I graduated from Junior College with a love for Chemistry and a dream to further my studies in a university with a liberal arts education system. For me, the United States was the obvious choice. While I was not completely sure of what I wanted to do after graduation, I felt that it would be very meaningful to be able to contribute directly to the quality of the water supply in Singapore. Hence, I took up Singapore’s national water agency, the PUB Scholarship to study at Cornell University.
Cornell was everything that I dreamt of, offering an amazing range of courses from every discipline that I could ever imagine. I was spoilt for choice when deciding which non-Chemistry courses to take, because there were so many disciplines that interest me! Even the infamous harsh winters could not deter me from stepping out of my comfort zone to take risks like taking a theatre design class. The rewards for exploring and taking risks were immeasurable as my mind was trained to become more critical and flexible. PUB never interfered in the courses that I wanted to take and readily agreed when I expressed my intention to pursue a second major in Economics.
I also studied the Japanese language for three years at Cornell. The Japanese culture fascinates me, and I wanted to immerse myself in a more in-depth fashion. Visiting the country for a few days as a tourist would never satisfy that desire, but with PUB’s support, I was able to participate in an intensive language programme in Hokkaido. This programme included a home stay with a host family for eight weeks. Actively using the Japanese language definitely helped improve my language proficiency. More importantly, I gained many valuable insights into Japanese culture, and learnt to reconcile the cultural differences and acclimatise to their way of life. This very humbling and enriching experience has enabled me to grow a lot as a person.
In addition, my association with PUB and underlying interest in water motivated me to join Agua Clara, an engineering student team at Cornell that designs low-cost water treatment plants for communities in Honduras. I had the good fortune to join the team in their annual field trip to Honduras. We visited communities, which were served by the team as well as other water treatment plants, including the failed ones. During the trip, we interacted with the locals and had a taste of life without clean water and proper sanitation. This definitely helped us to better understand the circumstances and needs of these communities!
Moving To Masters
My experience with Agua Clara pushed me to apply for a Masters degree in Environmental Engineering at Stanford University. While it was a huge transition (given my non-engineering background), I managed to overcome the barrier. The group of dedicated and bright professors at Stanford were so passionate in solving the problems of inferior water quality, diminishing water supplies, and a deteriorating environment. I was inspired by them to build up my technical knowledge through working at a plant when I returned to PUB after completing my studies. Today, as an engineer at a membrane water treatment plant, each day is a challenging and yet enjoyable experience. There are so many interesting things to learn as we work to troubleshoot problems, optimise the process, and ensure that the plant runs smoothly.
When I reflect on my journey since I took up this scholarship, I realise that PUB has given me the freedom to explore and grow, while guiding the course of my career. PUB has been a supportive scholarship agency and I am immensely satisfied with my job now. Is it just pure luck that the scholarship I chose turned out to be a good match, or did I really make a wise decision then? I would like to believe it’s the latter. Granted, at 19 years old, I could not have predicted or imagined that I would want to be an engineer today. However, I identified with PUB’s mission then, as I still do today. Hearts change, interests change, but convictions don’t. Perhaps, choosing a scholarship based on a conviction is sufficient to make everything work out well eventually.