“Don’t let fear or insecurity stop you from trying new things,” says ITE Higher Nitec graduate Muhammad Ezekeyle Ezra, who stumbled from sports science into engineering. He now dreams new dreams in the field of robotics.
By Sabrina Lee
When we don’t get what we ask for, what follows? Muhammad Ezekeyle Ezra provides a poignant example of how setbacks can be a blessing in disguise, even uncovering what are his latent abilities.
In 2019, when Ezekeyle was in Secondary 3, doing well at the subject Exercise and Sports Science prompted him to consider pursuing the field further. Eager to secure a place in Republic Polytechnic’s Sport and Exercise Science programme, he applied for the Polytechnic Early Admission Exercise (EAE) when he was in Secondary 4. The EAE, which assesses students’ potential rather than relying solely on final grades, offers a unique opportunity for applicants to demonstrate their abilities.
He was feeling pretty confident about his study path until tragedy struck: That year, his grandmother passed away, and his grandfather had a stroke, which led to money problems in the family. To help make ends meet, he took on multiple part-time jobs and delivery work, often at the expense of his studies. Given these circumstances, he was unable to meet the EAE criteria to pursue his desired course at Polytechnic.
Undeterred, his attention turned towards the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), which presented a flexible learning environment that allowed him to work and study at the same time. He was glad to have found the opportunity to continue providing for his family.
When it was time to choose a course, he decided to continue pursuing his passion for sports by applying for courses in Fitness Training and Sports Management. His third choice was for a National ITE Certificate (Nitec) course in Mechatronics and Robotics, a field that had always intrigued him but which he did not know enough about. Again, when he received the results of his application, he took disappointment on the chin – he was given his third choice.
At this point, Ezekeyle again chose to view the unexpected as an opportunity for personal development and growth. It’s new, it’s scary, but it’s not impossible, he told himself. “I’ve faced challenges before and have emerged stronger for it.” He now encourages others to adopt the same mindset. “Don’t let fear or insecurity hold you back from trying new things. Believe in yourself and trust your instincts.”
“I’ve faced challenges before and emerged stronger for it”
In his first months at ITE, Ezekeyle felt apprehensive as he embarked upon an unfamiliar course of study. True enough, when surrounded by a world of machines and fresh jargon, Ezekeyle found himself constantly on his toes.
To top it off, he was joining the course later as an O Level candidate – his N-Level coursemates had gone through orientation and several weeks of the initial modules already, so he couldn’t shake the sense that he was playing catch-up.
He counts himself lucky to have had course advisor Nelson Ng for advice and support. Under Mr Ng’s wing, Ezekeyle grew in confidence; he also helped him stay on track with his studies as he had to balance this and his part-time work. Mr Ng also nominated him for awards and scholarships, which helped with his family’s finances.
Ezekeyle started developing a deep appreciation for the inner workings of machines. He was thoroughly impressed by the amalgamation of computer systems, vision systems (such as cameras and sensors), and intelligent technologies like robots. “This powerful combination simplifies and expedites work processes,” quips Ezekeyle about his newfound passion. Soon, he felt ready to take on an extra role at school – to be a student mentor. He was eager to share his knowledge and leadership support for those struggling to keep pace with their studies; he also saw it as an opportunity to reach out to newbies so they would not feel left behind like he did when he first started the course.
From uncertain beginnings to robotics enthusiast
At his ITE Graduation Ceremony in 2022, Ezekeyle was awarded the Tay Eng Soon Gold Medal Award by Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman, Second Minister for Education & Foreign Affairs.
As he progressed in his course, he wanted to delve deeper into the ever-evolving technologies that were revolutionising the field of robotics. “Just imagine the possibility of creating machines that are able to move, perceive their surroundings, and make intelligent decisions on their own!" says Ezekeyle, who saw the increasing integration of robots and automation in various industries.
When it was time for work attachments, Ezekeyle seized every chance to acquire practical knowledge as an intern at Skymech Automation & Engineering. By then a robotics enthusiast, he assembled and recalibrated collaborative robots, also known as cobots, to ensure their seamless and efficient operation on the production line.
Ezekeyle’s aptitude for the course was clear: He completed his Nitec programme with a perfect Grade Point Average (GPA) in 2022. This achievement qualified him for admission to a polytechnic, but he opted to further his ITE studies with a Higher Nitec in Mechatronic Engineering. “I felt a strong sense of belonging at ITE. I also appreciate the hands-on learning approach and flexibility to balance work and study,” he explains.
So inspired is he to further his studies in robotics that he has started nursing dreams to be an engineer one day, following in the footsteps of an aunt of his, who shared with him the jobs and prospects of working in the oil and gas industry.
“When I reflect on how far I’ve come, I'm filled with happiness about the path I've chosen and the discovery of a skill I never knew I had,” he says.
One door closes, a better door opens
The Higher Nitec graduate posing with his favourite machine, a collaborative robot arm made by Universal Robots, at the robotics lab at ITE.
Ezekeyle’s journey at ITE is not over. With the Higher Nitec under his belt, he now works as a technician at Carrier Singapore as part of his ITE Work-Study Diploma (WSDip) in Facilities Management. He services, repairs and maintains cooling systems, and took on an additional role of a planner, to dispatch teams based on service requests that come in.
"I believe that my current duties will allow me to gain valuable experience and become a more well-rounded engineer and leader,” he explains, demonstrating a level of self-awareness and ambition that is characteristic of his education journey.
After he clocks out, he continues to put in five to six hours a day as a food delivery rider, a job he has been doing since he was 15 years old. “It was difficult in the beginning, but with time, I’ve adapted,” he says, adding, “Challenges can be seen as building blocks for personal growth.”
Watch Ezekeyle in conversation with Education Minister Chan Chun Sing here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHkL1UbRL1A
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