HIGH ACHIEVERS: An award for young Malaysians underlines the importance of excelling in both curricular and extra-curricular activities
PAUL Aron Raymond Raj, 18, has his career path clearly mapped out. The former Penang Free School student wants to study Accounting and Finance at the London School of Economics and Political Science in the United Kingdom.
Subsequently, the Penangite plans to pursue ACCA, to realise his dream of being a chartered accountant.
But coming from a single-parent home, insufficient funds stand between Paul and his ambition.
"My mother Veronica Joeanne Clyde can't afford to finance my studies because she has two others to support -- my sister Sonia Ann Thomas and grandmother Daisy Sharlet Ingram," he says.
Paul does not have to abandon his plans -- thanks to the Maybank Foundation.
He is one of 22 recipients of the banking institution's Overseas Scholarship awards, which were presented to scholars in a ceremony held recently.
The full scholarship enables deserving young Malaysians to further their studies in financial and non-financial disciplines at 36 top tertiary foreign institutions including University of Cambridge, University of Melbourne, Yale and Princeton.
The scholars complete 24 months of Cambridge A level studies locally before going abroad for their undergraduate programmes.
The 22 join the first batch of recipients in March, who are bound for local tertiary institutions.
President and chief executive officer (CEO) Datuk Sri Abdul Wahid Omar says the award, which is worth RM13.2m, reflects the banking institutions' commitment to lifelong learning.
"It is more than just developing academic skills and employment security upon graduation. Talent with international exposure and different disciplines enrich and complement the people in our group," adds Abdul Wahid, who is also chairman of Maybank Foundation's Board of Trustees.
Students must score a minimum of 6As in Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia and come from a family with a combined income of RM120,000 or less annually to be eligible for the financial aid.
Senior Executive Vice President (Group Human Capital Head) Nora Manaf says: "We want to ensure that our scholars not only excel in school but also come from middle to low-income families".
Some 1,500 students met the selection criteria and were given the chance to sit for three online tests which gauged, among others, their ability to solve problems and make logical deduction.
Only those in the first quartile advanced to the next level of assessments, which involved working in teams and face-to-face interviews.
"Those who showed comprehension and reasoning skills in the online tests were better able to articulate their thoughts in the next hurdle," says Nora.
While some had problems expressing themselves in English, the majority of candidates spoke with confidence.
"A few of them declared that they wanted to become CEOs," she says.
As far as Nora is concerned, the chosen students are worthy of the awards as they had proven themselves as all-rounders.
"They did well academically and were active in school. Most of them were either presidents, secretaries or treasurers of clubs; half of them represented their schools in debates, and a quarter were involved in sports, martial arts and uniformed bodies."
That the scholarship recognises their achievements in both curricular and extra-curricular activities sends the message that young people need to do well in both areas to enjoy a successful life and career.
Wan Amira Ahmad, 18, from Kuala Lumpur, agrees.
"I think everyone should be active in extra-curricular activities. Just studying all the time will get you nowhere. Everyone should strive to be a holistic person to achieve what they want," says the aspiring leading female financial analyst.
Wan Amira obtained 9As in SPM and was a prefect, a member of the Interact club and a sportswoman in her former school SMK Desa Perdana.
She plans to continue being an active student at university.
"Getting good grades is important but I also want to enjoy my youth," adds Wan Amira, who looks up to Bank Negara Malaysia governor Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz.
Tiam Wen Yong, 18, believes the debating and public speaking skills he developed in school gave him an edge over other aspirants who had vied for the scholarship.
"Good communication skills will come in handy when I start working," says the future actuary.
The youngest of three children is thankful for the financial aid as it will lessen the burden of his parents, who are also supporting his elder brother through medical school.
"This award recognises the hardship that middle income families like mine are going through," adds Tiam, who got 10As in his SPM.
As for Paul, he considers securing the scholarship as a thank-you gift to his mother "who has worked hard to support (my family) through the tough times".
"I want to return to Malaysia after my studies to serve the bank and climb the corporate ladder," he adds.