Friday, July 20, 2012

Road to Washington DC

Of all my black and white and sometimes grey days of mine, last week was perhaps the most colorful.

I have been recently officially appointed as the Principal In Consultant and Technical Adviser for the Student In Free Entrepreneurship (SIFE) of Universiti Malaysia Sabah, or in short, SIFE UMS. Although the appointment was officially dated on July 13th, my involvement with SIFE UMS has started even earlier than that.

In mid June this year, I was at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center, or KLCC as we may easily address,  presenting three research papers before a group of audience of technical background. These three papers fairly summarized my overall research works from the past five years, and I intended to conclude the entire findings in them all. It was my largest submission to the International Conference on Production, Energy and Reliability 2012 (ICPER2012), a part of the World's Engineering, Science and Technology Conference 2012 (ESTCON2012) where Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS (UTP) was the delightful host.

In that conference I was approached by a young lady named Azalia, who by far admired my established works in biomass gasification and the likes. Following a number of over-coffee discussions, Azalia has explained to me a biomass project that she was currently monitoring. The project took place deep in a remote area of Sabah, within the district of Ranau. At that time, she was planning an expansion, and a possible a technology extension, to the project, and she was in need of a technical expert. I told her I was no expert, but I was willing to help.

Therefore, on the 16th of June 2012, I was appointed unofficially as the technical adviser of the biomass project by Azalia, and the deputy vice chancellor of UMS was informed almost immediately. I have a month solid to prove my worth, and my first task, though may sound simple, was really not: prepare a technical proposal on designing, constructing, installing, testing, commissioning and operating a biomass reactor for SIFE UMS.

Good thing was that the area of study was not foreign to me, since I have been doing biomass technology for many years now, and perhaps for many years to come too. Sleepless nights followed on. Extensive literature review, calculations and design works filled up my otherwise underutilized times. After three weeks, the proposal reached its completion phase, and was submitted to SIFE UMS for review. It was accepted almost promptly. My first task was complete.

The proposal, signed and sealed.

My second task will be even more challenging. I was required to attend the SIFE Malaysia National Exposition 2012 in PWTC where SIFE organizations from Malaysia universities came to compete, armed with their projects and accomplishments. There, my tasks were: to carry out a crash course on biomass project implementations to SIFE UMS participants; to prepare solutions to possible technical queries from the judge and prepare the participants adequately to be able to answer them; and to provide general advise and supports to the team during that 2-day competition.

On the first day, I have doubts that the team will make it past the semi-final stage. The presenters were still shaky, perhaps from the building nervousness, particularly from seeing many confident and stylish teams from other universities. Ten minutes before presenting, a SIFE UMS alumni, Yus and I injected some motivational speech into them, in which a clear change was seen right afterward, although deep in our hearts we were not very sure if they would even make it safely. But to our own surprise we did, and we were very much grateful. And due to that, we made it to semi-final.

The team's spirit was very much highlighted upon until the pairing of the semi-final teams. We were to face one of the strongest teams in the competition with a very much colorful portfolio - the UiTM. The morale of SIFE UMS team came down shooting like fancy asteroids in the dark sky of a cold night. A damage control was deemed necessary, and Azalia, Yus and I myself prepped the team for hours that night of the first day by injecting even more potion of motivation into them. I conducted the crash course as promised, and after a review session, I declared that the team was ready to face technical queries on their projects.

The night was easy for the SIFE UMS team, but not for us three: Azalia, Yus and myself. While the team was already in their beds, we however were preparing ourselves to welcome the deputy vice chancellor of UMS, or best known as the TNC, who just arrived by flight from Kota Kinabalu. We were to brief him of the entire event and difficulties we had, as well as the future projection of the team's path. One thing about this TNC was that he was very cool and albeit our worries he said, "I have full faith that they will win this year." We swallowed our tongue, for we know it wasn't quite an easy subject to achieve, especially when we have stronger teams to compete against the next day. 

And during that session too, I was given the official letter of appointment by the TNC himself. "Welcome to the team," he said. "I thank you for helping our small team."

I never felt so greatly appreciated. 

