UNMC winners (from left to right) Tariq Mohammad, Wael Aldroubi and Prishalini Rajagumar with Professor Claire O’ Malley.
Students at Ingenuity17 BootCamp having group discussion on a mini assignment given during a session.

INTERNSHIPS are key to building experience as a student. They provide opportunities to get a foot in the door, explore various industries, gain new skills, apply knowledge to real-world situations, learn about strengths and weaknesses and build a network.

However, students with special needs may have it more challenging when it comes to applying for internship placements as not all employers subscribe to equal opportunity beliefs.

With this in mind, three students from The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC) have created a platform to allow employers to offer internship opportunities for students with special needs.

Students Prishalini Rajagumar, Wael Aldroubi and Tariq Mohammad joined forces to form a website called Special Needs Internship Program (SNIP), to create access for special needs students and employers for potential internship opportunities. Their idea was a result of their participation in The University of Nottingham’s Ingenuity17 tri-campus competition.

“SNIP is an inclusive solution for the world’s largest minority group. It is an internship matching website that allows disabled students to highlight their capabilities to access professional workforce. SNIP advocates ‘ability first’ and encourages companies to leverage on the potential of an under-explored pool of talent within our community,” said 21-year old Prishalini, a Malaysian studying BSc (Hons) Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience,

She highlighted that SNIP fully supports the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities, and aims to help Malaysia and other countries who will use its website to contribute to the 2030 mission. “SNIP’s aim is to bridge the gap between undergraduates with disabilities and professional employment,” she said.

According to Prishalini, she first pitched the idea for SNIP — before the team was formed — to private organisations in Malaysia in 2014 at a small pitching session organised in conjunction of an on-campus event.

“SNIP did not manage to secure any form of funding through this pitch as its concept was still too young. Following that pitch, SNIP was on hold for a year from 2015 to 2016 as I was serving as the president of JCI Youth (Junior Chamber International) UNMC — an on-campus student organisation. It was through my term with JCI Youth and my internship over that summer with Impact Hub KL that I learned about startups and social entrepreneurship. With that experience, SNIP’s concept was strengthened and I decided to push for its development late last year. It was then our team was formed,” she said.

Prishalini sent an email to the computer science society on campus about her project idea early this year and Tariq Mohammad who is SNIP’s web developer responded showing his interest in this project. The 21-year-old Egyptian studying Foundation programme in Science introduced Prishalini to Wael Aldroubi,26, — a Syrian studying for a BSc (Hons) Computer Science degree — who then became SNIP’s web designer.

“Tariq works mainly on the coding of the website. While Wael works on the website’s interface. He also supports Tariq in web development. Both Tariq and Wael are involved in building this website from scratch. I am the project lead. I work primarily on getting SNIP’s concept to work i.e. outreach to potential users and employers.

“Both Tariq and Wael’s primary interest in joining this project was the impact it was trying to create and the purpose it served. They also saw this project as an opportunity for them to build on their web developing and designing skills. Tariq has had basic web development skills but he credits his close friends and father for supporting and coaching him. Wael gained his experience through self learning and online courses,” Prishalini elaborated.

After forming a team, SNIP’s development has been rapid. “Almost immediately, Tariq and Wael started working on building SNIP. It took them two months to code and design the website in between studies and classes,” said Prishalini.

The SNIP team, together with 23 teams consisting of 59 students and alumni from UNMC, submitted their applications for entering Ingenuity17 — an entrepreneurship competition that is a tri-campus event and open to all University of Nottingham (UoN) undergraduates, postgraduates, alumni and early stage researchers in the United Kingdom, Malaysia and China. With a £100,000 (RM557,700) prize fund on offer, the competition hopes to propel student and alumni start-ups to success with intensive development sessions, learning from a range of key industry experts, and the opportunity to showcase their work on a global stage.

The teams at UNMC joined the Ingenuity17 BootCamp Programme on Feb 20 and 21, which provided training for the entrants and mentoring from experienced and successful business owners in sectors including applications and software, financial assistance, green technology and consultancy services.

Another session on Successful Business Presentation was held on March 7 with Datuk Vinod Sekhar, the founder of the Vinod Sekhar Incubation Centre (VSIC) at UNMC, and Stephen Ball, lead partner of Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler (KPMG), UK. The students were prepared with all the tools, inspiration and confidence needed to submit a business plan for the competition.

Team SNIP from UNMC succeeded from more than 103 teams to win the Asia Business Prize Award of £3,000 (RM16,700).

According to UNMC Vice Provost (Research & Knowledge Exchange) Professor Claire O’ Malley: “We are proud to be winners of the Asia Business Category. As a first time participant in the Ingenuity competition this year, it is a great accolade for UNMC and testament to the entrepreneurial quality of our students. I congratulate all students, staff, alumni and industry partners who were involved.”

According to Prishalini: “Through Ingenuity, SNIP is finally growing into an implementable solution within Malaysia and hopes to become a global solution provider for special needs students worldwide.

“As a team, this experience has given us the confidence to expand on SNIP’s potential. We are extremely grateful and honoured to have not only represented UNMC, but to have representation from our home countries of Malaysia, Syria and Egypt in this international platform. We are genuinely thankful to Ingenuity17 for this amazing opportunity and experience,” she said.

Right now the team’s focus is to prepare SNIP for its pilot testing phase which includes ensuring the website is ready for test and ensuring they have reached out to as many interested users and employers as possible in order to proof the team’s concept and business model.

“As a website SNIP will allow our users (students with disabilities) to create their personalised profile and upload their resumes. Being a special needs website, SNIP will incorporate special needs friendly features to cater a user friendly experience for our users. We hope to be fully available to all special needs undergraduates across Malaysia and employers by the end of 2018,” said Prishalini whilst highlighting SNIP aims to bridge the gap between disabled undergraduates and professional employment worldwide.

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