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Afterschool’s Exclusive Interview with Malaysian Scholar Who Received Highest Engineering Honour at Pennsylvania State University

Published by Afterschool.my on Jun 10, 2019, 10:41 am

If you haven’t heard Malaysia’s latest claim to fame, Muhamad Saiful Hakimi Daud, a fellow JPA scholar, has received the highest engineering honour at the Pennsylvania State University, United States last month. He is the first Malaysian student to be named for the award with a perfect score of 4.0 cumulative GPA (Grade Point Average). He was also featured in an article in the New Straits Times.

Image via New Straits Times, taken from JPA's Facebook page

In an exclusive interview with Afterschool.my, Muhamad Saiful Hakimi Daud gives us insight into his life and what it takes to achieve what he has.

What are some struggles and/or challenges that you faced during your studies at Pennsylvania State University?

Of course, studying engineering is no easy feat. I have faced several challenges while I was studying at Pennsylvania State University. One of them is time management. During my junior year (3rd year), I was taking 21 credits, as well as being part of the Penn State team of PetroBowl. The junior year is notoriously famous for having some of the most difficult classes in my course (Petroleum Engineering). I was also busy spearheading monthly cultural nights to celebrate diversity and inclusion. In addition to that, the social environment also posed a challenge to me when I first arrived in the United States because it was hard for me to socialize with different cultural norms that I grew up with.

How did you overcome these challenges?

One of the things that I realized early on is that a planner helps. Having a weekly planner helped me track down meetings and any deadlines that I have to meet. Moreover, any to-do lists were also listed in the same notebook, which helped me ensure that nothing goes by unnoticed. Another thing that helped with time management is knowing to choose your fights. 'Lose the battle, win the war' is one of the sayings that I believe is important in life. There are frequent times when I had to skip some of the easier classes in order to focus and direct my attention to the harder classes.

As for the different cultural norms in the United States, initially, I was scared to venture out of my comfort zone, especially when Americans don’t understand what I’m saying even when I repeated what I said to them. However, joining small groups of people of the same interests—be it organization or clubs, really helped me break the ice. From that point onwards, my social circle grew slowly. Since Americans are very friendly, that same feeling of daunting fear when socializing was quickly replaced with a euphoric feeling every time we decided to hang out.

Who would you say is your role model in learning to overcome your challenges?

I don’t have a specific general role model, because I believe in idolizing the trait, not the person itself. However, the one person who taught me how to overcome my challenges is my own father, Daud Ahmad. Ever since I was a child, he showed me that if I have the passion for something, nothing is out of my grasp as long as I’m willing to put time and effort into it.

What do you think are some of the most important traits a student should possess to accomplish such as you have achieved?

One of the most important traits a student should possess is time management. Knowing how to divide your time between social life, academics and extracurricular activities is vital to succeeding not only in the classroom but also in your professional career.

Based on your own experience, what would you say are some of the benefits of being involved in extracurricular activities during university?

There are many benefits of being involved in extracurricular activities. One of them is definitely networking. Having an extensive network, even with your own professors, will open up many doors of opportunities. Besides that, it also helps to hone your soft skills and leadership skills. I believe these skills are especially important in the workplace, where you are expected to be able to communicate effectively and clearly to others.

For students who think achieving a perfect GPA score of 4.0 is an impossible feat, do you have a message for them?

It may be hard to achieve a perfect CGPA score of 4.0, but it is not impossible. To be perfectly candid, I’d think more highly of someone that can balance their time with extracurricular activities and social life while still getting a CGPA of 3.5+ than someone who spends the entire semester just studying and achieving a 4.0.

For students who have given up on pursuing their desired field of study, what would be your advice to them?

Sometimes, life just decides to throw you a curveball. You might fall down, but that’s okay. What really matters is how you get back up. The normal advice is to keep on pursuing your desired field of study, but I want to give you different advice. If you have kept trying for the same field of study countless of times and are now feeling horrible because you couldn’t ace that one class or semester, try to find something else that you could see yourself doing in the future. When one door of opportunity closes, another one might open up. You just need to open your eyes to see them.

Most importantly, do not fall victim to survivorship bias. One huge factor that helped me to be where I am today is being in the right place and at the right time.

We understand that you are currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering and Minoring in Energy Business and Finance. What are your plans upon graduating from university? Are you planning to work overseas, or in Malaysia?

I already graduated from Pennsylvania State University in May. Currently, I’m planning to work in Malaysia, to serve the bond that I have with my sponsor, JPA.

Clearly, what seems impossible may not be so impossible after all. We at Afterschool.my hope that Muhamad Saiful Hakimi Daud's story and achievements can inspire you to do wonders and work hard at doing what you love, and keep improving!

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