I am from a premier girl’s school in Kuching, a competitive world where every girl had to be confident that she is beautiful inside out and strive to be knowledgeable. Having been in a girls’ school for 11 years, I contested the perception of women as supposedly weak creatures by the largely chauvinistic society we live in. I believed that nothing should prevent women from being mentally prepared for tough conditions. This was one of the major factors that contributed to my opting for Mechanical Engineering.
My SPM results were five A’s for all non-science subjects. For the science subjects, I received B’s for all except Biology, for which I had a C. It was not really expected from a girl who had been in the first class during her school days, and I became a typical student with average results, a fact that I could not accept at that time. I felt embarrassed because my classmates had done well, while I did not even get an offer from Unit Pusat Universiti (UPU).
I became frustrated, especially when nearly half my class received scholarships from various organisations such as PSD, PETRONAS, MARA, and Taylor’s to pursue their studies overseas and locally. Fortunately, I was offered a place at Labuan Matriculation College (LMC).
It was at LMC that I went through a one-year programme known as the Matriculation Level, a pre-university course. There has been many cases where SPM high-achievers fared poorly and were not allowed to continue, so I wish to stress the importance of not losing focus despite one’s previous successes. It was a new experience with new freedom, and the syllabus are nearly the same as SPM but with a deeper focus on each subject.
Personally, I really felt I had let my mother down with my SPM results, so I was determined to excel in my Matriculation course. I frequently met up with my lecturers and tried to do past year question papers; it was the first time I was truly focused on my studies. Maybe it was because I was beginning to look at the world from a different perspective; namely, that of a college student, and not of a high-school student. Luckily, I achieved grades that were good enough to submit a Shell scholarship application for my undergraduate studies.
The Shell scholarship was one of the scholarships that I had aimed for even before entering matriculation. I applied for both local and overseas scholarships, but only managed to receive the local ones. The process was fairly simple – I applied online with my résumé, and before I got my offer from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), I went through a phone interview that questioned my thinking strategies and how I voiced my opinions.
The phone calls were not pre-arranged, so the interviews were always short. However, disadvantages include the limited courses available. My primary choice was Civil Engineering, but the Shell scholarship does not cover that course, so I chose Mechanical Engineering instead.
Mechanical Engineering is a challenging course and in my first year at UKM so far, my subjects mostly cover the basics of every aspect of engineering, such as electric, mechanics, thermodynamics, material science, calculus, design software like AutoCAD, and workshops. Since the majority of my coursemates are male, the new surrounding is fun and different. I have to blend in, think about manly views, and act tough.
I had to leave my femininity at the door when entering workshops and get my hands dirty while handling the machines, welding, filling, and other so-called manly jobs. It is something you have to get used to and I was really glad I chose to take up this course.
Some of my family members and relatives are also majoring in engineering, which greatly influenced my decision. However, I did receive some negative feedback from them for taking this course as I am a woman. But the more people objected, the more I wanted to try my hand at it. I am no tomboy, mind you – I consider myself a feminine sort of girl who still loves shopping and applying make-up. Thus, taking on this male-dominated course has not and probably will not change that part of me.
Studying away from home has really taught me to appreciate my family and friends more. On the bright side, it has also given me opportunities to travel around Malaysia, build friendships, and also network with people, which will come in handy in the future. Life after SPM has been a roller-coaster ride, but what a ride! Hopefully, the roller-coaster will not break down, though I guess I will get to put my skills to the test then!
Rasmina Ibrahim hails from Kuching, Sarawak. She studied Physical Science at Labuan Matriculation College, and is currently pursuing her degree in Mechanical Engineering at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia under the Shell scholarship. She welds and wires during weekdays and shops during the weekends.
Note: The above entry was written in 2010 for What’s After SPM?, published in 2011. This non-for-profit book project is a collaboration between Leaderonomics and a team of young Malaysians. Click here for details on the project and authors.
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