Education opens doors to a better life

Education opens doors to a better life

NAIT alum remembers early struggles as a student with donation to bursaries

Just imagine working evenings and weekends in an illegally run commercial laundry mat, Bob Hiew (Electrical Engineering Technology ’73) tells a packed room of about 200 NAIT scholarship recipients and donors.

That was Hiew's first job when he came to Canada from Malaysia in 1970 to study at NAIT. His uncle, who immigrated earlier and worked in Fort McMurray sponsored him and was able to help pay tuition. But with a family of his own to support, Hiew was on his own from there.

“I knew, with absolute conviction, that the only for way for me to get out of life’s daily struggles and to a better life, was a NAIT diploma.”

His father was back in Malaysia – the sole breadwinner in a family of 8 – and he couldn’t afford to send money. So during that first year in Edmonton, Hiew found part-time work in that shady laundry mat where he risked his life just to earn a living.

“There was water all over the place, exposed electrical wires dangling overhead,” says Hiew, during his speech at the polytechnic’s 5th Annual Scholarships and Bursaries Celebration this past spring. “I worked under the constant fear that I would be electrocuted if one of the exposed wires fell and made contact with the washing machines or the wet floor.”

Hiew also delivered Chinese food in the cold, driving the restaurant’s beat-up Volkswagen Beetle – with its bald tires, broken headlights and shoddy heater – in the dead of Alberta winter.

“Quitting NAIT was not an option for me,” he remembers. “I knew, with absolute conviction, that the only for way for me to get out of life’s daily struggles and to a better life, was a NAIT diploma.”

Lifelong learning leads to more opportunities

Thankfully, Hiew's story gets better.

The summer going into his second year, Hiew landed a position as a lineman assistant with Calgary power company TransAlta. The following year, he sold encyclopedias – when he met his wife, Wendy, who was studying at NAIT in the Business Administration Accounting program.

After graduating, Hiew took on positions with telecommunications company AGT (now Telus), including emergency power systems and software engineering. He benefitted from strong mentorship that wisely told him that to advance, he needed to build on his skills.

After four years of taking online and summer courses, he earned a bachelor’s degree. “If you focus on what you want, if you’re disciplined, you can get it all done,” says Hiew.

For several years, he was promoted to take on senior management and executive positions within telecommunications and health care, and also worked at NAIT for a stint until his retirement in 2012.

Encouraging others to learn and contribute

Realizing the impact NAIT has had on his career and wanting to encourage international students to continue pursuing lifelong education, Hiew returned to NAIT again, this time as a mentor. He encouraged students to seize opportunity, continue learning and get involved in the community.

That’s when he starting thinking about other ways he could support students.

“Now that I am in a good financial position to contribute, I want to help students who are struggling financially.”

In 2018, the Hiews established a bursary for second-year students enrolled in a full-time program. He has also convinced two of his fellow classmates to do the same – and often urges other donors to appeal to friends and families.

Thinking about just how far he’s come, Hiew is altruistic about his decision to support post-secondary students. “Education allows you to get in through the door and live a better life.”

Published on May 28, 2018