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​Malaysian g​eophysicist is sole SEA recipient of coveted EER fellowship from University of Texas

​​​​26 July 2023​

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Previna encourages more women to pursue STEM fields despite the challenges. Photos: Previna Arumugam

Geophysicist Previna Arumugam, 28, has emerged as the only South-East Asian recipient of the Energy and Earth Resources (EER) fellowship from the University of Texas in Austin, the United States.

The Kuantan, Pahang-born, Kuala Lumpur-based woman stands tall among the 25 global awardees of the coveted fellowship this year, sponsored by the university’s Jackson School of Geosciences. The other recipients are from countries like Brazil, Colombia, Nigeria and South Korea. Previna starts her 18-month Master in Science (Energy and Earth Resources) programme in August.

"I am thrilled to be the first Malaysian participant, especially as a female in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) field. Obtaining the financial guarantee from the University of Texas and being offered the fellowship is an honour. I am proud that I managed to navigate through the application process, and secure a spot as a graduate research assistant,” said Previna in a phone interview from Kuala Lumpur.​

Born into a family with financial struggles, she faced numerous obstacles in her pursuit of higher education. Her father Arumugam Saminathan, 68, earned less than RM1,500 as a labourer with Pengurusan Air Pahang Berhad.

"Life was difficult when I was growing up. My parents only have primary school education and they struggled to make ends meet. My mother is a homemaker and she always pushed me to study hard. She has always wanted me to make a name for myself,” said the former student from SMK Abdul Rahman Talib in Kuantan.

However, with unwavering resolve, she defied all odds to excel in her studies and academic pursuits.​

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While it may seem tough for women to be in male-dominated industries, challenges are inspirational, says Previna (right).

In 2012, Previna scored 9A+s and 1A in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination. She also earned recognition as a former Sukma (Malaysia Games) silver medallist in long-distance running. With the Menteri Besar scholarship from Yayasan Pahang, she pursued petroleum geoscience studies at Universiti Teknologi Petronas in Tronoh, Perak.

​​"I have always wanted to be a scientist and that inspired me to pursue my studies in geophysics. Hence, I have aIways enjoyed learning about earth sciences. And I have always dreamed of working as a geophysicist at Nasa (National Aeronautics and Space Administration),” said the first class honours student.

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In school, Previna also earned recognition as a former Sukma silver medallist in long-distance running.

Previna's achievement as the sole Malaysian recipient of the EER fellowship has filled her with pride and excitement.

"When I was younger, one of my aunties advised me not to be too ambitious. She said finances would be a hurdle in reaching my dreams. But I have learned that one should never stop dreaming big.

"Former President of India (A.P.J.) Abdul Kalam once said that dreams transform into thoughts and thoughts result in action. I believe that we should always work hard to chase our dreams. Opportunities and the path will be laid out for you. Remember, run as long as you can, run as far as you can. And always be ambitious,” she emphasised.

Previna thinks more women should pursue STEM fields because it’s about breaking barriers and learning new fields.

"There are many female engineers working in the harshest offshore environments. It may seem tough for women to be in male-dominating industries but aren’t challenges inspirational? Women should pursue STEM fields to inspire others. Once, I heard that the greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you can’t do.”

Her story encourages women to reach for the stars and embrace their passions, knowing that with determination and hard work, they too can create a future filled with boundless possibilities.​
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'Even though we were poor, my parents pushed me to study hard and come up in life,' says Previna.

​​Previna’s upcoming fellowship combines interdisciplinary perspectives from geoscience, engineering, finance, economics, law and policy.

“I perceive this programme as an ideal opportunity for geoscientists seeking an MBA-like experience or individuals with a generalist mindset like myself,” said Previna, who applied for the fellowship through the university’s online portal.

Leaving her full-time job to pursue her studies in the US, Previna is excited about the adventure that lies ahead.

“I am travelling there alone and I feel happy. One day, I hope to bring my parents with me to Texas. With excitement and determination, I am embracing the unknown for personal growth. My heart longs to bring my supportive parents to Texas one day and share the opportunities that education offers.

"Their belief in me fuels my journey, and I aspire to make a meaningful difference in the world. As I embark on this adventure alone, I carry their love in my heart, pushing myself towards a brighter future for us all,” she said.​​​​​​​​​