Young Australian of the Year, Marita Cheng, receives her award from Australian prime minister Julia Gillard. (Provided to China Daily)
When Marita Cheng was a baby, her mother must have had many dreams and hopes for her little girl, but she probably never imagined that her daughter would become Young Australian of the Year, an award Cheng won this year in January.
Cheng, 23, is the first Chinese-Australian woman to be honored with the title, for her achievement in founding Robogals Global, an organization that promotes robotic engineering and technology among girls and women.
Four years before Cheng was born, her parents had moved to Cairns from Hong Kong. A month after she was born, her parents divorced, leaving Cheng and her 3-year-old brother in the hands of her mother.
Though she grew up in public housing, Cheng attributes her success to her mother's belief in education.
"She worked seven-day weeks, first as a kitchen-hand and then as a room cleaner at the Hilton Hotel in order to ensure that my brother and I got the best education she could afford," Cheng said in a speech to students at the Guangdong University of Technology early December.
"We went to Catholic schools, took piano lessons, Japanese lessons, maths, and even basketball, soccer and swimming," she says. "In return, we were expected to work hard, so that all her efforts were not in vain."
Cheng's talent in engineering may be chased back to her primary school years, when her mother made her "practice and practice maths" until she became really good at it. "Because I was really good at it, I really enjoyed it."
But it was Cheng herself who found the path to engineering.
"While in high school, I read my brother's old editions of Time magazine and was inspired by the Google guys," she says. "I thought it was amazing that technology could change the lives of so many people - and that it was created by two guys when they were in their 20s."
Her mother thought she should study medicine because it would lead to a prestigious, stable and well-paying job. So after she finished 12th grade, Cheng went to Melbourne for an interview for the medicine course at Monash University.
At the interview Cheng was asked "John's parents wanted him to study law, but he wanted to study history. What should John do?"