Undergraduate wins postgraduate prize

Shiona Mackenzie

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Golden trophy in hand, Francis Kwong, BSc (Hons) from the Department of Computer Science (CS), grinned from ear to ear as he stood before the photographers. On 27 July, his four years of enthusiastic study cumulated in a surprising feat — winning First Runner-up at the Institution of Electrical Engineers Hong Kong (IEE) Young Members Section (YMS) Contest 2003.

It was an astonishing achievement for the undergraduate student. At first, having visited the IEE YMS website, Kwong felt confident enough in his research and writing to enter the contest — confident enough to compete against other undergraduates, that is. When he learned that his paper, a summary of his Final Year Project on the Semantic Web (a new generation of the World Wide Web), had been evaluated and accepted in the Postgraduate group of the YMS Contest, Kwong contacted Contest Coordinator Mr Eric Lo, to set things straight. It was too late. Kwong was immediately doubtful-did he stand a chance as the only undergraduate contestant in the group? Reassuringly, Mr Lo told him to stick with it, and Kwong, not a quitter by nature, decided he might as well see how it went. The next thing he knew, he was standing beside two CityU postgraduates Mr Liu Yang Fan and Mr Yum Tsz Yin, the YMS Contest Champions.

Since he was 12 years old, Francis Kwong had been crazy about computers. He asked his parents and they agreed to purchase one, although it was a lavish expenditure on a boy who just wanted to play computer games, provided he didn't neglect his studies. However, Kwong quickly made computer languages and programming his main area of study, and he eventually entered CityU in 1999 to major in Computer Studies. Kwong became a top student, overcoming difficulties he encountered in mathematics by conferring with fellow students and consulting his lecturers, such as CS Associate Professor Miss Florence Mong. "She helped me to survive in university," Kwong says. "She answered my questions with leading questions in return, and I was guided through thinking my way to the answers."

Discover abilities by trying new things
Kwong's motivation is very much self-generated, according to CS Associate Professor Dr Andy Chun: "Rather than simply following instructions, Francis takes initiatives and does a lot of independent research." Last year, Kwong was among a handful of students CS selected to participate in a two-week summer trip to Australia, visiting various universities and reporting on their programmes upon his return. He felt no fear at the prospect of studying "down under" — Kwong's English skills scored high in the computer-based Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL): 270 out of 300; 7.5 out of 9 in the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

In September 2002, when he was looking for a suitable topic for his Final Year Project, Kwong was introduced to the concept of the Semantic Web by Mr Chris Lai, Supervisor of his summer internship at CLP Power. "Value-added activities like learning outside the classroom have been very worthwhile for me," Kwong says, "and that's what made me love the Computer Science department at CityU. The academic staff was always supportive and caring, and encouraged me to explore a number of different opportunities." His trophy, now in a display case at home, is testimony to that.

With little more than a mild concern about the weather, 23 year-old Kwong is excited about pursuing his PhD at the University of Manchester, starting September. "My parents always wanted me to grow up to be independent and experience living overseas, but they were nervous when I told them I'd need thousands of pounds to study in the UK," Kwong laughs. More good news? He has received two scholarships that will cover just about everything except his airline ticket.

 

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