Satya Rao has just made history by being the first Indian from Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin (UniSZA) to be awarded the prestigious Royal Education Award. The brilliant and ambitious young student has graduated from this highly reputable institute with a Bachelor of Science (Aquatic Science) honours and is on his way to becoming an environmentalist, yearning to contribute his intellectual labour to ending the climate crisis our world is in right now. In this exclusive interview with this visionary graduate, we catch a glimpse of how he transformed himself from an average, demotivated student to an ambitious, hardworking, and extraordinary young professional. Satya’s wonderfully arduous path to success and his historical achievements stand as a testament to how foundational determination and unrelenting spirit are, to attain the greatest in one’s life.
Please share a little about your family background and about those who have been influential throughout your academic and personal career.
There are seven people in my family. I have two elder brothers, one younger brother, and one younger sister. My father is a retired soldier and currently works as a security guard in SJK (T) Simpang Lima, and my mom is a housewife. We live in Klang, Selangor. My family and lecturers are my biggest support and motivation. One of my close lecturers, Prof. Madya Dr. Connie Fay Komilus, has helped and motivated me a lot during university life. She has given me a lot of opportunities and guidance in academics and research. Dr. Connie has shown me kindness and shared a lot of knowledge, which influenced me to become a lecturer. The lecturers in my faculty have truly aided in developing my career and my future. Everyone of them has inspired me to excel not only in academics but also in my personal life.
What are some of the struggles you went through to attain higher education, and why did you choose to study aquatic science?
During my primary school years until Form 3, I had many difficulties in my studies and did not perform well. I did not receive any A’s and only gained average results in my UPSR and PT3. There was also the tremendous difficulty in speaking English that terribly deterred my spirits, this insecurity grew even more when my friends and classmates could speak English without a struggle and excelled in their studies with ease. I had always wanted to make something of myself but had failed to do so till then. It finally came to a point in my life that I was determined to change my circumstances for the better. I borrowed general knowledge books from friends and the library; I read books every single day at home for two months straight during November and December before starting school the following year. My critical thinking skills and knowledge entirely changed after that. Luckily, I was given a chance by my teachers to get into the science stream class on Form 4. To improve my English and Bahasa Malaysia, I wrote poems and short stories and gave them to friends and teachers to mark and comment on. My thinking skills changed after all these approaches. I started to explore my interests in the environment, astronomy, and physics. I spent my time doing quizzes, watching documentaries, and reading books. Then, I achieved good results in SPM and continued my STPM in the science stream as well. I have chosen aquatic science because it is related to my interest in the environment, which I love a lot. Although my first choice was to study astronomy, we unfortunately don’t have any institutes offering diplomas or degrees in that specific field.
What did you do in order to achieve the Royal Education Award? Please share your extracurricular and academic activities and achievements.
During my time as an undergraduate, I involved myself in many areas, including leadership, volunteerism, sports, and academics. I have taken on roles as Vice President of the Student Association of Faculty Bioresources and Food Industry and Vice President/Cofounder of UniSZA Green Advocate Associations. Additionally, I am also an international member of YOUNGO, which is a youth constituency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and a member of the Commonwealth Youth Climate Change Network.
My passion for the environment has led me to pursue international opportunities, such as becoming a panel speaker for the World Ocean Day Commonwealth Youth Dialogue at the United Nations, representing Malaysia and Asia. I have also received an honour as a delegate to the Asia-Pacific Youth SDGs Summit 2023. In terms of academics, I have been on the dean list for all ten semesters. I have successfully published two scientific papers and one international environmental article as the first author and second author. I have participated as an oral speaker in the International Seminar on Fish and Fisheries Science in Bali, Indonesia. I have won many competitions, such as Gold and Silver Place for the 3-Minute Research Idea Challenge for 2021 and 2022; Silver Medal Final Year Project Presentation FBIM 2023; Bronze Medal One Minute Talk Biodiversity Jabatan Alam Sekitar Perak 2021; Silver Medal Nature Video Challenge 2020 and First Runner Up SDGs Group Project Asia Pacific Youth Summit 2023.
In terms of leadership, I have held positions as director, vice director, secretary, and have engaged in many programmes as a high and normal committee member. I had been invited as a panel speaker for several programmes, such as the ‘Kursus Pengurusan Organisasi Persatuan Fakulti Biosumber dan Industri Makanan’ and ‘Kursus Kepimpinan Pembimbing Rakan Sebaya, Pengawas Pusat Sumber Sekolah dan Pengawas Koperasi’ in SMK Chalok Model Khas. I have actively participated on more than 60 occasions, both nationally and internationally, including programmes, webinars, conferences, competitions, and workshops, during my undergraduate period. I have received a total of six awards that include faculty, university, national, and international levels. At the faculty level, I have received Tokoh Kepimpinan FBIM 2021 and Tokoh Akademik Sains Akuatik FBIM 2022. At the university level, I received the Tokoh Kepimpinan Kesukarelawan (Alam Sekitar) 2022. At the national and Asia Pacific level, I have gained the award as an Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM) Activist certified by the fisheries department of Sabah. I have also received the Global Goal SDGs Youth Initiator Award from the Asia Pacific Summit 2023 internationally. The last award would be Anugerah Pelajaran Diraja (Pingat Jaya Cemerlang).
What has been your motivation to attain this success?
My biggest motivation is my family and lecturers. I always wanted to achieve something and create a benchmark in university. Thus, my family, lecturers, and friends have always supported me in everything I do. My love for the environment and marine ecosystems has driven me to partake in many significant occasions. My close lecturer, Dr. Connie Fay Komilus, constantly tells me that we should always be willing to sacrifice and work harder to achieve our ambitions. She always gives me advice and confidence in everything I do as a mentor and supervisor. All those dear to my heart are my true inspirations. Sometimes, I don’t go back home during semester breaks or holidays to stay in the lab and focus on doing work. My family and lecturers always believed in me that one day I would achieve something great for them, which is the root of all these achievements. As the first Indian to receive Anugerah Diraja in UniSZA, this is the biggest benchmark and pathway for juniors and new students to follow.
What are your plans for the future?
My biggest dream is to be a lecturer for my aquatic science course. To lay out this dream, I should be exposed to experiences and practical knowledge. My lecturers always guide and advise me to reach this dream. Now, I am working at Pet World and Promise Earth as a Supervisor of Research and Development. I also plan to continue my master’s and PhD after gaining enough experience. As an environmental activist, I will continue my passion for saving nature and marine ecosystems from the climate crisis, which has always been my outmost priority.
All Images Provided By Satya Rao