Finding happiness in the smallest bits and bytes

"Appreciating every day makes a year 365 times better."

UBC Engineering grad Michael Ko smiles for the camera while sitting next to a window overlooking a view from Iceland
Michael on his trip to Iceland.

Michael Ko

  • Degree: Bachelor of Applied Science
  • Grad year: 2022
  • Program: Engineering Physics
  • Campus: Vancouver

As a child, I always found myself tinkering with tools and devices around the house. Mostly to fix things that were broken, but there were also the rare occasions where I wanted to let my imagination run and see where it could lead. The idea of creating something novel and new always fascinated me, and many years later I find myself graduating from the Engineering Physics program at UBC.

Throughout the past six years in the program, I’ve been fortunate to be at the intersection between academia and technology. From learning the basics of control theory to building autonomous robots, and from working on localization algorithms in the human heart to giving a TEDx talk about my dreams for the assistive technology field, my journey at UBC has been a transformative experience defined by many small moments coming together to shape the person I am today.

Why did you choose to go into your field of study at UBC?

Growing up, I’ve always had the desire to help those around me. I come from a family where my elder brother has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a condition that progressively weakens the muscles in his body. Throughout my childhood, it was difficult seeing the challenges he faced, but I was also encouraged by technology which improved the quality of my brother’s life. This instilled within me a deep sense of gratefulness and motivated me to become a person who could create a similar, meaningful impact on others in our world. Naturally, I was led to pursue engineering, where I’ve since had the opportunity to explore my love for math and physics coupled with leading-edge technology through Engineering Physics.

What has made your time at UBC memorable?

Without a doubt, the people that I’ve met throughout my degree and program have made the most significant impact on me during my time at UBC. The people we surround ourselves with have a big influence on who we become, and I’m glad to be graduating with those who I’ve developed life-long friendships with. Looking back, I remember the small moments my friends and I shared, such as our “1 AM McDonald’s study breaks” (no further studying was done afterwards) and celebrating the end of our first round of final exams together. But I also remember our late-night conversations and how we encouraged one another through our studies, and it's because of them that I'm able to write my graduation story here today.

I’ll also remember UBC as a place where dreams can come true. During my undergraduate studies, I was able to develop a voice-controlled wheelchair for my elder brother, who at the time could no longer use his hands. Seeing my brother regain a part of his life, along with being able to share this moment with family, friends, and the wider community remains one of the most meaningful memories I’ve made during my degree. I would like to especially thank Lou Corpuz-Bosshart and Thomas Horacek for their support and encouragement throughout this endeavour.

Tell us about your experience in your program. What have you learned that is most valuable?

A personal highlight from the program would have to be the capstone projects – often placed near the end of our degree. These are opportunities for engineering students to dip our feet in real-world research projects and apply our education in a practical manner. I worked on two such projects, one which involved designing a low-noise amplifier circuit placed in the presence of a strong magnetic field, and the other based around simulating various cancer scanners and quantifying their effectiveness using machine learning. Although both projects might sound complex, I learned that the key to solving these challenges boiled down to a strong understanding of basic principles. Many engineering problems in the world are difficult and, in some cases, a simple solution may not even exist. But having a clear grasp of engineering fundamentals allows you to set a firm foundation in approaching any challenge.

What advice would you give a student entering your degree program?

Be adventurous. Learn. Try new things. But, most importantly, remember to enjoy life along the way. The years you’ll spend in university are quite unique, and every moment has something valuable to offer. Finally, seek to use your degree and education to make the world a better place. In the grand scheme of the universe, we’re all but a bunch of cells on a random rock floating in space – but knowing that every one of us has the potential to positively impact the lives around us is what I believe makes life so special.

Where do you find your inspiration for using your degree to make an impact on our world?

I’m thankful for my brother Daniel, who continues to show me every day what happiness in the smallest things of life looks like. He’s always been, and will always be, my inspiration.

UBC Engineering grad Michael Ko smiles for the camera alongside his brother Daniel and a LEGO Stormtrooper figurine.
Michael and Daniel doing their favourite hobby - building LEGO.

What are some contributions you would like to make when it comes to the future of work in your field?

As I graduate from UBC and move into the next chapter of my life, I’d like to pursue a future in the biotechnology field and specifically, contribute toward the integration of technology and medicine. Through my previous internships and projects, I’ve been able to get a glimpse of the possibilities that lie within this field, and I'm determined to contribute to making them a reality for those in our world. Thanks for all the memories UBC; Tuum Est!

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