Extraordinary academic achievement leads to major award win

R.M. Middleton Student Prize awarded to recent arts graduate

The old adage ‘there is no I in team’ rings true for a recent UBC Okanagan graduate who has won a major financial award.

Earlier this month, Shao Yuan Chong graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, double-majoring in honours history and honours psychology. He also took home the R.M. Middleton Student Prize, a $10,500 merit-based award endowed by the estate of Robert Morrice Middleton, a former Canadian ambassador and UBC graduate.

Originally from Singapore, Chong relocated to Kelowna in 2017 after being accepted into UBCO’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. He describes his time at the university as nothing less than a true privilege, and while he is both thrilled and appreciative to be this year’s prize recipient, he doesn’t want his achievements to deceive.

“I think there’s sometimes an assumption that things must come easy to someone who receives an award like this,” says Chong. “Maybe they’re naturally smart, or had someone supporting them financially so they could focus solely on school. That wasn’t really the case for me. I don’t come from a wealthy family and everyone worked hard so I could be here.”

Chong says moving to the Okanagan for his education was a family affair.

His parents saved for years to fund his overseas education and even his siblings chipped in. While here and studying full-time, he also held down two jobs to make ends meet.

“I acknowledge that in many areas of my social identity, I’m incredibly privileged compared to others, who are burdened because of their intersectional marginalization, or marginalization due to a multitude of reasons such as ethnicity, sexuality, gender or class,” says Chong. “Nonetheless, I don’t want to perpetuate the model minority myth of being this international student with perfect grades and money either. With the support of many around me, my family and I worked hard to make my education and achievements possible.”

While Chong’s original plans were to specialize in forensic psychology and East and Southeast Asian history, he shifted his focus in the later years of his studies.

“I decided to redirect my research to minoritized communities’ health and those struggling with intersectional marginalization,” he says.

In addition to his roles as a student and undergraduate researcher, Chong took up various jobs at UBCO — including working at the writing centre and as a teaching assistant — while still finding time to volunteer on faculty council and the UBC Okanagan Senate.

As an elected student representative on senate, Chong advocated for increased representation and scholarships for international students and persons of colour. His goal was to level the playing field, ensuring there were equal representation and scholarship opportunities for all UBC students, especially those of minoritized backgrounds.

“I understand that local funders want to support local students, but I feel there’s a real opportunity to recruit talented and hard-working students who don’t come from wealth locally and internationally,” says Chong. “As someone who has experienced these struggles firsthand, it’s a topic I’m passionate about and plan on continue advocating for as I hopefully move into graduate school at UBC.”

Chong has plans to apply to UBC Vancouver’s Master of Clinical Psychology program for September 2022.

“I’m fully committed to making it happen,” he says. “I do wish to return to BC as I’ve formed a strong social network there. Also, I’m really encouraged by the work UBC is doing on equity, diversity and inclusion, although there is a lot more to be done for marginalized community members to be truly supported. I would like to return to be a part of moving more initiatives forward.”

Chong expresses his gratitude to both the Middleton family and UBC for the acknowledgement of his hard work and financial support that comes with receiving the award.

“This award will go a long way in funding my graduate studies, so I am feeling very thankful,” he says, adding that he wouldn’t be receiving this award if it wasn’t for the support of his professors. “There are far too many to list, but Drs. Catherine Higgs, Brigitte Le Normand and Jessica Stites Mor have been there for me since first year and I can’t thank them enough for their unwavering support.

“And of course, my family, my friends and my loved ones. Completing university overseas wouldn’t have been possible without them. I’m the only person in my family that’s had this opportunity, so I feel grateful that my family has helped me realize my dreams.”

About UBC’s Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca