A PASSION to help poor farmers in Myanmar kept a 22-year-old, then inexperienced, psychology student going, even when her social enterprise experienced some bumps throughout their journey.
Despite that, Loh Rachel maintained a high CGPA throughout her studies.
The Kuala Lumpur native is the sole recipient of the Tan Sri Datuk Paduka Dr Hajjah Saleha Award at the HELP University 31st convocation held in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday.
It is given to the graduand who has excellent academic achievements, contributed to the extra-curricular activities of the university and shown outstanding leadership qualities.
Loh says that the project she started with her friends during her final year at HELP University to help farmers in Myanmar gain access to dryers that would dry their rice grains was something she felt very passionately about.
The team's work with the farmers since 2018 allowed them to double their income and "send their children to school or just to put food on the table."
She says she and her team obtained US$1mil (RM4.19mil) in funds after winning the Hult Prize last September to run the social enterprise.
She is now working on a new project under the Telenor Youth Forum to come up with a way to optimise agriculture using digital technology.
Loh obtained her Bachelor of Psychology degree with first class honours.
She says the impact of the social entrepreneurship on the farmers was worth it, even if she had to sacrifice some sleep and time with friends and family, in her valedictorian speech during the convocation ceremony.
She believes in challenging self-imposed limitations and expectations.
Loh was also awarded as the Global Champion of the Maybank Go Ahead Challenge 2017 out of 40,000 students worldwide.
This exposed her to the world of business and finance in 2017, a rarity for a psychology student.
"I really believe that it was my willingness to learn and the fact that I took away the self-imposed boundaries that I set for myself that allowed me to excel in the competition," she adds.
For Audrey Koh Sui Ean, 42, the chance to graduate with her Master of Education in Teaching And Learning with distinction, proves that lifelong learning is the key to developing oneself.
“If you don’t study, you will digress and move backwards.
“University life was a bit challenging because my first degree was in 2001,” she says.
The secondary school teacher adds that obtaining her Masters will help her become a better teacher and trainer for her fellow teachers.
Perseverance and grit helped Ashmini K Gnanasegaran, 25, become one of the 10 recipients of the HELP University President’s Award.
She says she found university life “quite stressful at first” as she was not a top student in school.
She had obtained 5As in her Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) exams.
“When I came to HELP University, my lecturers told me to take this time as a new start, a blank slate,” says the Bachelor of Laws graduate with first class honours.
The President’s Award is presented to graduands with the most outstanding academic achievements at the departmental level.
Yap Ze Wei, 23, says she was pleasantly surprised to find out she would be one of the recipients of the President’s Award.
The Bachelor of Communication (Public Relations) graduate found it a struggle to juggle being a student and a piano teacher at first.
But with proper time management, she found a way to do both and graduate with first class honours.
Fellow President’s Award recipient Aloysius Tan Huan Lin, 21, says he did not expect to receive the award.
He adds that he was involved in writing and editing his department’s newsletter, Psychronicle.
During the convocation ceremony, HELP University chancellor Datuk Paul Leong Khee Seong congratulated the 1,200 graduates on their achievements.
“Today, you are embarking on an important journey in your lives where you pursue and develop your careers.
“You must take cognisance of developments in the international environment when making your decisions because the changes and trends will impact your lives,” he says.
Vice-chancellor and president Prof Datuk Dr Paul Chan says: “Your efforts have made you achievers.”
He adds that the university is proud that its graduates are in “great demand” by employers.
“In our 33 years, we never had a problem with our graduates not finding meaningful work.
“Not just in terms of getting a job, but they find fantastic opportunities in good companies worldwide,” he says.
Prof Chan announced that the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation has awarded HELP University with the Premier Digital Tech University Award for its efforts in transforming into an Analytics-Driven Entrepreneurial University.
Meanwhile, the university awarded former Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA) chairman Emeritus Prof Tan Sri Dr Abu Hassan Othman with the inaugural 2019 Distinguished Academic Leadership Award.
The educationist has had a distinguished career in public service.
Dr Abu Hassan served in various capacities and has contributed significantly to improving the quality of higher education in Malaysia.
In conjunction with its convocation, the HELP University 22nd Annual Convocation Strategy Seminar was also held.
The seminar, themed “Thinking in Teaching and Learning: Sharing Experiences”, saw 18 quality papers being presented by HELP faculty members and visiting professors.
The papers focused on building the components of the institution’s “TEA Culture” - thinking mind, entrepreneurial attitude and analytics skills - in its students as well as recognising the importance of critical thinking as a core skill to prepare graduates for the working world.
During his opening remarks at the seminar, HELP University deputy vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Zakaria Ahmad says: “There is no rote learning.
“Our teachers go into the classrooms to enrich knowledge but also to instigate our students to critically accept or reject what they have been taught,” he says.
Prof Zakaria hopes that the “sharing of insights and the exchanging of views” at the seminar will lead to more effective teaching at the university.
Prof Chan says he equates thinking to critical thinking.
“We aim for our students to think independently, (and) to reason objectively,” he adds about the teaching philosophy at HELP University.
During his talk, he says the participants of the seminar will gain new insights into the way they think and deliver their lectures to their students.
“If our students cannot think (at the end of the course), we have failed them,” he adds.
The seminar was held at the new RM25mil Business Analytics and Technology Innovation Centre, which is an extension of the university’s Subang 2 campus.