Jung Kian Ng could hardly sleep. The USC Viterbi alumnus, B.S., M.S. ME ’14, knew he would hear any day now whether he had won a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, which covers tuition and all expenses for two to three years of study at Oxford University.
The phone rang at about 10 p.m. Ng’s heart stopped. “Congratulations!” said a woman who had interviewed him for the scholarship. “The competition was really tough, but you convinced the panelist with all your hard work and sacrifice.”
He could barely contain his emotions, nearly breaking into tears of joy. “It still feels a little surreal,” said Ng, a Malaysian national.
In becoming a Rhodes Scholar, he joins an illustrious group of past winners. They include former U.S. President Bill Clinton; Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull; musician and actor Kris Kristofferson; and former American Secretary of State Dean Rusk. Ninety-six Rhodes Scholars were selected worldwide for the 2017 class.
Ng, who will start Oxford in the fall, plans to earn two advanced degrees: a master’s in environmental change and management, and a master’s in public policy. During his time in England, he hopes to deepen his international perspective, make valuable contacts and have time to reflect on his long-term goals, which include serving in a senior leadership role in the Malaysian government that underwrote his USC studies.
“I really feel like I owe the people of Malaysia because they provided me with a college education I otherwise couldn’t afford,” said Ng, whose interests include climate change and social and political development. “I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude and a sense of duty to help make my country a better place.”
Ng has done just that for the past two-and-a-half years.
He currently serves as a special assistant to the Economic Planning Minister in the Malaysian Prime Minister’s Department, where he has worked on trade-related issues and written speeches. Previously, Ng served as a special officer to the Minister of Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government.
The 25-year-old got his start in government soon after graduating from USC Viterbi. In 2014, he won a spot in Malaysia’s competitive Perdana Fellows program. The six-month internship trains participants for careers in public service. During his internship, Ng and a team of interns successfully proposed that the government begin incorporating programming and coding into education.
“Our vision is to ultimately see coding as part of the national curriculum, and every Malaysian kid will be able to write in the language of the future,” said Ng, who so impressed his superiors that they made him a full-time government employee after his internship ended. The government retains only about 10 percent of all Perdana Fellows.
Ng attributes much of his success to USC, where he said he honed his leadership skills and blossomed intellectually. “I would say my time at USC was life changing,” he said.
As a Trojan, Ng served as president of the USC Malaysian Association. He also spearheaded a successful campaign that he said led to USC joining the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent labor-rights organization that monitors overseas factories, including those producing USC apparel.
On the academic front, Professor Fokion N. Egolfopoulos’ classes on thermodynamics and the principles of combustion inspired Ng “to think about ways of improving energy efficiencies.” Assistant Professor Kelly Sanders of the Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering taught Ng, in his words,
“to consider carbon emissions at every stage.”
Sanders said Ng’s intellect, ambition and kindness have long impressed her.
“His passion for driving positive social and environmental change was evident from the first day he stepped into my classroom, and it has been a great pleasure to follow the trajectory of his very impressive career since graduating from USC,” Sanders said. “I look forward to many great things from him in the future.”