For many, getting into an Ivy Legue school is seen as a dream as these prestigious institutions are known for their rigorous admission process. Just recently, a Malaysian woman has made the headlines in the Iban community as she became the first female teacher to receive a PhD from one of the Ivy League institutions, Columbia University.
Dr. Felicia Genie Tersan the first Ivy League PhD holder in the Iban community
According to local news outlet, The Borneo Post, Dr. Felicia Genie Tersan, has successfully completed her PhD program in English Education. When asked about her achievements, including getting admitted into an Ivy League institution, she shared that she felt like she wasn’t good enough.
“I never thought my efforts to introduce Sarawak would catch the attention of the institution”, she said.
Tough journey but rewarding end goals
Recalling back her journey, Dr. Felicia shared that as she was working on her research, she had never thought of applying for the said institution as the fees could be too expensive for her to bear. Fortunately, with the support of the ministry of education (MOE), she was given a scholarship under Hadiah Latihan Persekutuan (HLP) programme. HLP is a programme where successful educator applicants are offered fully paid leave with a scholarship.
With the support she is receiving, she decided to take a leap of faith and applied for Columbia University, where she was accepted and began her PhD journey. Throughout the few years living in the US and completing her studies, she revealed that the real struggle was being apart from her family.
“My husband and I couldn’t go back to Malaysia when his grandmother passed away during the Covid-19 pandemic”, she mentioned.
She also shared that during her time in the US, her father was also diagnosed with cancer, and she felt extremely sad to not be able to be by her father’s side during these trying times. Following her journey, as she completes her PhD programme, she expressed how proud she is to be able to represent her community.
The pride of the Iban community
“I went through the Columbia University alumni list and as far as I know, there has never been an Iban student who obtained a PhD from Columbia University”, she said.
During the ceremony where she received her scroll, she wore an Iban scarf on top of her doctoral hooding, signifying that she is proud of where she came from. To complete her look, she also brought a bag that was made by her aunt using ‘pua kumbu’ cloth that was woven with gold threads by her late grandmother. She shared that the cloth was woven back when she was still a child, and the piece of fabric is over 30 years old.
Ending the post, she shared that her key to realising her dreams were hard work and sheer determination. “You must put in effort if you want to succeed”, she said.
Congratulations on your achievements, Dr. Felicia, thank you for highlighting the Iban community, you’re truly the pride of the community!