A Day in the Life of Ms. Sara Kuek

Back for a third run, this series of Day in a Life seeks to shine the light on the staff that make our lives in Tembusu smooth and without hitches. Rounding off the series, Ms. Sara Kuek shares what she does, and also the role of the Tembusu Ambassadors.


Ms. Sara Kuek is a Manager at Tembusu College, overseeing various administrative functions of the College, and also oversees the Tembusu Ambassadors. She has been with the college since its formative days when they had a pilot batch of students in Prince George’s Park in 2010.


What is a typical day like for you?

There is no typical day, it depends on the period of the academic year that you’re talking about. In August, I’m typically busy with Ambassador stuff, planning for recruitment and then retreat and induction. After that, I deal with room registration stuff along with Ms. Donna Giri. We generate statistics on how many vacancies there are in the building each semester and follow up with students who are not on time with their room registration and room acceptance. The amount of time it takes up depends on how many students we have to chase! I liaise with IRO (International Relations Office) with regards to exchange students and the numbers we are able to take in each semester , and that will take us through from October onwards. Donna is away on maternity leave right now so I am also covering her administrative duties for Senior Selection matters.

After that, we have to start planning for Open Day starting from December. We form a committee with the CSC, Ambassadors, EWG and the Residential Team. At the same time, we are also dealing with room registration for semester 2, chasing people who don’t register for their rooms. In December, we need to start discussing enhancements to the RC admissions portal, dates for admissions. We work with the Provost’s Office and the other RCs very closely. It’s mainly about optimising the backend processes.

Then in January, that’s when we try to once again, settle the room issues. It’s never a clean exercise or deadline, there is normally no date where we can definitively say that we have settled everything. Up to Week 3, sometimes people, including international students drop out and we have to put new people in the building. We need to fill up all 600 rooms. So it doesn’t mean that once school starts everything is settled. We also have to deal with a lot of room change requests, people who want aircon room but there are not enough aircon rooms, or change of floor. Whilst Donna handles majority of these room change issues, she normally discusses it with me as some cases are more intricate than others. As she is away on maternity leave this period of time, so I am covering her duties.

After that, we go fully into Open Day preparation for March. I oversee the ambassadors, and this includes advising them on the recruitment for tour guides and the training involved for the guides. We have many meetings with the Open Day committee which comprises of the Ambassadors, CSC, EWG and Residential team. After open day, it’s admission season. I need to do the numbers for admission, making sure the fellows mark the application essays. This is usually from March till August. This is the general period where I’m working on admissions, though it differs in intensity. In March it’s still manageable, but in April it’s full-blown applications and interviews. I coordinate the admission tours as well, which is a challenge sometimes as the ambassadors may be overseas on various programmes during summer period, sometimes I end up doing the tours myself, as they are not available.

So there’s really no lull period for me, I’m busy with various different things throughout the year. Better than being bored I guess!


Whilst there is no typical day for you, are you mostly based in the office?

Other than when there are events, like Tembusu Forums, I’m normally in the office.  


On the part of room admissions, are there a lot of people who are late?

I think this year is actually pretty good, because we don’t need to chase as many students as compared to years ago. In the past we had to chase up to 100 students each time. Nowadays, people are more responsible and aware. As long as they are responsible, even if they’re not staying on, they should let us know. Sometimes people don’t tell us they are not staying the following semester even after several emails from us. It is only when UHMS (University Hostel Management System) closes, then we will log on and notice that these people don’t respond. Are they going for exchange, are they not staying on, these things we have to check. It is very time consuming if students do not keep us informed as we have to keep chasing them for an answer.


Are there any other things that you are in charge of?

Yes, another of my portfolio is outreach. I used to go down to schools (JC/Poly) to do outreach together with the Office of Admissions, but now the ambassadors help me out with these. Some people say that they’ve never seen us, but we do have students who tell us that they remember us. It’s usually at the university fair, so chances are you’re normally more concerned about which university you’re going to at that point. We’re just there aiming to talk to as many people as possible, but we’re not ambitious in that we will be able to reach out to all students during these outreaches. Up to today, some people don’t know what we do, or that we even exist! So it’s good to have this platform to reach out to prospective students.

I’m also in charge of corporate relations in the office. So for media correspondence, like during forums if you see members of the media, I handle the correspondence together with the Office of Corporate Relations. I’m also very particular with the marketing and image of the college. Whoever has things to do with the branding of the college, it will come to me.


The Tembusu Ambassadors.

The Tembusu Ambassadors.

You’re in charge of the Tembusu Ambassadors, what exactly do they do? Some people don’t quite know what they do.

