How this journey began
It was January 2011, some time after I lost the local WorldSkills qualifying round that I bumped into Dorville at the Singapore Polytechic library. We were standing at the centre of the junction (just like where i was in life), with him sharing enthusiastically about this new university that the Government is setting up in collaboration with MiT.
He told me that I had a flair in Design thinking and that is the place I should consider doing my undergraduate studies. I went home, searched up some information and found Singapore University of Technology and Design somewhat interesting. Since Dorville promised to vet through my submission documents and write a testimonial for me, there was no harm giving this application a shot.
It was only years later did I found out that all he wrote on the testimonial was: "Kenneth is an excellent student and you would definitely want to enroll him!". (Actually a formal copy was already submitted in addition to this online entry) Till today, Dorville would cheekily laugh and remark at how lucky I was to be offered a spot despite his "convincing" statement.
The beginning of the decline
Being an introvert who prefers to diligently work through stuff in my own bubble meant that I made little friends in class. This made staying afloat in classes challenging, as approaching someone whom I seldom hang out with for help felt like all I wanted to do was to leverage on them. With this internal struggle, I chose the easier way out by not asking.
It soon became clear that striking a balance between doing what I love and coping academically became shaky. I started spending less time on doing stuff outside of class and spent more time on revision. My attendance for the weekly Chemistry help session was excellent and I simply did not join any club. All I did was school, hostel, repeat. You can imagine how depressing that situation might be.
On top of that, I was on a "no meat if possible" diet since the days of Polytechnic and having a canteen and nearby coffeeshop that sucked meant that skipping dinner was common. Thankfully, my involvement with Particle Industries earned me a sponsored trip to USA, where I got back to what I was really passionate about; making and hacking. That fire of passion did not burn long as school extinguished it as fast as you could imagine.
I eventually joined the Acappella Society under the influence of two bunkmates who were already members. This decision, eventually brought about another painful experience that led me to call it quits in the second year. There are no other memories that I could recall at this point in time that made first year in university enjoyable.
Running, however, was the activity that kept me sane and motivated. It was an outlet where I could channel my internal struggles into a firmer step forward during a run. (I mentally reiterated that I might suck at all the crap that school has to offer but running is something that I was still good at doing) There are times that runs would be mixed with an outburst of tears and I guess that's how I coped in a journey that almost broke me down.
Besides running, I found a new activity that helped keep things in balance. My nice friend was kind enough to lend me her road bike which led to many long distance trips from east coast all the way to Gardens by the bay. I would cycle through the entire east coast park at the fastest speed possible (11km/h) to clock 20 kilometres in under two hours. With some time spent enjoying the night breeze by the bay and licking off some traditional ice cream wrapped in bread, I would then clock another 20 kilmetres, shower, head off to bed and live to fight another day.
I also made it a point to go for monthly apheresis donation (platelets and plasma which is equally in demand compared to whole blood). In me, I know deep down inside that the willingness to donate and contribute should not lessen in times of adversity.
Picking up along the way
Alright you must be thinking, where's the rainbow after the rain. Let me share some with you!
I helped to fix some potato cannons that were faulty and we even made it available during SUTD open house for the public to fire! Along the way, I met this MiT prof by the name of Kim J. Vandiver who taught me the ins and outs of how these were designed and we eventually retrofitted one that made maintenance much much simply. I must say the interaction with an MiT professor who is intelligent and at the same time good with his hands gave me good motivation to work harder.
ZheJiang University exchange programme
I had a heck of a time celebrating Singapore's 50th birthday in Zhe Jiang University, munching away japanese sushi while streaming National Day Parade in 144p, where fireworks went pixelated on the screen. More importantly, I knew a little more about the Chinese culture and ecosystem after living there for four months. It's a meaningful experience and one that changes the way I looks at how things can/are done, the Chinese way.
I also worked alongside many smart people to build a sugar rocket that eventually became the 2D design challenge for class of 2018. Not sure how often you see students designing the design challenge for new students but we did it.
Singapore delegate to India
2016 was great cos I went to India, for free! No, seriously, I have been wanting to visit this country and this trip was a total eye-opener. No only did we have all our expenses covered, we were exposed to their culture, foreign affairs policy and.....delicious tea! We were there during the week before mid-terms exam and I was literally flipping through all my notes during the bus journey when the other delegates were enjoying their nap. Was it tough? Yes. Did I regret? No!
India is a really beautiful country and I am glad I managed to be part of the Singapore delegation that made our way there. :)
building a hardware game without the team
Never would I have imagined working in a team of three with two members MIA-ing from their assigned tasks from start to end. However, this allowed me to create a hardware-based (fpga) game from scratch and my prof was really happy with it! I should instead thank them for MIA-ing which turned into a great learning opportunity that I truly enjoyed.
Also gave a couple of talks on hardware related topics to the commmunity outside school and made friends with a bunch of really cool geeks!