The official letter of appointment

The next day, full-spirited, we marched down the alley with the team and prepared for our semi-final competition. The looks on the face of SIFE UMS presenters were mixed -- some were very calm, some looked worried. I suppose it was normal since they were only minutes to battle. However they managed to present in a terribly fashionable manner and Yus and I were very much satisfied, but our faces changed during the question and answer session following the presentation. My greatest fear materialized -- at least 2 judges queried on the technical aspects of the biomass project. The color of my skin changed from dark brown to that of soy tofu. In my mind I was greatly hoping that the team remembered all the things I have informed them the previous night, because if they didn't, then they're going home empty-handed. 

And, God bless us all, they did. They answered correctly according to my instructions, and the judges were satisfied from their answers.

To cut the story short, we made it to final, along with UNITEN, UMT and UUM. And here comes the best pleasure this year has ever offered to me so far.

With Datuk TNC before the final competition

The presentation went well, and again SIFE UMS faced a series of very technical queries. And they answered them all calmly and efficiently, although none of them has science or engineering background. And I felt proud deep inside because I was able to assist them to fight this far. From far away Kota Kinabalu, this small team of humble students who some of them never placed their foot in the soil of the Peninsular, made it far enough to please their supporters with prideful smiles.

Standing ovation to UNITEN for winning the 1st runner-up

Following the announcement of UNITEN as the 1st runner up of the competition, came the time where the national champion will be announced for everyone to witness. The team members and us advisers held hand together tightly and prayed hard, and right when the speaker announced the winner with the ever heart-snapping line "Universiti Malaysia...", I could feel that Lia who sat next to me was already dead. In our minds during that spur of the moment was: "Universiti Malaysia what? Sabah or Terengganu?". Both teams were in the final round.

"....Sabah!" the speaker announced, and Lia straight away pulled an acrobatic show next to me. Our ear drums hit the maximum decibel limit, and our throats slingshot out in the air. 

Right after SIFE UMS won the National Championship 2012

We won the SIFE Malaysia National Exposition. And we will be representing Malaysia in the SIFE World Cup 2012.

Next stop, Washington DC.

* * *

With the team members and adviser, taken after the appreciation dinner with Datuk Saifudin

My journey with SIFE UMS has just started. I feel deeply honored that they would like to have me in their team to assist their current and future projects. It is good to know that what I learned for many years now are put into implementation. My dream in seeing biomass as one of the most anticipated technology in this country is now slowly materializing. My visions to assist the needy with my technical knowledge and ability is now before my eyes to see, and nothing feels better than this. 

I have the chance to meet many colorful personalities in SIFE Malaysia and connect with them for fruitful collaborations in the near future in driving this country to a better tomorrow. Many of these men and women shared the same visions I have and we look forward in improving the state of living of the needy.

With Datuk Saifudin during the finalist appreciation dinner

With Azalia Rahman, the one who brought me into the project

With fellow SIFE alumni 

There were, of course, many perceptions following my appointment as the technical adviser of SIFE UMS. It was not surprising that some of them questioned me being a UTP student helping out the UMS team. My integrity has been fairly questioned, so here goes my explanation on why I joined UMS and not UTP.

I have foreseen this question to arise, but I believe that I have not violated any obligations I have with UTP. I have been with UTP for almost 10 years now, and I have assisted many of their major projects with my best of undivided efforts. Robocon, biomass research, laboratory improvements, even teaching the students. In fact, I did assist SIFE UTP sometime back in 2008, where I advised some of the members on their presentation in which they ended up winning. 

But following that, I have never been approached by anybody from SIFE anymore. So does it mean that I act a diva, waiting to be approached for appointment? Not at all. But an invitation would be nice, since I didn't know anybody in SIFE UTP except a few who were my students back then. If I suddenly offered my help to SIFE UTP, I am afraid that my intention will be interpreted wrongly. I do not blame SIFE UTP at all, but my concerns are that I do not want anybody to establish wrong interpretations about me joining SIFE UMS.

