HP sales operations analyst Christine Kunasekaran had big dreams but struggled with Maths. She got around this by tackling her fears head-on and strengthening her foundation at ITE. Schoolbag finds out the journey she took to do what she loves today.
By Sabrina Lee
It’s hard to believe when Ms Christine Kunasekaran tells you that Mathematics had been her undoing when she was in school, but she admits, “I was getting 40 out of 100 on most tests.”
Looking at what she does today as a sales operations analyst at Hewlett Packard, scrutinising sheets of data on a daily basis, wouldn’t you need a head for numbers?
“It took me more time to comprehend them," says Ms Kunasekaran, who found Maths concepts challenging to grasp in school. Those difficulties cost her good grades at her O-Level exams, but rather than fuss over the conventional junior college-university route, she decided to enrol at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) – to face up to her fears in Maths.
"I didn't have a specific career path in mind, but I knew that Maths was fundamental to almost everything in the world. More importantly, I wanted to tackle my weakness head-on," she explains of her decision, “My teachers also told me, ‘Maths modules at ITE will be foundational and hands-on. Work on your failures and learn from them’.”
And so, she applied for a National ITE Certificate (Nitec) in Precision Engineering. "Adjusting to modules such as machining that involved Maths took some time,” she says. Keeping a cool head, she braced herself to tackle the subject she had been fearing for years.
Her mother didn’t need convincing of her plans; she saw value in vocational education, as well as in making practical decisions. “My mother, who raised me as a single parent, gave me the freedom to choose my own educational path and the means to achieve it,” she recounts adding, “I have two other siblings. She was too busy to hold my hand each step of the way.”
Numbers no more a nightmare
ITE revealed a version of success that worked for Ms Kunasekaran. She describes her time there as one of her most enjoyable periods of learning, where she could learn at her own pace.
Determined to expand her knowledge of Maths and mechanical engineering, Ms Kunasekaran decided to pursue a Higher Nitec in Mechanical Engineering, followed by a Technical Engineering Diploma (TED) in Machine Technology. She sought support from study groups and dedicated extra time to subjects such as Maths, Physics, and the Mechanics of Solids — a branch of mechanics that studies how materials deform, break, and react to different types of forces. As she aced small exams and assessments, her self-confidence grew.
Towards the end of her two-year TED programme, Ms Kunasekaran and her coursemates had to develop a mechanical bicycle pump that could inflate bicycle tyres by pedalling backwards mid-ride. "The most difficult part was bringing our prototype to fruition. It was only a theoretical concept until it was tested and proven," she explains. Through this project, she realised that "failure is not the end but another way to understand how to do something better".
According to her, the TED enabled her to bridge her understanding of Science, Maths, and engineering. She was enjoying learning so much, she even signed up for modules in business, accounting, and the German language.
Her hard work and dedication paid off when she was awarded the National Precision Engineering Study Awards by the Economic Development Board (“this award took care of my school fees, allowing me to focus solely on my studies”).
Chasing ambition in the face of doubters
After graduating from ITE in 2011, Ms Kunasekaran embarked on a career in sales operations analysis, joining companies that leverage on machine-learning capabilities. "My engineering background helps me to think critically about data," she says.
Her job search was not without its challenges. She was met with scepticism from some who doubted her qualifications, citing her lack of a university degree or polytechnic diploma. Refusing to allow naysayers to distract her, she remained focused.
"I cannot afford to give in. Negativity is a waste of headspace and emotions."
- Ms Christine Kunasekaran, sales operations analyst at Hewlett Packard
While working, Ms Kunasekaran pursued higher education part-time, first earning a Bachelor of Business (BSc) from Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), followed by a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from Birmingham City University, UK. Driven by a long-standing interest in reading legal cases and judgments, she does not have any plans to practise law at the moment but adds, "you never know what could come up on the horizon”.
Asked how she balances work, study, and raising a family, the 37-year-old mother of three admits to not having a clear answer. "I try not to overthink it and just keep pushing forward," she shares. However, she credits ITE for instilling in her the values of determination and patience that have helped her in her journey thus far.
“A diploma is not an end in itself, but rather a stepping stone to greater opportunities and achievements.”
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