Pandemic upended plans, but Kok persevered to earn a master's degree

· 6 min read

Pandemic upended plans, but Kok persevered to earn a master’s degree

Courtesy photo // Xin May Kok— an integrated media communications graduate student from Banting, Selangor, Malaysia — poses for a photo on benches near Canfield.
Xin May Kok, an integrated media communications graduate student from Banting, Selangor, Malaysia,  poses for a photo near Canfield.

Editor’s Note — This is part of a student conversation series featured on the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Medium page. The series highlights Huskers who are making positive impacts on campus, in their outreach work, and career paths.

Xin May Kok, an integrated media communications Husker from Banting, Selangor, Malaysia, received a Master of Arts during the graduate commencement on May 17. She returned to secure the advanced degree after earning a bachelor’s at UNL. As a graduate student, she continues to expand her impact on campus and beyond.

As an undergrad, you were really involved. Do you feel these involvements prepared you for post-grad life? Is there anything you have your sights set on after graduating?

Yes, definitely! It’s interesting that I used to not see the value of these involvements. But looking back now, while some may not be directly related to what I am doing now, I don’t think I would get to where I am without these processes.

I didn’t have my sights set on anything when graduating for my undergrad, just mostly what other post-grad students had: finding a job that they’ve been studying for.

When I graduated in fall 2019, the ensuing COVID-19 pandemic outbreak made the job market very challenging. This led me to take a year off, a decision I don’t regret because it was during this time that I reconnected with my passion for design and creativity. I decided to pursue my master’s degree in integrated media communications.

During that time, I found UNL fit my situation well at that time. So, I decided to come back to Nebraska. Anything I have my sights set on after graduating for my master’s degree? I would say same thing from my post-undergrad approach: to find a job. I am particularly interested in tech companies. I believe they will better appreciate and utilize my skills in product design (UX/UI Design) compared to other environments.

As an undergrad, you welcomed new international students to campus through NSE. Why was this work important for you?

I feel like being able to study abroad is a privilege, whether it is a family’s wealth and support, scholarships or any other reasons. Then, making that decision to live in a completely different country and environment — that is a huge step for stepping outside of a comfort zone. As an international student myself, I understand these transitions could be emotionally challenging, and sometimes physically challenging. While being a Welcome Team Member might seem small, it was meaningful to me. If I could play even a small role in easing this transition for others, helping them feel welcomed and comfortable enough to succeed in their studies, then that’s all that matters.

You built an app prototype that would encourage restaurants in Lincoln to reduce food waste. Can you talk more about it?

My interest in reducing food waste began while I was assisting at some friends’ restaurants. I noticed at the end of almost every single day, I would have a pack of food. Sometimes I would give it to my friends because of these excess amounts of unsold food. And then I saw a TikTok about a guy who was fired for donating unsold donuts. I realized that many food distributors have been tossing out food, mostly because of rules and regulations.

I’m aware that homelessness and food insecurity are widespread issues, not just in Nebraska, but also in major cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco where I was traveling. My research has also shown that even here in Lincoln, many families face difficulties in securing enough food. Many of us are fortunate enough not to experience these challenges and may not be fully aware of their extent. Given my focus on product design, also known as UX/UI, I decided to apply my skills to address the issue of food waste within food establishments and food insecurity, starting within our local community. I hope my efforts will make a positive impact. I am also open to others adopting, adapting or collaborating on my ideas. I believe that by working together, we can enhance our ability to tackle these community challenges more effectively.

How has Jacht and the hands-on experience it offers advanced your skills/learning outside of the classroom?

Jacht has not only allowed me to apply my hard skills to real client projects, but it has also helped me develop important soft skills, such as how to respectfully decline client requests while maintaining professionalism. Additionally, Jacht has significantly enhanced my learning beyond the classroom. While I wouldn’t claim to be a top-tier designer, I’ve learned that even we can create the best design in the world; I also learned to communicate, convince or explain design decisions to those responsible for approving the design. Most of the time clients and stakeholders are the ones to approve the design. If those aren’t approved, your work and your design won’t see the light of day.

Is there anything you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?

For now, I’m focusing on the typical goals  —  finding a career I love, buying a house, and establishing a stable life. In the long term, I aim for financial freedom, where buying a car or traveling isn’t a major financial burden. I even aspire to be the first millionaire in my family. I know it might sound delusional, but hey, sometimes, aiming high is exactly what you need to do. It is the solution.

What or who inspires you?

I find inspiration in most people and events around me. I know it’s weird and funny, but I believe that everyone I meet and everything that happens to me has something to teach me, whether positive or negative. Because these experiences have shaped who I am today, I’m thankful for them. If I had to choose specific individuals who inspire me, it would be my dad and my sister. My sister has always been a guide in my life, but especially my dad. Seeing his success inspires me to be like him one day.

What is your advice to other students looking to make an impact on campus?

I’d say if you’re thinking about making an impact on campus, go for it! Start exploring your options and take that first step. Even if it’s a small contribution, just get started. Don’t wait for the perfect moment because that is just an excuse and that can delay you from taking the first step. Of course, whatever the outcome, good or bad, the important thing is to enjoy the journey and live in that moment. Because those moments won’t come back, might as well make the most of them.

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