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National athlete wants to be sports psychologist

NATIONAL water skier Aaliyah Yoong Hanifah has set her sights on a psychology degree and the 18-year-old is on her way to obtaining it.

Already an accomplished water skier with 21 gold medals under her belt, the world number six in the Under-21 Women’s tricks category said she has always wanted to gain “a university experience” for when she stops competing.

While she has her sights set on becoming the world number one and will continue to participate in international competitions, Aaliyah is also embarking on her five-year tertiary education, thanks to Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD) Star Scholarship Award, which was previously awarded to the likes of golfer Kelly Tan and track cyclist Datuk Azizulhasni Awang.

“I am very grateful to YSD for providing me with this huge opportunity. This has taken a huge load off my family in looking after my education,” she said during the virtual YSD scholarship award ceremony on Nov 11.As an ambassador for the foundation, she said: “I hope to encourage women and girls to participate more in sports and reach their fullest potential in whatever they do.”

Aaliyah, who won her first gold medal at the SEA Games at the tender age of eight, said she’ll be heading to a university in the United States in 2023, after she completes her Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) next year.

She shared that she chose to study sports psychology to help athletes, just as her sports psychologist has done for her throughout her decade-long sports career.

The aspiring sports psychologist also wants to open her own water skiing school and coach others when it comes time for her to retire her skis.

But for now, she looks forward to returning to competing after taking a hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I’m very excited for what the future has in store for me,” she said.

Among the other recipients of the YSD scholarship are Merdeka Award Grant recipient Chrishen Robert Gomez, Nur Sabrina Mohd Shafawi and Mohd Hafis Sutan.

Chrishen, 28, who received the YSD Environment Scholarship Award to pursue a PhD in Zoology at Oxford University, aims to develop a genetic-based model to conserve the Sunda clouded leopards in Sabah.

By understanding genes and how it moves between leopard populations, he said it is possible to better plan conservation and development efforts without completely destroying Malaysia’s natural flora and fauna.

He said conservation has always been close to his heart since his university days in Sarawak.

There, the self-proclaimed “city boy” was exposed to the rich biodiversity in Malaysia’s natural jungles.

“We have one of the richest biodiversity habitats in the world and it is under threat,” he said.

Chrishen started his course in the United Kingdom last month and will be back in Malaysia next April as his fieldwork is based here.

“I’ll be travelling back and forth over the course of the next four years,” he added.

Nur Sabrina, 21, who has been wearing a hearing aid since the age of four, does not let her hearing impairment stop her from pursuing a degree in information technology (IT) at Universiti Teknologi Mara, Shah Alam, as she has been interested in gadgets since young.

“Today, with almost everything in life revolving around IT, I thought it would be the best thing to study.

“I am interested in animation, games applications and Internet applications,” the Kulai, Johor, native said.

Nur Sabrina is among 28 recipients under this year’s YSD Special Needs Bursary Programme who were collectively given more than RM859,000 worth of bursaries to pursue their studies.

Thankful for the financial assistance, Nur Sabrina said it would greatly ease her family’s burden.

“My father was laid off a few years ago and my mother became unemployed during the pandemic.

“They have always given my siblings and me their best but our parents also want us to be independent,” said the youngest of three children.

She was diagnosed with Pierre Robin syndrome that gave her a cleft palate – which has been rectified – and also affected her hearing.

She looks forward to improving her life as she has felt discriminated against by society due to her disability.

“My grades have been improving each semester. Hopefully, this will enable me to secure a good job in the future and repay my parents’ sacrifices,” said Nur Sarbina.

Mohd Hafis, 20, who is studying for a skills certificate in Heavy Equipment (SKM Level 3) at Sime Darby Industrial Academy, Puchong, Selangor, is one of 50 students awarded with bursaries worth RM2.33mil to pursue technical and vocational education and training (TVET).

Mohd Hafis, who hopes to become a successful heavy machinery technician, also sees the scholarship as a way to lighten the load of his parents, who have to care for his four younger siblings.

At the award ceremony, YSD chairman Tunku Tan Sri Imran Tuanku Ja’afar said: “Despite the various challenges that today’s youths are facing as a result of the pandemic and the accompanying movement and learning restrictions, we continue to be impressed by their tenacity and resilience.

“Eighty-five per cent of our scholars this year come from underprivileged families who are the hardest hit by these turbulent times, and they are seizing the opportunity to shape a better future for themselves and their families.”

He also said the foundation has committed almost RM1mil to providing laptops to 400 ongoing bursary scholars from B40 families.

“Additionally, with the increasing importance of vocational skills to support the country’s economic plans, YSD is working towards awarding another 250 TVET bursaries in 2022,” he added.

The foundation awarded 209 scholarships and bursaries worth more than RM17mil to deserving youths this year to pursue their tertiary studies at top learning institutions and universities locally and overseas.

Since its inception, the foundation has awarded scholarships and bursaries worth more than RM314mil to more than 5,000 students.

New applications will be open in March next year.

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