A native of Singapore, Kristin Quah has excelled at Vanderbilt as a member of the national champion bowling team and as an engineering student. She’ll attend graduate school at Stanford next year on the prestigious Knight-Hennessy Fellowship. And she’ll keep working jigsaw puzzles.
The bowling community in Singapore has grown a lot in the last 10 years. We have a really good women’s bowling team that has been doing well in the world championships.
The fact that our bowling team often gets in the newspaper has generated interest in the sport in Singapore. My mom now runs a bowling school there.
When I started bowling, she liked how it helped me grow as a person, how it helped me develop communications skills and learn how to work with other people. I used to be very shy.
She said she wished she could do that for other kids, so she talked to the coach I was working with and a friend who was a businessman and the three of them came together and started this little bowling school. The idea is to impart good life skills to kids through bowling.
I was born four weeks premature, and when I was two or three weeks old, I turned blue with a respiratory virus. From then on, my parents really wanted my brother and I to stay healthy. Every year, they made both of us try a new sport. We did sailing, swimming, golf, tennis, every sport you can think of. My brother started bowling one year as a club sport at his school and he said I think you’d really like this.
I hate losing to my brother. We’d go out to bowl as a family and I’d lose to him. He’s two years older. I told my mom I didn’t want to lose anymore. So, 7-year-old me was trying to find a coach.
When I was looking at universities. I could have stayed in Singapore. We have fantastic universities. But the catch is, school in Singapore is ridiculously hard.
I was a straight-C student back home and then had a 4.0 grade-point average my first two semesters at Vanderbilt.
I took a test one time and the answer to a question was “movements” and the answer I gave was “moves.” And they gave me zero points. They were always looking for an exact answer. It was all about memorization. I enjoy learning, not just regurgitation.
Both of my parents went to school in the U.S. My mom went to UCLA, my dad went to the University of Wisconsin. They both told me they thought I’d really like the education system in the U.S., but at the same time we couldn’t afford for me to come to college here because you don’t get financial aid as an international student. So, the idea was to look for a scholarship opportunity. That’s when I was a straight-C student, so bowling was the only way I could get a scholarship.
I wanted to find a good education program as well as good bowling and Vanderbilt just fit. I emailed Coach and he liked what he saw.
They flew to Hong Kong to watch me bowl in a World Youth event. They actually got [teammate] Emily Rigney from Australia on that same trip.
I lost about 10 or 15 pounds my freshman year because I wasn’t used to the food. That was a big change for me. I’m slowly growing used to the food here.
I was accustomed to a lot of Chinese noodles and soups that are more broth-based than creamy. Food is served family style and you pick and choose what you want. It was weird getting a lot of one thing in front of you.
My schoolwork has always been a priority. As much as I didn’t do well in school at home, I did spend a lot of time on it. That never really changed when I got here.
I’m double majoring in biomedical engineering and electrical engineering. Biomedical engineering is a fantastic major where you get a little taste of a lot of different kinds of engineering. Having the double major gives me a nice concentration.
I do research on MRI temperature imaging. A lot of people don’t realize you can get temperature maps from an MRI scan.
They are starting to develop non-invasive surgical methods where they use heat to destroy tissue non-invasively for things like brain tumors and prostate cancer. But you need to be able to see where the focus of the heat is in order to destroy the right tissue. The scans right now are not fast enough, so part of my research is to try to improve the coverage and speed of the scans.
I’m working on a paper to publish in a journal. I presented at a conference in Atlanta in October and I’m presenting again in Montreal in May.
The national championship experience, I still don’t know if it has sunk in. It’s kind of unreal. Every year you work so hard for it. It’s something that we always talk about going through the season, but for it to actually happen is unbelievable. I don’t know if I have words to describe it.
Bowling has been such a large part of my life for so long. Having the chance to experience that with my team was so gratifying.
I’m happy I made the decision to come here. It hasn’t always been easy and there have been a lot of tough times, but the people I’ve met, the opportunities I’ve been given, being able to find something I love other than bowling, being able to be a part of a team and with these other girls, these will be friends and memories I’ll have for a very long time.
I really like jigsaw puzzles with thousands of pieces. There are a few others on the team who also enjoy it. Or we play board games. I’m a self-proclaimed nerd.
Before I go to bed every night, I give myself an hour or so away from work. It helps me stay sane. I work on a puzzle or watch some TV or read something.
I’m working on a fun biomedical engineering senior design project for a 12-year-old girl who has a disease sort of like Tourette’s. She does a figure-eight motion with her neck without realizing it, and she gets bullied in school for it. If you tell her she’s doing it, she can stop, so we’re trying to make a headband that gives her an alert.
Interviewed by Andrew Maraniss