For the first time, a young Semai woman has been admitted into a degree program at the Gambang campus of the Universiti Malaysia Pahang. Her village, Pos Celanak in the Cameron Highlands, is thrilled. According to a news story in the New Straits Times last week, Maslinda Samad is also the first Semai “girl” to be accepted into an engineering program at the university level.

The newspaper article pictures her surrounded by numerous family members while she talks with the university vice-chancellor during her arrival day last Tuesday. Apparently her father, six siblings, and 13 others from her village accompanied her to Gambang to enroll in her degree program.

“I’m here carrying the hopes of more than 200 villagers in my settlement, who were very excited to learn that I have been accepted by a university,” she told the newspaper. She had applied to the university two years earlier but had failed to earn a place with the entrance examinations. She studied hard and sat for another exam which qualified her for admission to the university, the only one in the state of Pahang.

Maslinda is looking forward to the experience of life on the campus, which will be very different from her home village. During semester breaks when she returns home, she plans to teach the children in her settlement. She told the New Straits Times that she was determined to prove that young Orang Asli people could excel.

The new student and her crowd of supporters attracted a lot of attention, including that of the vice-chancellor, as they toured the campus on Tuesday.