Some may think that meeting the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of an organisation is an instance out of the question. However, on 22 April 2022, students of Sunway University and Sunway College’s student leadership bodies had the opportunity to meet the esteemed Professor Elizabeth Lee, CEO of Sunway Education Group, in person as she welcomed students for an afternoon dialogue and “Cuppa Coffee” in JC 3 Hall, University Building while ensuring to maintain SOPs. Likewise, audiences could tune in to the event’s live stream on Microsoft Teams from 3:30 PM – 5 PM. Besides Prof. Elizabeth, other outstanding persons attended the event, including Prof. Matthew Sansom, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) at Sunway University, Prof. Abhi Veerakumarasivam, Provost at Sunway University, and Prof. Mahendhiran Sanggaran Nair, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research Engagement and Impact) at Sunway University.

The event commenced with an introduction of the valued guests and a welcoming speech made by Kayla Ooi Yu Jin, Vice President of Sunway University Student Council (SUSC) and the event’s emcee. Subsequently, Prof. Elizabeth took to the microphone to deliver her heartfelt speech and presentation, projected on the screen. 

First, Prof. Elizabeth addressed the overarching force that has shifted many of our day-to-day activities for the past two years – the Covid-19 pandemic. Understanding the necessity to support students even more during the pandemic, Prof. Elizabeth, alongside her team, opened a booster vaccination programme at Sunway University for all students who hadn’t been boosted yet. Moreover, she introduced the SEG Covid-19 Committee and Institutional & Department Representative team. They have helped her make the university a safer place for everyone and ensured the students stayed healthy during the pandemic. She remarked that the SEG Covid-19 student support fund has raised over RM 46,000, which has helped 19,962 students, partners, and doctors in total. While Malaysia is now transitioning to an endemic phase, Prof. Elizabeth made sure to show appreciation to all students who had volunteered at the Covid-19 Immunisation Center for their service was not in vain. Similarly, Prof. Elizabeth expressed how touched she was to see students’ involvement in recent flood relief efforts.

After highlighting these acts of community service, Prof. Elizabeth recognised the academic achievements of Sunway University. For instance, she mentioned that Sunway University scientists are listed as the world’s top 2% of scientists. She also acclaimed that 15 distinguished Jeffrey Cheah Professors are currently at world-renowned institutions such as Cambridge, Oxford, and Harvard. Furthermore, a number of students were honoured for their outstanding achievements and awards. Years ago, Prof. Elizabeth elaborated, the nation had struggled to attain a representative at Oxbridge institutions, but today, Sunway University is pleased to be able to say that its students have been accepted into these very universities. “Make all of us proud!” she beamed. 

Next, Prof. Elizabeth gave a special welcome to all the international students who have newly joined or returned to Sunway and Malaysia, including those who were stranded abroad for the last two years. “Thank you for being patient and keeping in touch,” she said. To those who are still abroad, “please come back as soon as possible. We miss you!” Thanks were also given to the International Office, who have worked past midnights and early mornings before office hours began just to attend to international students scattered around the globe in different time zones. Also, in March, the University finally welcomed back in-bound mobility students. This time 41 exchange students from Kyoto Tachibana University, Japan will be studying at Sunway University for one year.

Following this, Prof. Elizabeth took a moment to emphasise the ever-important topic of mental health. She acknowledged that the pandemic had affected a lot more people than they had realised and commended the counselling team, who became an essential service during the pandemic. The Sunway Counselling & Wellness Unit persisted in helping as many students as possible, from their homes or on campus. “We are always here for you,” Prof. Elizabeth stressed, as she encouraged students to call up the free and 24/7 Mental Health Crisis Line whenever they are in need of a companion to walk them through the night. Likewise, Prof. Elizabeth thanked the therapists, peer counselling volunteers, and We-CARE members for their hard work and active support towards the wellness and welfare of students. Her sincerity could surely be felt as she challenged the stigmas of discussing mental health and seeking mental health support. 

In the effort to promote overall wellness in our ecosystem, Prof. Elizabeth championed the initiatives that Sunway as an institution has been undertaking to accelerate the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Malaysia. Linkways that connect every part of Sunway City and the water treatment plant that provides a reliable source of water from South Quay Lake to all of Sunway City’s commercial buildings are just a couple of smart and sustainable initiatives, owing to Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Dr Jeffrey Cheah’s visionary leadership in building a model green township. 

Sunway University itself was ranked in the top 200 for SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) amongst a pool of over a thousand universities worldwide. The recent campus visit from Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, President of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, demonstrated Sunway’s accountability and commitment to institutionalising and exercising the SDGs. Besides keeping the SDGs at the heart of Sunway’s operations, Prof. Elizabeth urged students to internalise and use the SDGs to guide their lives and to ensure that there is a planet left for future generations. 

The establishment of the Sunway Centre for Planetary Health, along with the integration of SDG education into compulsory MOHE MPU subjects, marked major future-forward steps as Sunway University aspires to become the world’s first planetary health-oriented university. Other shoutouts were made to the Campus With A Conscience Committee of SEG, the SDG Academy Team at Sunway University, the Sunway University Young Chefs club for their Edible Waste cookbook, and Sunway XFarms and its agrifood apprentice programme. 

During the last segment of her presentation, Prof. Elizabeth spoke of the significant infrastructure developments in Sunway City, including the spacious Graduate Centre Study Deck and the refurbishment of the Sunway Lagoon Amphitheatre, which has served as a venue large and airy enough to safely conduct physical convocation ceremonies. Exciting upcoming projects include the Sunway International School (SIS) new campus, which will open next year, and the Sunway University expansion across from the current building between the road and the lake, which Prof. Elizabeth teased that Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Dr Jeffrey Cheah wants to be “nicer than Gardens by the Bay”! 

In her closing remarks, Prof. Elizabeth noted that unprecedented experiences have led to unprecedented lessons and said full of optimism, “Let’s embrace what’s ahead and let’s move on!” 

Seated on stage next to Prof. Elizabeth were Jynn Kok E-Lynn, President of SUCS, Jeremy Foo Hong Zheng, President of Sunway College Student Council (SCC), and Aishah Shapari, President of Sunway Sports Council (SSC). The three student representatives took turns to introduce their respective student leadership bodies and the various activities they have been organising to engage students physically back on campus. In response to their efforts, Prof. Elizabeth praised them for their thoughtful projects and for being a bridge and a voice for students, always ensuring two-way communication. 

The event came to an end after a Q&A session, most of which was spent hearing from the passionate special guests in the audience about the many long-term research and investments towards environmental sustainability that are being undertaken by Sunway University. 

Keeping in line with SOPs, all attendees could pick up a cup of coffee (or take home individual packets) as well as enjoy snacks at the exit. It was indeed a warm afternoon spent with Prof. Elizabeth, who so kindly dedicated her time to building closer relationships with students and staff, as the CEO of Sunway Education Group. 

Written By: Michelle & Daniel

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