DUNN, N.C. - Tan Chik Heok, principal and CEO of Tunku Abdul Rahman College in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, received a plaque bearing the key to the city of Dunn on Friday, Dec. 14. What does he plan to do with it? Mount it in a gallery on TAR College’s main campus where every student, staff member and visitor can see it.
Why? “I want everyone to see the relationship we have with Campbell University and now with [Dunn],” said Tan, who’ll deliver the commencement address at Campbell’s 2012 winter graduation ceremony on Saturday.
Campbell has partnered with TAR College to offer a Bachelor of Science degree since 1979, graduating as many as 13,000 people over the past 33 years. The degree program enrolls about 900 students each year. More than 25,000 total students attend TAR College, which has six campuses. Tan has headed the college since 2008.
“Receiving the key to the city is a great honor to me, and it’s a great honor to the entire college,” Tan said. “Our graduates of the Campbell program will be very proud to even know that one of their fellow alumni is a mayor.”
Dunn Mayor Oscar N. Harris, a 1965 graduate of Campbell, presented Tan with the plaque bearing the key in front of the city’s municipal building. The plaque was engraved with white lettering, noting Tan was being presented with the key “in honor of [his] visit to Dunn, NC/ The gateway to Campbell University.”
Harris added that the key represents the importance of the relationship between the city of Dunn and Campbell and by extension TAR College. “The world is getting smaller, and the relationships we have with one another is the key to living in a great environment that promotes peace and tranquility,” said Harris, who is president of CPA firm Oscar N. Harris & Associates and chair of the Campbell University School of Osteopathic Medicine’s founding committee. “The best way to have that worldwide is through education.”
Tan, who’ll also receive an honorary degree from Campbell on Saturday, spoke to Campbell.edu about the partnership between Campbell and TAR College, how he became interested in physics and what he has learned during his career. The following is an edited transcript.
Why is the relationship with Campbell important to TAR College?
[The partnership] started right after the independence of Malaysia when we only had one university and that one university was not able to cater to the number of students who wanted to pursue higher education. It was Campbell that came along to help us provide opportunities for students to obtain a higher degree. Over 33 years of collaboration, we’ve produced almost 13,000 alumni, and they are now all over the world. You can find them working in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, all over the Pacific Rim. And they are welcomed by all the employers. The Campbell name spreads to all over the world.
Why has the relationship been sustainable and successful for 33 years?
We work closely, and we try to understand each other’s needs. We talk about why we do things this way and not this other way. We always work things out. We have collaborations with other institutions, but sometimes they look for the angle on who is the winning side and who gained the most. That becomes very difficult. With Campbell, 33 years, that has proven we work very closely together. Campbell has been very friendly to us.
What would you like to see happen with the partnership between the two schools?
I would like to have students from Campbell come visit TAR College -- some study-abroad program where students here would be able to spend time [in Malaysia]. We try to encourage students in Kuala Lumpu to study at Campbell. In this globalized world, internationalization is one of the main factors of graduates finding jobs. Today, there are many multinational companies, where graduates will need to work across multiple countries. They’ll need study-abroad experiences. We have a program in which about 1,000 students study abroad for three months, a lot of times in the U.K. We have found that to be very, very successful.
What do you want the Campbell community here to know about TAR College?
I hope that they know that this program between Campbell and TAR College has been very successful; and through it, Campbell has helped the lives of many young people in Malaysia.
Before you became an administrator, you taught physics and specialized in the field of laser technology. How do you become interested in physics?
When I was young, I was very fascinated with science, especially physics. I liked philosophy of science and I wanted to become a professor at a university. At the same time, I liked to teach. I find it is so fulfilling when you see a student mature and grow and become successful in life. I have many of my students still come to me and even see me like a father. That is something you can’t buy.
You have a bachelor’s, a master’s and a Ph.D. in science. How did that educational background prepare you to lead a college?
I’m trained in scientific thinking. People talk a lot about creative thinking, which is basically scientific thinking. It trained you to be analytical. With physics, it makes me always look at things differently. I always want to know: How does something happen, and why? And if possible, if I can figure that out, I can come up with a formula or a theory. That is how I look at management. I look at the problem and I see if there is something underneath that I can come up with a theory for. I found it worked really well.
As you look back on your career, what are you most proud of?
In 2002, I was transferred to set up the University of Tunku Abdul Rahman. We started from scratch with 411 students, and within six years we were up to 11,000 students. To build a university from scratch -- that was the toughest time in my career. Today, it has about 20,000 students. At TAR College, after four years as a principal, I’m very proud that we have moved the college in the right direction. I think the staff and students are very positive. I’ve also wanted the students to become very entrepreneurial. So, I set up funds to fund their participation in competitions and to provide staff and resource support. And we have won many, many awards. Cisco sponsors a national and international competition each year; and for the past three years, we’ve been first or second place in it. Last year, we won first, second and third place.
What do you share with your staff at TAR College about what you have learned during your career?
When I was teaching, I especially paid attention to students at the bottom of the class, because they are the students who need help. The students at the top don’t need much help; they just need praise, and they’ll work. The students at the bottom need help, and I spent a lot of time with them. I always tell my staff you must always pay attention to students at the bottom. Look out for them, and they will remember you for life. I think that’s why our university works very well. We have a lot of alumni who come back and support the college because we have focused on that.
Photo caption: Tan Chik Heok, principal and CEO of Tunku Abdul Rahman College, receives to the key to the city of Dunn from Mayor Oscar N. Harris '65 on Friday, Dec. 14. Left to right: John Roberson '80, Campbell's vice president for enrollment management and assistant to the president; Soo Boon Ng, Tan's wife; Tan; Harris; and Dwaine Greene '79, Campbell's vice president for academic affairs and provost.
Article by Cherry Crayton, digital content coordinator