By the SMU Digital Marketing Team
Co-curricular activities (CCAs) are often seen as a must-have on university applications to demonstrate capabilities and achievements outside of the classroom. Once undergraduates have secured a coveted spot in their institution of choice, CCAs are no longer a compulsory component of their student life; and it can be highly tempting to channel their energy to an intensive course load or internships that could better dress up a CV—rather than take advantage of what campus student life has to offer.
Given the hectic course requirements and competitive hiring landscape in recent years, it is unsurprising that third-year Bachelor of Business Management undergraduate, Tarina Naresh Khiantani, describes her decision to focus on her CCA for two summers, instead of pursuing summer internships, as “taking the road less travelled”.
“I found myself comparing my LinkedIn profile with that of my peers, and worrying about graduate opportunities because I lack the ’go-getter’ element in my profile,” admits Tarina, who was the vice-chairperson of SMU Freshmen Orientation 2019 and Events Secretary of SMU Students’ Association (SMUSA) in 2020.
“But taking the road less travelled shaped my thought process and enabled me to perform better in my internship.”
Tarina, who majors in Communication Management at SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business, shares how the holistic undergraduate programme and vibrant student life at SMU have helped prepare her for her current Communication & Government Affairs internship at healthcare multinational company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and contributed to her personal growth.
Tarina (4th from right) on a community service trip to Wuhan, China in 2019
How has SMU challenged you both personally and academically?
I joined SMU as a young, free-spirited girl, but in my senior year, I look forward to life with a more mature mindset and a better game plan for my future—I now know what I want, and where I want to be. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll keep learning to figure out what’s best for me.
Academically, I enrolled in a different course from my polytechnic diploma—from a quantitative diploma in Accountancy to a qualitative degree in Business Management, with a major in Communication. The shift was a challenge for me because as much as I grew comfortable with numbers in the polytechnic, I realised my speaking and writing abilities had declined.
SMU taught me to take charge of my learning experience and I’ve been doing just that—with learning sometimes taking place outside of the classroom, through my CCAs and internship. I’ve been able to grow as an individual, and as a leader through the various leadership opportunities made available to me.
If you had to name a module that greatly impacted you, what would it be and why?
Critical Thinking. It’s one of the modules that challenged my thought process, helping me realise that not everything we see or hear is right. The module definitely helped shape my thinking for the better.
What were some soft skills you think you’ve gained from your programme at SMU so far?
I learnt to have a voice—to speak my mind and be heard. Our seminar-style mode of learning is designed to encourage class participation, which motivated me to speak up and voice my thoughts.
“Our seminar-style mode of learning is designed to encourage class participation, which motivated me to speak up and voice my thoughts.”
The interesting thing I’ve learnt was that when one learns to speak up in a particular area, it becomes a habit. For example, when I started to express my desire for opportunities beyond the classroom, it led to leadership experiences in CCAs and internship opportunities that wouldn’t have been possible had I not spoken my mind.
Tarina (2nd from left) presented Freshmen Orientation 2019 to senior management of the university as the event’s Vice-Chairperson
What are some uniquely SMU experiences you’ve had?
The opportunity to café-hop with my friends and have lunch and dinner dates in town—which would have typically occurred on a weekend—if I weren’t in SMU. The city campus is one of my biggest motivations; and I love having a breather after back-to-back classes at the many dessert cafés nearby. There are even late-night dinner options—a great way to take a break after project meetings or night classes with friends.
How has SMU prepared you for your current internship?
In my role at GSK, I’m required to converse with colleagues from different functions to coordinate internal communication on a local and regional level. Speaking up in my classes and CCA has made it easier for me to communicate with different stakeholders. My leadership experiences also enabled me to think strategically, which is key for my role as we need to understand how our products can align with our business priorities and the local environment during a launch.
“Speaking up in my classes and CCA has made it easier for me to communicate with different stakeholders.”
The SMU modules provide a wider understanding of the world around us; and the elective modules designed to develop skills in tech, innovation, leadership and creativity really helped me to keep abreast of the latest developments. I was able to provide fresh ideas, embed the use of tech in current systems and take the initiative to lead new projects.
What challenges did you face during the pandemic with regard to student life?
The shift from a physical event to a virtual freshmen event was certainly a by-product of teamwork among the Office of Student Life (OSL), SMUSA Events, organising committees and various representatives from CCA and School Constituent Bodies (CBds). Each of us managed communication with different stakeholders with OSL guiding us along the way.
Knowing that we were launching something new and keeping in mind the risk of a high event attrition rate given that it’s a virtual event, my team and I came up with a new initiative—the SMUSA Welcome Pack. This is a welcome package sent to freshmen to introduce SMUSA, its events, and initiatives lined up for the year. We understood that given the restrictions; virtual, remote events could make freshmen feel distant from the university, and potentially exacerbate the uncertainty they experience as they commence their new lives as university students in August. To address that, we included a welcome message in the pack, to help make freshmen feel like they’re a part of the SMUSA family, even while physically apart.
If you could go back in time, what is the one piece of advice you would have given your freshman self?
Looking back, I found myself worrying most of the time rather than simply enjoying the last of my academic life. As such, I’ll say: “It’s okay to fail—don’t compare yourself with others; don’t worry about the outcome, and just enjoy the process.”
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