Finding the right balance: Work, studies and family
PERSEVERANCE and determination are key in achieving goals. And few people are more determined than Alfred Toh and Natalie Chen.
Not only did they balance life as a newly married couple with their studies at the School of Business at SIM University (UniSIM), but they also had to embrace parenthood.
It is quite a feat, given that Ms Chen graduated with first-class honours and Mr Toh attained a degree with merit.
After getting married and having settled into their new home in 2007, the pair, both 33 now, decided that it was the right time to upgrade their skills and continue with their education.
Ms Chen enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts in Visual Communication with Business programme in 2009. One semester later, her husband decided to enrol in the Bachelor of Science in Marketing programme.
Her degree is a collaboration between the university and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. Ms Chen, who works at the Institute of Technical Education's (ITE's) School of Design and Media, liked that the UniSIM programme was "a new blend of different fields". The programme's key distinction is the integration of design, business and management in its curriculum.
The couple also liked the flexibility and assurance that came with studying at UniSIM. They wanted to continue working while studying. The availability of evening classes suited their busy schedules.
During their time at UniSIM, Ms Chen gave birth twice, but thanks to the university's unique flexibility in supporting learning, the happy additions to their family did not keep them from continuing their studies.
"We were working on a project together late at night as we did three modules together, when she suddenly ran to the toilet and started puking... She came back teary-eyed and continued working like nothing happened," said Mr Toh, who recalled one night when his wife suffered from morning sickness.
Ms Chen stopped her lessons temporarily after delivering the couple's first child during the second year of her programme, while Mr Toh reduced the number of modules he took that semester so that he could help with the baby and adjust to parenthood. Their children are now aged one and four.
Mr Toh appreciated the flexible learning at UniSIM as it "allowed us to balance work, studies and family life".
The university's e-Learning portal was a plus for the pair, who would log in to read the notes on their smartphones before they attended lectures.
"It is easily accessible, and we would recap lessons via the online video lectures when studying for exams. It's very convenient for working adults," said Mr Toh, a service marketing and operations executive at Daikin Airconditioning (Singapore).
The comprehensive knowledge and skills gained from their respective programmes have proven useful in their workplaces. In fact, their bosses noticed their improved performance after they graduated, and have rewarded them.
"After I started my education at UniSIM, I've been entrusted with more responsibilities, which I see as a sign of confidence in my growth," said Mr Toh.
He has since been promoted twice, and was even picked to embark on a year-long Future Leader training programme at his company, which aims to groom the company's next generation of leaders.
He credits the lecturers' rich industrial experience, which they leveraged effectively to help students relate to the theories taught in the classroom.
"The real-life case studies we analysed and discussed in class, along with the academic knowledge gained, allowed me to make quick and good decisions at work when I encountered similar situations," he added.
In Ms Chen's case, she has been given more opportunities to coordinate and plan bigger projects. She is involved in the conceptualisation of an SG50 photo project and is being groomed to mentor new staff.
She also passes on life skills such as time management to her students. "When they lose focus, I tell them my story - about how I was pregnant and would still continue to study and work - to motivate them," she said.
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