For instance, I was informed yesterday that someone took me in joining SIFE UMS just so that I could go to Washington DC. Well, look here. I joined SIFE UMS in June 2012, in which I didn't even know they could even win the competition this year. If you look closely at the letter of appointment above, the date written is 13th of July, in which I was appointed officially prior to the competition itself. And the letter was handed to me by the TNC the night before the final competition, where all of us were worried if we won't make it to final. 

So if I joined SIFE UMS because I wanted to go to DC, then i must be some kind of a bloody good clairvoyant prophet who knows of things before they happen. But obviously I am not that, therefore I can safely declare that the commentary made upon my involvement with SIFE UMS just because I wanted to go to DC is completely nonsensical and by all accord, not intelligent.

DC or not, my works with SIFE UMS will not cease. I have one year time until next national exposition to enhance the technical aspects of SIFE UMS, and I believe that the team and I will strike all the proposed milestones as anticipated. This requires hard work and not only hear-and-tell, for things are better well done than well said. It's about time to polish the common pebbles into shining marbles. 

In business, a fruitful partnership is important. You have to identify possible partners at all time, and invite them to join your establishment. In this case SIFE UMS has practiced this business partnership philosophy and secured me as their key partner through elaborate meetings and black-and-white appointment. With such practice, striking a business deal will never be hard. After all, SIFE itself is about business. SIFE UMS approached me, so I offered them my assistance. Simple as that. If anybody else approaches me, I will help as well. Again, simple as that. 

My works with UTP continue. My loyalty to the academia is still undivided. I will still conduct engineering research and produce research papers for UTP. And in the same time, I am looking forward for a research collaboration with UMS for better research futures particularly in the aspect of biomass and heat and power generation. This may involve interdepartmental involvements and I believe with this collaborations the benefits can be shared mutually by these two established academia. My plans are not only on SIFE UMS, but bigger than that, for the entire field of biomass academical research, the people in need and this nation in general. 

I apologize for not helping my own university. But had you come earlier, I will be more than glad to offer all my academical findings, my technical knowledge and many other things that I know for the benefits of your organization. But I believe that I won't be able to assist much, especially due to the fact that we have many other experts among the students who constantly criticize and ridicule my works for the university openly. I propose that these bright-minded people, including the one who claimed that I chose SIFE UMS for Washington DC, to be appointed as your advisers. Perhaps they could make a better change than I do.

So no hard feelings -- it's just business. 


Neyra Shazeyra said...

good one. i suka u jawab segala persoalan mcm ni hahaha. :p

anyway, congrats nazmi. and good luck at DC! (:

TurTleFx said...


Congratulations for the achievement!

My house mate sent me the link to this blog and from what I have read here,I believe that your capability has went beyond the expectations and it has deemed proven by your team's achievement.

FYI,I am not in a position to comment on your participation in SIFE. It was your decisions and I should respect that.

As a 3rd party, I saw this matter as an opportunity that has been found by your team.

It's ashamed to see our brilliant minds had wasting their talent by portraying immaturities in dealing with this matter.But I think that at least it will be a good practice for them to improve on their professionalism.

Just a 20cents view.No hard feelings! :D


Mohamad Nazmi Zaidi said...

Neyra Shazeyra,

Thank you, and thank you very much, dear Iera :)


I thank you for your comment. I wouldn't want to state much about the subjects in question, for I believe the crowds have better views from where they stand to justify this matter accordingly. A good example is you.

Nevertheless I look forward in improving any team that requires my assistance.

Thanks again and have a blissful Ramadhan, both of you. Cheers!

Neyra Shazeyra said...

weee~~ *geds

Nadya Jaafar said...

I stumbled upon you blog (pushed by Azalia).

Jacksparrow? truly never thought u to be the piratey type but nevertheless looks can e deceiving mr engineer.

it was truly a pleasure in meeting you. i look forward to seeing you more in the future.

as now our SIFE clique has expanded onto more serious endeavours which mix with our bunch such as you, Aza, Yus & more of our SIFER comrades its gonna be fun, Insyallah.

Catch u soon bro!

cik jaa said...

best of luck nazmi jack! ;)