Having a mentor in college is somewhat overlooked. They can be instrumental for future success, helping students achieve their career aspirations and personal goals.

A mentor can be a faculty member or a professional who is working in the industry you’re interested in – someone who you trust, particularly connect with and find comforting to be around.

University life can be daunting and sometimes overwhelming, which is why mentors strive to guide you down the right career track and offers a listening ear whenever you need it.

At the recent Asia Young Designers of the Year Awards 2018/19 (AYDA), held in conjunction with the 11th edition of AYDA International Summit, two Malaysian students of interior design and architecture won first prize based on their innovative designs, supported by their mentors.

The AYDA was first launched in 2008 as part of Nippon Paint’s vision to nurture the next generation of design talents, as a platform to inspire architecture and interior design students to develop their skills through cross-learning opportunities and networking with key industry players.

Working with mentors on their journey to become champions

In an exclusive interview with Study International, winners Zachary Khaw (Interior Design) and Loo Yi (Architecture) and their mentors Ar Wooi Lok Kuang and Suzy Sulaiman spoke about their experiences during the AYDA.

The students worked alongside their mentors, beating participants from 14 other geographical locations in Asia and winning a cash prize of USD1,000.

Loo Yi’s and Zachary’s’ respective projects, “Mangrove Charcoal Living Museum” and “The Weave”, showcased elements of forward-thinking design, challenging boundaries from various design-related perspectives.

Based on the theme of FORWARD: Challenging Design Boundaries, the winning entries for ‘Best Design Impact’ category were selected based on the following criteria: planning and functionality, and design innovation.

Loo Yi, 26-year-old student from University of Malaya, chose established and experienced architect Ar Wooi Lok Kuang as his mentor, famed for designing sustainable timber structures.

Gold Winner Loo Yi in the Architecture Category. Source: AYDA

He said,”I felt that he was the most suitable mentor to guide me in the design of my project – the Mangrove Charcoal Living Museum, especially as the topic of sustainability and environment is one that I hold close to my heart, and I wanted to ensure that my project reflected a certain level of understanding and sensitivity to the social and cultural needs of a community.

“There were a lot of challenging moments throughout the journey, but he was always there to give me the support and guidance I needed to bring my vision to life. And for this, I will be eternally grateful for his mentorship.”

Sometimes mentors serve the purpose of helping students get out of their comfort zones so they can reach greater heights.

Loo Yi said, ” He is like a sifu to me, always supporting and encouraging me to improve myself. Ar. Wooi is always pushing me to challenge myself and think out of the box. There is no doubt that without his constant support and counsel throughout my journey with AYDA, I would not be where I am today.”

Zachary (Interior Design Category), 25-year-old student from Taylor’s University, found that his mentor’s gentle yet supportive method was the right way to help him finalise his project.

Gold Winner Zachary Khaw in the Interior Design Category. Source: AYDA

He said, “Instead of telling their students what to do, Ms. Suzy Sulaiman never implements or forces her own ideas in my project. She will calmly listen to and understand my thoughts. From there, she mentors me to make sure that I clearly and effectively deliver my project to the targeted audience.

“We met during my final semester in university, and I knew that Ms. Suzy is very talented and has had many achievements in this industry. However, I mainly chose her to be my mentor because we have very similar thought processes when it comes to the design industry, and that has made me believe that she is the right person to guide me throughout my final semester.”

Just like Loo Yi, Zachary credits his mentor for helping him finish his project. “During the competition, my mentor Ms Suzy prioritised me over herself. She sacrificed precious time with family for me and mentored me even when she was preoccupied with work, personal projects and classes in university. Without her relentless support, I wouldn’t be here and I am really grateful to have her as my mentor alongside me.”


Zachary’s winning interior design. Source: AYDA

Being a mentor is a rewarding experience

There are many benefits to having a mentor, but what about mentors themselves? Why do they choose to become mentors in the first place?

Being someone’s guiding light is a rewarding experience in itself and offers the chance for established professionals to pass on their knowledge and motivate others.

Ar Wooi said, “My task is to create a lively atmosphere and a safe space where students in the studio would feel free to express their views and learn from one another. Individually, I actively listen to their ideas and challenge them where necessary.

“However, my focus is on the student’s idea and for me to facilitate them from the conceptualisation stage to the final proposal. Most universities I’ve worked with are involved in emphasising sustainability in the design studios and students are aware of that. My approach tends to be pragmatic – I would demonstrate the importance of sustainability in our daily life; a well-ventilated and naturally lit house, for instance, is cheaper to maintain.”

He also believes that as a mentor, it’s important to let students come to their final decisions themselves instead of pushing them to do what they think is best.

“I believe that the key priority for a student is to have a serious interest in their thinking and ideas. Many times, students may falter on technical issues due to lack of experience. My role then is to walk them through the problem-solving process. In short, I will guide them, but they have to decide on their own the final outcome.

Suzy, an artist and designer, said that as a mentor, she constantly advises budding interior designers to stay grounded in reality and not succumb to designs that are all about creating a spectacle.

“Always remember you’re designing for people just like you and me. Get connected with whom you’re designing for. Explore new materials and building techniques. Develop your own strong voice beyond the confines of architecture and interior design.

“In today’s economic climate, value is more than just dollars and cents. Instead, we need to ensure that designs are also socially and environmentally inclusive.”

To help students achieve their goals, Suzy said she tries to “understand what really inspires them, finding the voice in them and encouraging them not to bow down too easily to what others want from them, which includes me!”

Liked this? Then you’ll love…

US uni to pilot international student mentorship program

How can universities provide additional support for international students?