PETALING JAYA: Young Malaysians are proving to be a bright and enterprising bunch, making the country proud on a global scale. Recently, two of them were shortlisted as Global Student Prize finalists for 2023.
Yes, two. An earlier Bernama article erroneously highlighted Nurul Nazieha Jasnie of Kolej Vokasional Keningau as the sole candidate. A pastry chef in training, she set up her own business, Tia Cookie, and taught under privileged women how to bake.
The other shortlisted candidate is Kenneth Chong. Hailing from Tenom, Sabah, the 22-year-old of Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP), is something of a young prodigy when it comes to all things tech.
“When I was in Form Four, I was studying at a rural school where we did not have any robotic exposure,” he told FMT Lifestyle via video call.
Hence, Chong took matters into his own hands and at just 17, established the Tenom Innovation Centre in 2018.
The centre teaches skills relating to technology and robotics and is open to children of all ages from schools in the area.
That same year, he invented a sonar system that can detect and repel pests infesting paddy fields.
“We had hoped to help the farmers in the Tenom area, whose crops had often been attacked by pests,” said Chong, who won the Sabah State Young Innovative Challenge that year.
While furthering his studies at UTP, he joined the university’s robotics club, eventually becoming the club’s president, and leading his local team to victory at the ChemE Cube Competition in Phoenix, USA.
The competition challenged teams to create an efficient water filtration system that could provide treated water to underprivileged communities.
“This competition was focused on chemical engineering, which is one of my fields of study,” said Chong, adding that his team won the Rapid Award for their design.
Still, he never forgot the knowledge-hungry youngsters back home. “I wished to share my experiences with the students of my former secondary school. I wanted to bring back what I learnt in university to my juniors.”
This is his ongoing quest and he has high hopes that winning this year’s Global Student Prize – the results of which will be released in November – will help him accomplish his goals.
For now, aside from working on building more sophisticated pieces of technology, Chong holds tech workshops for schools and students in Tenom.
“We should always share the knowledge which we have learnt. As the head of UTP’s sole robotics club, it was part of my responsibility to do so.”
Additionally, these workshops would be for the benefit of the club, he said, as students given a head-start in technology would be more inclined to join the robotics club in the future.
“When we guide someone, we ourselves gain some knowledge. That is one of the lessons I have learnt volunteering to lead these workshops.”
On being nominated for the Global Student Prize, Chong said he was surprised and humbled by the news.
“I could not believe that among thousands of applicants, I was chosen as one of the finalists,” he said, adding that being recognised was an honour in itself and worth more than the cash prize.
That said, Chong admitted that the money would be beneficial to his cause. Part of it, he said, would be donated to the Tenom Innovation Centre.
“The funds would also be used for the robotics club, to keep things going and to make sure we have sufficient tools and equipment,” said Chong.
Leftover funds will be used to start up Chong’s own robotics business that will focus on creating robot kits for university students.
“Let’s say I win the Global Student Prize. It would mean my success story has a lesson to be learnt. And that lesson? It is crucial for every innovator to keep pursuing the path of innovation.
“In this world, innovation is very important. We need people who are innovative and creative. Thus, I would use my own success story to inspire my juniors.”
Keep updated on this year’s Global Student Prize winner by clicking here.