No matter the situation, Nicole Sum, ’21, always gives it her all, whether in the classroom at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Business or on the field as a professional Ultimate Frisbee player. Her competitive drive challenged her to work hard, but it was learning from her failures that pushed her to new heights at Nebraska.
“Success to me comes with failure, and I have failed many times in many ways in my life. It can come from academics, friendships, relationships or a work standpoint. I believe once someone finds their drive for success, their overall self improves drastically,” said Sum, who earned a bachelor's degree in supply chain management this spring.
While growing up in Malaysia, Sum thrived in track and field, specifically the 100-meter dash and the 400-meter hurdles. However, before earning gold medals, she struggled to break into the top three at meets, which pushed her to work even harder.
“I saw that as an opportunity to either keep training and try again the next year or just call it quits and give myself all the excuses in the world saying that I wouldn’t be good enough anyways,” she said. “With the help of friends, family and my own determination I continued to train every year and consistently received gold medals for both events all the way up to the end of high school.”
Beyond track and field, Sum also did cross country, gymnastics and ballet – eventually leading to a career in Ultimate Frisbee after learning about the sport from a friend. Her athletic abilities and dedication to practice led her to compete as a player for Minnesota’s Strike Ultimate, a women’s team in the Premier Ultimate League (PUL).
“I’d bring a disc everywhere I go – shopping, going out to the city, on a walk, a vacation and to college. I’d always be prepared to get out the disc and start tossing with friends to get some practice in. I took the extra step finding and joining every university, club and league team I could find so that I could train with them whenever they had practice,” said Sum, who also plays for the CLX, a club team based out of Des Moines.
Athletics and academics take the same grit. While athletics seemed almost innate to Sum, she admits academics were never her strong suit, though her twin sister, Joevy Sum, ’21, excelled in academics, graduating from Nebraska summa cum laude with a degree in biological sciences this May. Joevy consistently placed in the top-tier in academics while Nicole often found herself closer to the bottom. The constant comparison between them sparked Nicole’s competitive nature, driving her to view her studies differently and look beyond life after school.
“I have always compared and been compared to Joevy for my grades from the teachers, parents and friends. It was definitely a difficult transition for me to get ‘good grades’ from then to now,” she said. “In Malaysia we have two major exams, the Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) and the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM). Before taking my PMR exam, it hit me wondering what I would do after high school and college. Realizing how important academics were, I turned on a switch inside of me and decided to change my lifestyle.”
Through small, incremental changes, like wearing a watch to arrive on time more often and learning how to say no to friends when she needed to study, Nicole gradually began to improve her academic standing. Her commitment to her education paid off as she earned a spot on the College of Business Dean’s List for both the 2020 spring and fall semesters.
“Slowly, with all these little minor changes throughout the years, small habits translated into major engrained discipline changes in my lifestyle still today. It is a big achievement for me to be a part of the College of Business Dean’s List because it is a reflection for all the hard work that I have put in to work on my academics for seven years,” said Nicole.
Joevy’s support helped Nicole through the tough times. Her sister’s encouragement also propelled her athletic career forward.
“Joevy has been my moral and emotional support since day one. On my sad days, she would boost me up with confidence by talking some logical facts out with me and just being there for me at my low points in life,” said Nicole. “Joevy was actually the one who encouraged me to try out for the women’s Professional Ultimate team in Minnesota, when I was shying away from that idea.”
As a recent graduate, Nicole credits the Professional Enhancement Program (PrEP) for helping give insight into how to prepare for life after college.
“The BSAD classes opened up my view towards my preparation for post college in areas such as financial investments, mental health and understanding what I want in my working lifestyle,” she said.
Currently traveling around the U.S. with Sharyl, her younger sister, Nicole plans to continue her professional Ultimate Frisbee career before pursuing a career in the U.S. As someone who earned her fair share of personal successes, she revealed her insight on how to accomplish big goals.
“Success does not come overnight. It has to be earned through a great amount of perseverance, focus and discipline. I believe every individual is capable of achieving their own ‘impossible’ dream. You just have to put your mind and effort towards it and dare to achieve,” she proclaimed.