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Ranau girls among 41 Sabahans offered Petronas education sponsorship

4th December, 2020

When Franciecya Felix saw her former classmate, Connie Chan Shi Fen last September, she could not believe her eyes.

It had been six years since they last met in 2015 when both started Form 1 in Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Mat Salleh in Ranau, a district known as the biggest producer of highland vegetables in Sabah and home to the country’s highest mountain, Mount Kinabalu.

But they were classmates for only a month, before Connie moved to Mara Junior Science College (MRSM) in Sandakan, about 220km away.

Despite coming from the same district, their paths rarely crossed since then, if at all, until they met again in September this year at a place they least expected – located over a thousand miles away from home – Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP) in Perak.

“I was walking to the UTP library when I saw Connie,” recalled Franciecya, 18, who is pursuing a degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the university.

The encounter stopped them in their tracks, but it was soon followed by both congratulating each other for making it to UTP.

Connie, also 18, is pursuing Chemical Engineering. Both are currently undergoing a foundation programme there prior to pursuing their respective degrees, fully funded under the PETRONAS Education Sponsorship Programme (PESP).

They are among the 41 Sabahan youths who have been offered the PESP this year. Under the programme, Petronas supports the students from foundation studies up to the completion of their bachelor’s degree.

Petronas has sponsored a total of 370 students nationwide this year, with an investment of over RM100 million. The PESP this year was opened for online application in March followed by an assessment two months later.

Connie recalled that there were two parts to the assessment, all done virtually. The first was an assessment to gauge the candidates’ personality and thinking styles.

The second part involved a group discussion amongst the candidates as well as an interview.

“To prepare myself for the interview, I did a lot of research, read blogs by past candidates. Turned out, it was totally different from what I expected.

“Previously, it was done face-to-face but for us, because of the Movement Control Order, this was all done virtually,” said Connie, the youngest of five siblings.

She spoke of awkward moments during the group discussion as the candidates strived to adapt to the virtual environment, but they soon managed to get their act together and delivered their tasks.

During the process, Connie said she made new friends from Sarawak and the peninsula. It was in June that she received the good news.

“I was in disbelief but happy at the same time. Obviously, my mom was happy too. This scholarship means a lot as it can help lessen my mother’s burden,” said Connie, whose mother is a farmer.

Her father passed away when she was only five.

And, she also described the offer as a timely motivation for her to strive for a better future for her and family.

She recalled feeling alone during the years she was in MRSM Sandakan as she had no relatives living nearby.

“But if I feel sad or stressed out, I would just swallow it, or let myself cry. There were times when I felt like giving up, but I told myself to go on… to focus on my studies.”

With those now a thing of the past, Connie looked forward to gaining as much knowledge as possible at UTP. “It’s one of the best institutions…I hope to become a specialist in chemical engineering one day.”

Franciecya is the third of five siblings. Her father is self-employed while her mother is a teacher at SMK Mat Salleh. She and her siblings grew up in school quarters.

This will be her first time being away from family for an extended period.

“The longest time I’ve been away from family was for about a week when I joined the ASEAN Quiz in Bali, Indonesia in 2018. Here at UTP, I felt homesick for the first couple of weeks, but after a month, things are fine.”

“In chasing one’s dream, it starts when one is in school and not just by focusing on their studies but also by respecting their teachers.

“Always respect teachers for imparting knowledge to us, complete all our homework…and always pray. That, to me, is important,” she said, pledging to make good of the opportunity available as a PESP scholar.

Mention of Ranau, one will eventually come to the subject of Mt Kinabalu. “I’ve not scaled it yet but I am planning to,” said Franciecya. Connie has not climbed it either.

For the ex-classmates who are now campus mates, the mountain can wait. For now, they need to scale this other mountain, albeit a proverbial one.

At UTP, the journey of two Ranau ex-classmates continues.

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