Engineering a global life
The title of Dato Lee Yee Cheong's recently-published autobiography neatly summarises a truly noble life: 'Think Malaysian, Act Global'.
The career of Dato Lee, one of the University of Adelaide's most distinguished Malaysian alumni, spans more than 50 years in the fields of engineering, science and technology.
Arriving in Adelaide in 1956 to study Electrical Engineering, Dato Lee was among the first Colombo Plan scholars to study at the University.
He stayed in the Kensington Park home of a Mrs Clarke with fellow Malaysian, Colombo Plan scholar and Engineering student Chris Chow Pang Chong - the pair have remained business partners and friends ever since - and they took little time to throw themselves into life in a new country.
Among the highlights were being the only two Asian students to volunteer to travel to Barmera to help locals deal with the epic 1956 River Murrary floods, and a trip to the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.
"The organisers called for volunteers to act as interpreters for the Chinese team," he said.
"Chris Chong and I volunteered and headed over. Of course, the Hungarian uprising meant that the Chinese team pulled out. So Chris and I had tickets to the opening and closing ceremonies, and all this free time to watch a lot of the events. It's why I say there's always some good in volunteering - it's not just about the hard work!"
Dato Lee's years in Adelaide as a young man forged not only his career path, but also his sense of wanting to contribute at a global level.
"It was here that I became an internationalist," he said. "I was exposed to many different nationalities, I mixed with other Malayans, and then other Asians, Australians and other nationalities.
"The seed was planted when I was at the University of Adelaide."
After graduating in 1961, Dato Lee has worked in the fields of engineering, science and technology across many continents, including numerous high-level positions with government, industry and the United Nations.
His current position is Chairman, Governing Board, International Science Technology and Innovation Centre for South-South Cooperation under the auspices of UNESCO, Kuala Lumpur (ISTIC). He vigorously promotes basic engineering infrastructure as the prerequisite for economic and social development in developing countries in Africa.
He has been recognised for his contribution by being awarded the Malaysian state awards of DPMP and KMN, and appointed an Honorary Officer of the Order of Australia (AO).
In August this year, he returned to the University of Adelaide to give a free lecture titled 'Whither Science, Engineering and Technology?'.
"Being able to study in Australia and at the University of Adelaide under the Colombo Plan was something I am always thankful for - I have always felt a debt of gratitude for the opportunity that I was given," he said.
"I was happy to come back to Adelaide to talk to a new generation of engineers and scientists about the challenges that affect everyone and particularly the developing world.
"It is things like global climate change and global poverty; population growth and the West's reliance on consumption.
"How do we tackle these things? The answer starts with education, with places like universities teaching young people to think critically and openly while at the same time giving them a global view."
story by Ben Osborne