouble leading, being more of just the guy that had to give updates to the whole team. Working with the Head Facilitator, who was an old senior that used to bully me at school was not as awkward as I would imagined. He recommended me to try joining another department, Activity and Role-Play who believed that it ‘suits my style’.

Weirdest moment would be a case of two students locked inside of their own room. The doors’s lock became faulty and spare keys on the Residential Village end didn’t work either. Maghrib was ticking down and they haven’t taken ablution and prayed yet. Eventually, everything went well. The doorknob was smashed down, and they were free. They missed dinner, unfortunately.

By May12, I was placed under Activity and Role-Play. A small change I remembered we made was changing the name of gunji-cha-cha. Apparently, ‘gunji’ is an inappropriate word in Tamil, if I remembered correctly. There was a complaint made before, so we brainstormed a name change, as no one knew the reason it was named as so in the first place. And that’s how it was later called ‘shumi-cha-cha’, an ode to felllow ARP member, who later ran in the campus elections and current President of the Students Representative Council, Faris ‘Shumi’ Shuhaimi.

But why ‘shumi-cha-cha’? Because ‘meon-cha-cha’ didn’t have the same ring to it.

ARP has a renown reputation to have silly guys doing silly games. Or the ‘clowns’ of MAS. During that time, we turned the dial to 11, there’s always a silly gimmick we always did, and it kept the students happy a bit, and help broke the monotony of briefings after briefings once in a while.

After internship, I was given the responsibility to lead the ARP team for MAS May13 (Fantastic! Fantastique! Fantastiaq!). I guess me and my assistant had done the job well, as almost all of the members, who lacked experience and were just new to the programme, eventually went to do remarkable things afterwards. Three of them later are part of SRCUTP’s main cabinet, with two in the high committee, another one was a head facilitator in a Islamic summer camp (Khemah Ibadah), and another still commits in joining various events around campus.

The best thing I learned from May13 was to understand the audience. The moment I realised that these guys and girls are all aware of memes and stuffs from 9gag, I played it a lot when I got the mic. And this is the time post-PRU13, the national elections that was so hyped up, even the coming students are aware. That’s how I got away with political references (“This is it, ladies and gentlemen, Ini kalilah!”), and no, no mention of parties were involved, and everyone understands the tone is a joking one.

Then, it was a long final year (an extended one, final year pressure is a thing, you know). My guess is the selection team was looking for new blood- they don’t the want just same people to keep on getting to be facilitators. So, I made one last application, when it was by the end of my last semester, I was eventually been called upon again.

Obligatory SMS for formality. Finally being called to action again! But when I checked the email..

Obligatory SMS- for formality. Finally being called to action again! But then I checked the email..

I was expecting for another stint in ARP. I even prepared some fresh ideas, like instilling the ‘Role-Play’ back in Activitiy and Role-Play. Some ideas include acting out Monty Python sketches like this classic performance, or role play as a member of management, and ask a volunteer from the students to react to the situations- sort of like ‘Thank God You’re Here’, but not to play the role for just laughs, but give a sort of taste to dealing with real life situations.

But this time, it’s for another role. A role I felt at the time, unprepared for.

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Oh boy.

Granted, never had crossed my mind wanting to lead any of the departments, it’s a big responsibility. I rather just do the same job as just a normal facilitators. In the end, we will be remembered as facilitators, those job titles are just to make management easier. Each and everyone should be well-equiped with knowledge and training to assist new students, not focused on department work alone.

And there it was, I was assigned as Head Facilitator.

Another fitting irony, it was the first time since a while that I had been entrusted to lead something. I work best as second-in-command at most, and rarely I was fully in charge, despite being named Amirul.

So how did of all the hundreds of people submitted the application form to volunteer, how do the selection team narrow down to the few 100 (or for #MASJAN15 , around 34), and from there, picked me for the role of the leading man?

Full Disclosure: remember that some part of the team I was with in May13 made it to SRC? Well, one of them was involved with the selection process, as I learned afterwards. I won’t deny if my past experience of working with her might have influenced the decision. But do consider that past working experience is a good way to ensure that the ones selected for the job can do it, and not just looked good on paper. Besides, it’s not her alone who was involved with the selection process, as I was informed. So there’s still an element of convincing the rest of the selectors to agree.

And I doubt that it was just favoritism that got me here , as I did applied for the two previous MAS before that, and got turned down.

And in retrospect, I believe the main reason I got the job was for my specific skills I had, in particular my ability to handle, or introduce, changes.

And in fact, #MASJAN15 was the most radically different MAS I had experienced, even before it starts. A slew of changes that rocked the fundamental culture that each MAS used to have were requested, and I had to ensure the team, which was most of them I never neither had prior work experience, nor met, had to adapt.

Here’s a bucket list of the worst case scenario mentioned, or what most of that I can recall:

  • The start of MAS, including Training of Trainer sessions, overlaps Exam Week. Some facilitators are sill having papers. Not much time to study
  • Facilitators who will be going for 4 months break for Jan15 semester have to move out to temporary rooms, whilst those coming in have to stay in temporary rooms, before having to register a new room (which itself a chaotic situation deserving a whole article). So facilitators do not have their rooms settled
  • These two factors had made some of the initially selected facilitators to back out, prompting another round of searching for potential candidates of facilitators
  • Most of the selected for the team have little to no prior experience in MAS
  • There’s only 34 of us facilitators. Small number. Usually the numbers are around 80 to even 100
  • Two new courses introduced, which none of us have knowledge to explain or what to expect
  • Expected arrival of students are small- around 200 (I think?) rather than 500 as per usual. Tricky, if many students skipped MAS, it can be seen clearly
  • Most of the students have no scholarships upon receiving the offer to UTP. Plentiful of scholarship questions, for sure
  • Expected students coming are all of undergraduates. MAS has always been designed to cater the majority of those arriving for Foundation Studies. The last undergraduate-only MAS had plenty of negative feedback, resulting students not interested to come to the sessions entirely
  • Adding to the same problem, the management made very  specific requests, such as:
    • Abolishment of Discipline Department– the infamous trump card we always used to unsure students’ attendance and manners are in check
    • Cancelling Self-Reflection Night/Session– A penultimate event of a performance to reflect back on the previous days, usually by parody, and or mocking certain facilitators (in a good way).
    • Revamp ARP to not just be about “silly games”
    • Asked to introduced several new concepts or approach in MAS activities such as “Self-Discovery”, “Sense of Belonging, Sense of Loyalty, Sense of Gratitude”, “21st Century Skills” and other I may have most likely forgotten
    • Less slots for briefings (alhamdulillah), to be replaced with new activities incorporating the concepts mentioned above.

If you asked any student before January 2010, most of the flow for any MAS would be the same. But in early 2015, this is what we had to face. Super seniors would probably be shocked. A long list, isn’t it?

Also, for the first time ever, all the names facilitators selected was publicly announced and disclosed. There are many applicants who are frustrated to not being selected, so anything bad happens, every student on campus knows who to blame.

This was supposed to be my swansong, and it turned out to be the most ridiculous job imagined.

No pressure. (sarcasm)

Next in Part 2: What I did to Prepare, Getting the Team Together, and our reaction to the demise of the Dreaded Discipline department

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