Hi there! My name is Roumen Guha, and I am an 18-year-old Malaysian studying at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My intended major is electrical engineering, but mechanical and biomedical engineering are both fields that I am interested in as well. My graduating class will be the class of 2018, although I am trying to finish my course in 3 years instead of 4.
I was jointly awarded the 2014 AMCHAM-MACEE Scholarship by the American-Malaysian Chamber of Commerce and the Malaysian American Commission on Educational Exchange. It is a partial scholarship worth $5000 annually, lasting for 4 years of study. To maintain the scholarship, I am expected to maintain at least a 3.25 Grade Point Average, and required to send MACEE a copy of my transcripts every semester. I intend to intern with engineering companies during my summers here, while also taking summer courses. I also plan on pursuing undergraduate research opportunities as they come up.
The first stage of the scholarship application, in my mind, was finding out about it. I only became aware of its existence through a friend of mine who was also applying. I also only found it about 2 weeks before the deadline for the application form. THERE WASN’T ENOUGH TIME.
And so it started, the race against my own laziness. It didn’t help that the scholarship form was a Word document. I resorted to converting the entire document after it was filled out to PDF and then writing the 2 essays in separate Word files. The application also required two letters of recommendation; one from a teacher that had previously taught me and another from a mentor in a community organization that I was a member of. These letters of reference had to be both emailed and posted to MACEE, and because I was already so close to the application deadline of May 30th, I had to request that the letters be completed as quickly as possible. Be aware, they also ask for the income tax and annual salary statements for working parents in the application.
Another challenge I faced was submitting the application, which had to be done via email and via post. However, because I had been working on finalizing my essays till the early morning hours of the 30th of May, I had to submit my application in person. And I didn’t have a working printer at home either. I had to submit it before the MACEE office closed at 16:30. My parents were supposed to have come home from work with the documents printed, but they got stuck in a traffic jam and so couldn’t make it in time. I quickly rushed to a taxi stand and asked the driver to take me to Menara Yayasan Tun Razak, where the MACEE office was. I called MACEE ahead of reaching there to ask if they had a printer I could use in their offices, and I was in luck!
About 3 days after submission I got an email and then a call informing me that I was a finalist, and I was asked to schedule a date and time for the interview, 15:30 on Friday the 13th of June. Talk about bad omens. The week of the interview, I was busy with trying to learn the basics about cars with a mechanic, and so didn’t have time to prepare till the day before. So on Thursday afternoon, I arranged my documents, such as certificates and accomplishments and other things of the sort inside a folder to take with me. The next morning, I researched the commonly asked questions by scholarship interviewers and went through about 30 questions, trying to answer them to the best of my knowledge.
At the interview, it looked like I was overdressed, with a tie.
It was a one-on-four interview, with me being the one. It was intimidating; they all had their eyes on me. I was uncomfortable in a tie. I was overthinking. I got terrible stage fright. I could hear the tremor in my voice as I spoke. They could definitely hear it too. I even apologized for this. But the interviewers were nice, compassionate people. They had a tough job ahead of them too. They could only pick one person for the scholarship. They could only say one person was deserving enough for it, which isn’t true! But it was their job to pick.
They asked why I chose electrical engineering. I told them it seemed challenging and that it was so diverse that I couldn’t imagine there wasn’t more to be done in it. I also told them that I wasn’t sure, and that I might change to another form of engineering after I had started classes. Also, engineers serve. I want to be helpful. They asked why the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and I told them that it was the only one of two universities which accepted me, it was the university my dad went to, and that it was a university ranked for many, many subjects compared to the other university, which had a stronger electrical engineering program. I told them this was because I wanted to learn a lot. I love music, and I intend to take music classes. I want to try dance classes as well. Debate classes. I want to try everything this university has to offer, and it has A LOT to offer. They asked why the US, and I told them it was because only the US system gives students the ability to sit in on classes and not technically be a part of them, so it wouldn’t count in their exams, giving me the opportunity to learn instead of cram.
They asked about any leadership qualities I have; I told them about my experience as a Leo of the Leo Club of Metro Methodist College Kuala Lumpur, about being a leader and about being of service to people. (Service is also one of the main themes of the University of Wisconsin – Madison.)
They asked where I saw myself 10 years from now. I answered that I’d like to be working with UNOPS, which is the United Nations Office for Project Services. It is a peace-keeping organization that is renowned for being politically neutral and only helping people, and that it was also allowed into countries to help even when the UN itself was not. I also told them that I think prosthetics is a great, curious field to get into, and since I fully intend on continuing into graduate studies, I might choose to go into biomechanical engineering. I told them of the recent articles I’d read from Duke University and Rice University about wires made of nerves so that the body would build them up and heal them itself, instead of needing to be replaced. I feel like there is a lot more to be found there.
The most challenging one was one was asked last. It asked why I, specifically me, would be more deserving of the scholarship. I had no answer, and I told the interviewers this. I told them that I’d struggled with this question too. There are 7 billion people on Earth, and I could not be the most deserving one. I told them that I’d try to change the fact that their job is so difficult. I want to make education easier to attain, and I told them this too.
They also gave me the opportunity to ask them questions, and I took it to ask how many finalists there were. 5 finalists.
I don’t think that this scholarship changed my views, but I think it made them clearer. It gave me something to shoot for, and the understanding that there were others relying on me to succeed. I am deeply grateful for simply being considered.
During the interview, I added simple jokes. Like the fact that my dad went to the same university seemed like a disadvantage for the university than an advantage. I was honest. I think that that’s the best advice you can get. To be honest, and prepare for everything. They want to know that you can succeed, so don’t give them a reason to think otherwise.
Roumen Guha is currently studying at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to graduate as an Electrical Engineer. He likes music and stories, and is like a moth to a flame with drumsets