Oh yes, we hear comments like they just wear suit and look good. It’s quite sad when we hear that, but at the same time, I tell them not to be too concerned as well. A lot of the work they do are not visible to the college community because we focus on prospective students, not current students. They are a nice bunch so they don’t take it to heart, hopefully! I started Tembusu Ambassadors in 2011. When Tembusu College first started its operations in UTown, there were many requests for tours of the college. Considering my other responsibilities, I didn’t have a lot of time for it. So I thought of setting up a team of students that I could readily tap on to represent the college, train them and not worry whether they will give wrong information. The thing is, when you randomly choose a student versus having a fixed group of students to tap on, I still need to brief the random students on protocols for this particular group of visitors, what they should highlight to the visitors. It will not be as efficient or effective. The good thing about the college is that they are always very supportive, and Prof Clancey told me to run with it if I was confident, so I started the Tembusu Ambassadors. So initially, when I recruited them, they were only tapped upon as and when we require their help. For example, like when schools wanted representatives, we would send them, and when there were requests for tours, we’d send them to take the visitors on tours. If people wanted to talk to students, I’d send them.

Over time, we realised there were stuff like Tembusu Forums and UTCP Graduation Ceremony, and we needed help, so we roped them in, and their role evolved from there. They are in charge of hosting our forum guests, doing registration and ushering, crowd control and helping to clear up after each forum. For Open Day, their main remit is to run the recruitment and training of the tour guides and operation of the tours on the day itself. The tour route is generated by us, the wet weather plan, where the people go, the training and scheduling of guides during recess week. That’s all planned and conducted by them and it takes up a lot of their time, as I am sure with other student groups when they are working hard to make Open Day a good one.

Beyond that, as mentioned, they go on external outreaches for me. I did a calculation of the hours, so as a team they have spent around 577 man hours (excluding open day) doing outreach for me over AY16/17. There’s different categories of outreach, external outreach, where they go to Junior Colleges and Polytechnics. There are also internal outreaches, for instance when the Office of Admissions invites JC/Poly students, teachers and career counsellors to NUS, or when faculties like Engineering, Science, Arts and Business invite us to their open houses over the various weekends in May. There is also admissions tours from March to July, and other duties, like forums and UTCP graduation ceremonies.

The other thing they have to do is to get into different working groups within the Ambassadors team. For the last AY, there was the open day working group, the Instagram working group, and the Tembusu Tuesdays working group. I don’t know if you noticed, but the Tembusu Tuesdays team was behind the initiative where Tembusu students from different departments gather to take pictures together in their Tembusu tees, the best room decoration competition, and then the house competition that Gaja won, where they formed the elephant.

Gaja Elephant Collage

The Gaja Elephant collage that won the Tembusu Tuesdays house competition.

The Ambassadors, to me, whilst they started off as mainly a reaction to a need, it has evolved into a team I find a lot of meaning in mentoring. It’s not just a working relationship, every Christmas we have a gathering with the Alumni Ambassadors. My husband knows majority of them, both alumni and current ambassadors, because they visit my place, sometimes in small groups, sometimes all at once! Every year we gather twice, and the ambassadors alumni get to meet the new ones, it’s like a family. I always aim for our work environment to be fun and cordial. If there’s any unhappiness, it should be talked through, solved quickly, and not let discontent breed. I take it as a challenge, how do you mentor students, and connect with them and help them understand things from varying perspectives.


How do you feel when you hear people actually say that the Ambassadors just ‘wear suit and look good’?

They don’t normally say it to me because they’re afraid to do so! (Laughs) Normally the ambassadors hear it. Usually my first reaction is to roll my eyes, but after that, I actually kind of understand why they say that. Other than forum, they don’t see the Ambassadors in action much. The work the Ambassadors do are often out of sight, like going for outreaches outside of college and managing the college Instagram account.


What do you do in your leisure time?

Leisure time… What’s leisure time? (Laughs)

I try to go to the gym, or else I’ll just feel sluggish. I do Zumba. I watch movies, occasionally, when certain books interest me, I read them. For instance, I’m currently reading a series called Crazy Rich Asians, it’s an easy read, by Kevin Kwan. They also made it into a movie. Nothing too heavy for the weekends.


What do you think is the most misunderstood trait about you?

This one’s easy. A lot of students, from what I hear from Ambassadors, they say that they are scared of me. Because I have an RBF, so when I don’t smile especially when I am in work mode during Tembusu Forum, I look really fierce and they are very scared of me!

So former ambassadors were telling me, that when their seniors encouraged them to apply for Tembusu Ambassadors, they would hesitate, saying that they were very scared of me, and took a lot of courage to apply! There’s a difference between being fierce and being firm. I’m very firm. If you are not truthful, I will definitely call your bluff and talk to you about it. I very much prefer open communication. If you do a good job or put in great effort to do something, regardless of the outcome, as long as I am aware, I will make sure you are acknowledged and credited for your efforts. So I’ll like to think I’m firm not fierce. Some people may sacrifice being firm to be popular, but I don’t subscribe to that. I always ask myself what to do so I can sleep well at night!


Pictures of Ambassadors courtesy of Ms. Sara Kuek, picture of Gaja Collage courtesy of Quek Yong Jian.

About the Author

One of many Ryans in Treehouse, Ryan Quek is a Year 2 Business and Economics Double Degree (Still Surviving!) Student. He loves photography and food, and likes to delve into socio-political issues, tech and sport. Also has a passion for trivia quizzes.