This 19-Year-Old Kuching Boy Is The Only Malaysian To Get Into Caltech Class Of '28

The Kuching lad received offers from Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Cambridge, among other world-renowned universities.

Cover image via Provided to SAYS & Caltech (Facebook)

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Meet Joel Pang, a 19-year-old student from Kuching, Sarawak, with his sights set on the stars

This remarkable young man has achieved the extraordinary, becoming the only Malaysian to be accepted into the prestigious California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the Class of 2028

Joel's journey is even more impressive considering he received offers from Ivy League giants Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania, as well as the University of Cambridge in the UK.

He told SAYS in an exclusive interview that he chose Caltech because he dreams of one day working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA's only federally-funded research and development centre.

"I felt like 'school fit' was the ultimate factor for me. I could see myself thriving more at Caltech, but not so much at the other schools. Caltech also has a stronger reputation for science and research," he said.

On how he feels about being accepted at Caltech, Joel shared that it's a surreal feeling.

"If I'm being honest, I almost gave up applying to Caltech because I didn't think I could get in. But all of a sudden while eating a bowl of laksa after finishing all my US applications, I just felt like I had to give Caltech a chance. If I was rejected, so be it — at least I tried. Looking back, I'm forever grateful to the past Joel who submitted the application three days prior to the deadline," he told SAYS.

Joel, who studied at SMK Batu Lintang, Kuching, is currently in his final year of A-Levels at Kolej Yayasan UEM in Lembah Beringin, Selangor

Speaking about what drew him to Caltech, Joel shared that he loves the university's tight-knit community, where students are passionate about research but also have time for "fun and pranks".

"I saw myself in Caltech because I felt I could resonate with their community, and the student body was a perfect embodiment of my personality — passionate but rebellious," said the Shell scholarship recipient.

According to Joel, he plans to pursue chemical engineering in the future, as it intersects with other fields such as chemistry, biology, physics, and artificial intelligence, which he's passionate about.

"I'm also planning to explore niche courses like Astrophysics and Geology and Planetary Science, where I can actually work on samples at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA," he said.

This fascination with various scientific fields fuels Joel's ultimate goal: to make a positive impact on the planet. He aspires to create breakthroughs in nanotechnology, contributing to the global transition towards a greener Earth with net-zero emissions.

While his future includes serving his bond with Shell Malaysia after graduation, he intends to pursue his postgraduate studies afterwards, offering a chance to delve deeper into his chosen field.

"I'll just take things one step at a time," Joel said, reflecting his grounded yet ambitious approach.

Joel also acknowledges the inherent challenges that East Malaysian students face compared to their peers in West Malaysia

"As much as I hate to say it, East Malaysian students often get the shorter end of the stick compared to our peers in West Malaysia," he said, adding that limited access to opportunities and resources is a stark reality.

"For example, national level competitions are often held physically in West Malaysia and the geographical distance poses a barrier for the East Malaysian students, as flight tickets get more and more expensive," he noted while highlighting that the public school curriculum, geared towards the Malaysian education system, requires adjustments to align with the international standards preferred by universities abroad.

"Hence, we have to make certain adjustments and get used to the international curriculum," he said, adding that being self-aware and seeking out opportunities allowed him to overcome these obstacles.

According to him, he reached out to seniors and professionals for guidance, which became a key factor in turning his dreams into reality.

Joel's story serves as a powerful message for students in Malaysia, especially those from East Malaysia and public schools

His advice is clear: "Never give up on your dreams and never believe anyone who tells you you can't do it."

He urges students aiming for top universities abroad to be proactive — "go the extra mile, seek more opportunities, and continue to dream big."

Instead of seeing their background as a limitation, Joel emphasises using it as a strength.

"Nothing is impossible, and sometimes, even your most delusional dreams can come true!"

Joel with his schoolmates.

Image via Provided to SAYS

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