University of California Application Personal Insight Statements
1) Please describe how you have prepared for your intended major, including your readiness to succeed in your upper-division courses once you enroll at the university.
Hearing the slightest hum, I rushed to the window, anticipating harvesting and seedling machines, the most mythical transformers I had ever seen. As the increasing undercurrent of vibrations and buzz coursed through my body, so did my excitement for the tractors lining up outside my home.
Growing up in Malaysia, my father ran an agricultural seed and farm chemical company. Our house was a safe space for all the farmers to share their experiences and hardships. I witnessed first-hand how expensive the machinery was and the physical and financial toll on the farmers when they couldn't even afford to fix broken sensors and electronic chips. Seeing all the agricultural problems makes me emotionally and psychologically prepared to be an engineer and solve these issues. A desire to help them has burned in me ever since. I started researching machinery, electronics, and feasibility for chip design and development.
My interest in engineering really solidified when I won my first robot in a lottery, a cleaning robot, and along with it, an immense motivation to further my knowledge in the engineering field. Strangely, I was very excited when the robot broke down after a couple of uses. The curious seed of electronics in me blossomed as I took it upon myself to fix the robot. With wires and parts and a screwdriver, the complexity of the relation between electronics and software astounded me; everything fit perfectly. However, with so many attempts at repair, I finally burned its circuits, yet in the process, my desire to pursue Electrical Engineering and Computer Science had grown immensely.
My burning passion didn't fizzle out over time, I fostered it through an internship at Advansia Drone Co.Ltd, an agricultural drone company. It was there I had the opportunity to closely examine drones' electrical designs and artificial intelligence systems. My desire to combine cloud computing and artificial intelligence to enhance agricultural technology for the farmers back home has never faltered. Taking STEM classes has furthered my expertise in EECS, and I firmly believe that the world-class education at the University of California will help me achieve my dream.
2) Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?
The brittle and fake exterior that I had built around myself over the years slowly cracked as I saw my mother cry. "Why? Why did you join the gang, son? Why?" Her words echoed in my mind, rousing me up from my shell of a life.
Since my middle school didn't offer rigorous academic disciplines, most of my peers never focused on school work. They spent their lives whiling away, and many were a part of the local gang, taking pride in calling themselves "The Rebels." In this chaos, I felt like I didn't fit in anywhere. I wanted to be a part of something, to have friends, and not to be lonely.
In turn, I started spending more time with the members of the local gang. Skipping school, spending days playing video games, and fighting with my parents and teachers had gradually become a new norm. Deep down, I knew that all I had were hollow friendships. As time ticked by, panic and regret started banging down the walls of my mind. By the end of middle school, I had failed seven out of ten subjects. I was stuck and desperately needed an out. The first step to start progressing was to apologize to my parents and come clean about everything.
I knew I had a long way to go, but I was all in. At my new high school, the teacher appointed me as the class monitor despite knowing all about my past. I was stunned by the immense confidence she showed in me. That was all the fuel I needed to work tirelessly over the two years of high school. I signed up for every extracurricular activity and finally graduated with an A in all the subjects. In college, I signed up for the most challenging courses and pushed myself to prepare for upcoming upper-division courses.
Now, the spirit of grit is engraved in my mind, giving me the power to believe in myself. Every challenge was the foundation to create an ambitious and hard-working person aiming to keep growing and learning.
3) What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
Amid a confusing time of this global pandemic - escalating cases, deaths rising into the millions, international transmissions, with new variants, responses, and protests - I set out on my college journey. Navigating the road of an international student is always a little tricky; however, embarking on it with colleges that were active but not open, being taught by professors who were never in the same room as their students, our academic programs became far more complex. With minimal online resources at hand, persistence and tenacity were my tutors, and I adjusted to US education while sheltering in place. Able to find my footing, it struck me how many others were not as fortunate. Students shared with me ways they were struggling and I could not stop my heart's longing to aid them. Everyone should have equal access to education, and I knew I could form a community benefiting generations of students to come.
I partnered with Foothill-DeAnza International Recruitment as FHDA Ambassador and volunteered in the National Assembly of Malaysian Students in America (NAMSA), EducationUSA Malaysia, and EducationUSA Singapore. Volunteering opened my eyes that most of my peers struggled with two major issues: scarce access to the latest information about community college enrollment policies, and challenges understanding material through online learning. To address these issues, I launched VolunFlex where I host weekly educational seminars, helping over three hundred students in Malaysian schools. I also built a non-profit website Compidia where I share free programming tutorials, helping over five hundred students.
It felt great helping so many, but more than that, I was proud to have built a like-minded community, all striving to have a positive impact. As the pandemic worsened, we created another VolunFlex project, organizing a donation drive of over one thousand masks and sanitizers to the Mountain View Police and Fire Departments and partnering with the National Zoo of Malaysia to help the welfare of animals during the pandemic.
I firmly believe building a strong-knit community is exactly what will get us through these challenging times. Even small acts of kindness have profound impacts on people's lives.
4) Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?
Agriculture has always been synonymous with hope for me. While my peers viewed agriculture as unlucrative, I've made it my mission to empower the farmers back home in Malaysia through modern technology and principles.
Growing up, it pained me to watch the farmers of our community grow increasingly fatigued, their shoulders gradually drooping. Not only did they suffer physically, but they had to bear the mental stresses of frequent weather changes. Their techniques were ages behind modern global technology and new generations have grown reluctant to take up their vocation. While my desire to help the farmers has grown exponentially, anxiety at seeing this likely future outcome never released its hold. I wish for more Malaysian youth to be interested in agriculture.
When I started interning in Advansia Drone, an agricultural drone company, I was assigned to drone assembly and disassembly. I grew familiar with the drones' components and construction, yet the complexity of the mechanical system turned my anxiety into a raging ache. In some of those moments, the longing for younger generations to take an interest in agriculture felt like nothing but false hope.
Everything changed during one of our field trips as we delivered a testing drone to our client. As we explained its function, the client's children silently and quickly came over, fascinated by our demonstration of the drone's flight modes. When they realized their fathers would finally have some relief from all the labor-intensive work, their eyes lit up, thrilled for the possibilities the drone could bring. They were fascinated as they learned the capabilities of the drone to fertilize ten acres per hour, a rate more than doubles their usual expectation. I remembered my own experiences just a few years earlier, wholly fascinated with the machinery, concepts, and its benefits. I then knew the importance of my role, inspiring young generations to come back to the agricultural field. By investing in me, the University of California invests in the future of our global food supply, considering the nation of Malaysia is a net exporter for more than half of the world's commonly-consumed agriculture products.