Never giving up
To give you an idea of how the juggling game is played every semester, here is an overview of how the weeks progressively stack up.
- Revision for exam
- Pending design revision for final year project
- Pending problem set
Week 09 becomes:
- Work through Monday night to get the design revision done
- Schedule Tuesday to finish problem set
- Prof announces quiz for next week
- Final year project submission is due
- Presentation material preparation for next week
You can roughly see from the workload exponentially increases by the week. I will be lying if I told you that university, or the university of this nature is easy. Prime minister Lee said it was not going to be easy, my professors told me it was not going to be easy but I am glad I made it through. I was just telling Felix a couple of days back that I cannot imagine how I made it through 8 terms in SUTD and arrive at this day where my final exam is over.
Enough of all the sad stories! The next segment is going to be a series of appreciation towards people who made this journey enjoyable.
For being the one who saw the potential in me and opening every single door he could to groom me to become who I am today. And being the go-to mentor who will always listen to the challenges I face in SUTD, giving me sound advice on major life decisions such as selecting a job or even taking the unconventional internship path. As well as being the one who taught me what travelling is all about, making it hard for me not to think about going places whenever I can.
To Vincent, for willingly taking me in as a Campus Builder for 4 months and allowing access to practically every machine in sight, learning and understanding what each of them can do.
To the rest at fabrication lab, for willingly assisting and treating me like family through my 3.5 years of studies.
Particle Industries, inc
To Particle, for investing in me throughout the three years, flying me all the way to San Francisco to meet and greet every single awesome people on the team! Through this bunch of friends, I learnt the bits and pieces of the ShenZhen ecosystem while getting involved in contributing towards the success of a rising star in the startup scene.
Maggie gave us extra chemistry lessons and tutored us outside of class hours during the first term, showing us that someone cares about whether we are coping well and help is always available. I thank her for spending time talking to me through difficult times and for believing that I can make it. :)
For being ever friendly to all the students and making us feel that our efforts outside class are recognized and appreciated. And for all the cake treats over long conversations that got me through university!
The prof that makes things happen and being the one who is ready to be first to put her feet forward when our projects encounter difficulty. And for always disturbing Apple, which turns out to be great entertainment for us!
Zhao Rong and Ngai Man Cheung
For being professors who showed great passion in teaching and having the personal touch where they show genuine concern of my wellbeing and learning during their modules. Thank yous-2!
Wei Lin the fake Japanese
A great friend and roommate as well as travel buddy, whom I can debate and discuss about almost any matter without reservation. For displaying passion and perseverance in his architectural endeavour, at the same time humble to accept criticism and pointers from improvement.
Felix the Cat
For being such an uncle like me that sharing a room in ZJU was so enjoyable and crazy at the same time. Putting in lots of hardwork in all that he does and being there to clean up lots of shit despite all the rants we have over kopi at the canteen.
Suzy Baba Triceratops
Ever grateful to Su Xin for generously loaning bikey during difficult times and for all the haircut, tang yuan dabao-ing, SingPost collection trips that I made with bikey! And for being a great friend whom I traveled with, to India as part of the Singapore delegation, as well as getting me to do stuff out of academics, like these pokemon seats! Not forgetting the red lobster keychain from Boston that made my lanyard more vibrant and always sending some stalking photos out of nowhere. :)
To Professor Kim Vandiver, for guiding us through two experiential design projects and having faith in our ability to retrofit the existing potato cannon with an improvised gasket joint design. For being an inspiration and letting me feel the joys of being an engineer, a capable, respected and charming engineer.
Lim Sey Peng
For showing me what a professional railway engineer is and inspiring me to be good all that I do in future. And for having great trust in me, getting me involved in design revisions of future mrt lines and imparting knowledge gained through years of experience and training.
Bunnie has been a great mentor these years, making time to help me out despite his busy schedule. (I know people are gonna get jealous) For personally helping me with soldering, debugging and even catching up with me in Shen Zhen. Looking forward to more hardware hacking sessions!
People who went through the same training that I had and forging a great friendship along the way. For being such great buddies who can tahan all my nonsense and always being there to help and motivate me!
Youth class 5+6
My lovely buddhist youth class for bringing all the positive vibes and joy during lessons. It has been great learning from all of you, seeing how buddhism can help us become better as a person and opening our hearts to reach out and help many more!
For providing so many volunteering opportunities where I made new friends along the way and not forgetting my passion to serve and contribute to the society. From public speaking, lorry driving to logistic coodinator, there's no lack of opportunities for me to grow and improve myself through these year. Thank you!
Not forgetting my family that is always supporting me in everything that I do. My father for fetching me to changi every sunday evening so that I can skip taking the long mrt rides. My mother for always making sure that I have all the food and vitamin that I need to combat all the monsters in school (kidding). As well as my siblings for never failing to bring more soft toys to my hostel.
I have lots to tell since 3.5 years has been a long journey but words cannot describe them all. Love to hear your story as well so ping me if you have an interesting post that I should definitely not miss!