Sunday September 14, 2008
UMS a haven for students
By TAN SHIOW CHIN
Universiti Malaysia Sabah graduates have fond memories of their alma mater and its scenic campus.
Maybe there really is something in the air in Sabah. Those from the easternmost state in Malaysia seem to want to stay close to home, while those from further abroad want to stay on after getting a taste of life there.
For Sabahans keen on pursuing higher education, it helps that Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) reserves around 40% of its intake for locals, ensuring they have a good chance of getting into the university located near Kota Kinabalu.
And while most non-Sabah natives do return to their home states after graduation, there are also many who have found their place in the Land below the Wind.
For Conservation Biology graduate Donna Christine Simon, 21, attending UMS was the logical choice for two reasons.
“I chose UMS because it was nearer home and because it was better for me to study here.
“I managed to see many places in Sabah and learn about them during my course, which was useful as I intend to find a job here,” said the Kota Kinabalu lass.
In fact, her final-year thesis was based on the biodiversity of birds in primary and secondary rainforests in the Danum Valley.
“I like birds, and I know there are not many experts on birds in Sabah which is why there isn’t much research on birds here,” she explained.
In fact, her supervisor Dr Henry Bernard is an expert on the proboscis monkey and not birds, Donna said.
Fortunately, she was helped in her research by staff of the South East Asia Rainforest Research Programme (SEARRP).
SEARRP programme manager and senior scientist Dr Glen Reynolds suggested her research topic and helped Donna with funding, while research assistant Bernadus Bala Ola (also known as Mike) taught her how to identify the different birds.
Her fondest memories of university life are centred around the Danum Valley.
“My favourite memories are of being in Danum and making friends with all the researchers and people there.
“This course has really opened my mind to biodiversity and how there are so many things out there yet to be discovered.
“I now know the beauty that Sabah has to offer.”
The state’s diverse natural assets were also a drawing factor for Malaccan Chong Chee Wey, 23, when he put UMS as his first choice of university.
A self-described kampung boy and nature lover, Chong was pleased to get into the International Tropical Forestry course as it is a programme revolving around the environment.
“Forestry is both the science and art of managing the forest, but I have friends who see it as a subject that teaches you how to chop down trees and exploit its resources,” he said, adding that he tries his best to educate them otherwise.
Studying at arguably the most beautiful campus in Malaysia was certainly an enjoyment for the sole first-class honours graduate in his programme.
“The university is like a garden, it is very beautiful and the landscaping is very pleasant to the eye.
“The staff here are very friendly, especially in my school. It is because we (lecturers and students) go on a lot of field trips where we stay and do almost everything together,” said Chong.
Education in Science graduate Ng Ah Hatty, 23, said: “UMS was my first choice because it is nearer to my hometown of Kudat.”
Coincidentally, she was posted to her former secondary school – SM Lok Yuk, Kudat – for her practical training.
“I met all my old teachers and they want me to be posted back to my school after I graduated!”
The top student of her course, Ng shared that her teachers had strongly advised her to study medicine, but she preferred to emulate them.
“I love to teach, I love students. I find that when I can make a student understand a lesson, I feel happy. You should go for a job that makes you happy,” she explained.
Donna is of the view that lessons should be fun and interesting and came up with four games to help her Form Four students learn the periodic table for her final-year project.
“Students like to play games and two to three groups in a class can use them,” she said.
“After all, if the students do not have computers, how can we use the teaching CDs?”
The games were modified versions of Snakes & Ladders and mahjong, as well as a 3D building game and a card game. For her, UMS is equal to the other universities in Malaysia.
“As long as you have the interest to study and work hard, the facilities and the lecturers are the same.
“You must be willing to approach your lecturers, and even wait for them to be free, to ask them questions. Then, I don’t think you will have any problems with your studies.”
Biotechnology graduate Muhammad Iszam Shawal, 22, agrees with her, partly.
“I think the facilities and the number of lecturers can still be improved — we have a lack of lecturers in biotechnology — but things have definitely improved over the last three years.
“They’ve even updated the syllabus recently to be more in line with changes in the world, so my juniors will benefit from it.”
Iszam added that the small number of lecturers had actually resulted in him and his coursemates being more independent in terms of learning, as well as having more opportunities to do research on their own.
Although raised in Johor Bahru, Iszam, who was born in Sabah and goes back to the state every year for Hari Raya, counts himself as a Sabahan.
Determined to give back to his home state, he is now a tutor in UMS.
“I will continue to study for my Masters, but I will apply to other local universities as I do not want to be ‘inbred’, as this will result in a lack of ideas.
“Then I will come back and teach in UMS,” he said.
Aiming for academic excellence