SOTY 2018: Massachusetts Institute of Technology opens new horizons for Grand Prize and Scientist & Mathematician double winner

College life in the US is both a challenge and a dream come true for this former Diocesan Boys' School student

Joanne Ma |

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Sean Mann, Hong Kong’s 2019 Student of the Year Scientist & Mathematician and Grand Prize winner is now experiencing college life as a freshman in the US, where he is pursuing his dreams and making friends with like minded students.

Sean Mann, who won both the Grand Prize and Scientist & Mathematician Student of the Year Awards in May, is now continuing his education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US. The former Diocesan Boys’ School student shares his experiences and life as a college freshman with Young Post.

Most of the classes he now takes are in mechanical engineering and computer science. As a robotics enthusiast, the 18-year-old has already won several awards for his innovations, but he says his computer science studies are new and exciting. Although he’s still adapting to life at MIT, he describes his new university experience as a dream environment with many like-minded students who are passionate and gifted in STEM subjects.

“Back home, it was sometimes quite tough to find friends with similar interests, but that’s not a problem here,” he says.

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Sean says winning the two awards in May confirmed his decision to pursue these subjects. “I definitely did not imagine getting this kind of recognition back when I first started robotics. It was a great way to finish the hectic six years [of secondary school], and it kick-started my college life.”

Compared with secondary school, Sean finds his new study environment more fast-paced. “There is more work to do, but inevitably I am learning at a much faster rate, which is great,” He’s noticed that everyone at MIT has a huge drive to learn, and a high level of self-discipline. Many students are involved in clubs or research, and seem to have unlimited energy and time.

Right now, Sean is part of MIT’s solar electric vehicle team. As a former captain of his high school robotics team, Sean says he’s used to the feeling of working with his peers towards a common goal.

Sean found there was more freedom to pursue his own interests in university..
Photo: Sean Mann

At MIT, he’s working on optimising racing strategies for solar electric vehicles, which he says is very cool and rewarding, in addition to being relevant to his classes.

One cultural shock that Sean encountered is that very popular university pastime – parties and festivities. “Partying is not really my thing – fortunately I managed to find similar friends,” he adds.

Through his new friendships, Sean has also learned about the differences between the US and Hong Kong education systems. He says students in the US generally have more freedom to pursue their own interests in secondary school. In particular, they are able to decide what courses they want to do every term. He says they don’t have the “exam mentality” of Hong Kong students, and would even feel bored if they didn’t have other interests outside of school work.

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Sean thinks the US education system does a great job of providing opportunities for high school students to get a taste of Stem, and bridges industry experience and education quite well. He points out that some big tech company organise events for high school students. “This kind of exposure means students mature quite quickly and have a good understanding and commitment towards their area of interest,” Sean adds.

When Sean last spoke to Young Post, he said it was important for students to keep an open mind to be innovative, as staying in our comfort zone doesn’t help creativity.

Now, being at MIT has added another perspective. “We also need to develop a deep understanding of the subject matter. Without understanding, there can be no innovation,” Sean says. “Hopefully I can develop both dimensions to the fullest over the next four years of college.”

To those aspiring to win the Student of the Year award, Sean gives the following advice: “Commit your time to an area you are passionate about. I’d never thought about getting any awards. I only worked hard so I could continue doing what I like.”

The Student of the Year Awards competition is organised by the SCMP and Young Post and sponsored by the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

Edited by Ingrid Piper