WHENEVER Malaysians make noteworthy achievements and contributions overseas, the country is proud to shout it from the rooftops.
Recently, a 24-year-old undergraduate in petroleum and natural gas engineering at Pennsylvania State University in the United States had made history as the first-ever Malaysian to receive the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences’ Engineering Honor Marshal award.
Muhamad Saiful Hakimi Daud was bestowed the prize after scoring a perfect cumulative GPA of 4.0 on graduation. It was indeed a proud moment for the country when Saiful Hakimi received the award at the Pegula Ice Arena in Pennsylvania State University in front of hundreds of people, including his parents, Daud Ahmad and Jamaliah Kasim, who came all the way from Sungai Petani, Kedah, to witness the proud moment.
The Engineering Honor Marshal is given to the top student in Penn State University’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, who had demonstrated outstanding academic achievements and contributions to engineering student life, besides various initiatives taken beyond the classroom. This is one of the highest awards given by the university.
Saiful Hakimi said he was unaware that he had won the award as his inbox was flooded with emails from Canvas, a platform where all of his courses and respective assignments were posted.
“I received the email of my winning on Thursday, and I was supposed to give my answer whether I accept it or not by Monday.
“However, since I was unaware, I didn’t answer. Thankfully, the commencement director sent me a text message on Monday. I was in the computer lab with my classmates when I received the text. I immediately checked my email and replied right away.
“For the first 10 minutes, I just couldn’t stop smiling and I kept reading the email over and over again. My friends were also happy for me, and one of them even bought me a gift,” he quipped.
The award showed that all the efforts he had put in during his years in Penn State University had paid off.
“I don’t think this award will be of any significance in relation to my field as it does not carry any technical merit. But I believe that in the field, it doesn’t matter how many awards you have, experience is by far the most important,” he said.
Born in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur, and growing up in Sungai Petani, Kedah, Saiful Hakimi was the youngest of four siblings.
He was active in sports during his secondary school years at Kolej Yayasan Saad (KYS) and was the captain of Hussein House.
He was also a swimmer and had competed in the 2011 and 2012 Kapas-Marang Swimathon in Terengganu, a 6.5km race across the open sea from Pulau Kapas to Marang.
That journey really taught him the meaning of perseverance, besides learning a lot about soft skills, leadership and team work.
Upon graduating from KYS in 2012 with straight As in Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia, he secured a Public Service Department scholarship to pursue his engineering course in the United States.
He said he was inspired to study petroleum and natural gas engineering by his second eldest sister, Nur Safinaz, who herself is a petroleum engineer.
“I was initially very interested in mathematics and science. However, as any other 13-year-old, I had no idea what kind of field that I really want to go for.
“During this point in time, I always asked my sister about her job scope and listening to her stories made me feel really excited. She often told me about her experience working offshore and her journeys to oil platforms in helicopters.
“In addition, I also learned coding using C and C++. I thought I wanted to do something related to computing and pursue a course that involved a little bit of coding.
“To me, petroleum engineering is the perfect blend of engineering and programming as we often deal with uncertainties in the earth, which can pose problems. Programming, in this case, can help us analyse multiple scenarios before moving forward with the best solution.”
Saiful Hakimi had the opportunity to do his internship at Petronas in May last year for three months.
During his freshman year, he took a class in microeconomics that sparked his interest.
“I believe learning something extra other than just engineering will help me in the long run, so I decided to pick up a minor in energy business and finance.”
He also participated in extra-curricular activities and one of them was PetroBowl, a knowledge competition that pitted student teams from the Society of Petroleum Engineers in a series of quick-fire technical questions relating to the industry.
“In addition, I also joined the Malaysian Students Club as an officer for philanthropy and diversity.”
KEY TO SUCCESS
Saiful Hakimi is an early bird, who wakes up at 5.30am and starts his day with a big breakfast, before going for classes and hitting the gym.
He used his university’s Canvas platform to make sure all his assignments were completed on time.
He would also check his planner and add any additional tasks that he should be doing.
His day usually ends with cooking a simple Malaysian dish for dinner and watching a few episodes of The Office before hitting the bed at 9.30pm.
Saiful Hakimi’s philosophy in life was “knowing when to lose the battle to win the war”.
He said it was vital to choose your battles wisely so you would not be burned out with so many things to juggle at once.
“Not only that, asking for advice from seniors also helped a lot since they had walked the path that you’re taking.
“And, lastly, I believe 90 per cent of my success can be attributed to my parents, who prayed for me day and night. I wouldn’t be able to do it without them,” he said, adding that his favourite quote was by acclaimed Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, who said: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
He said from the quote, he realised how important it was to listen to the opinion and views of others, and not just blindly force one’s view on them.