Feature

Congrads, Class of 2016

Trailblazers, fighters with grit, high-flyers, twinnies and the talent squad... Meet the Class of 2016

By Derek Rodriguez, Chrystal Chan and Lo Tien Yin
Photos: Mark Teo
The trailblazers and fighters
Risky business
Alex Chen
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Many people in developing Asia are affected by natural catastrophes, yet most have close to zero risk protection for their assets and livelihoods.

Alex, the valedictorian of NTU's pioneer batch of Renaissance Engineering Programme graduands, has embarked on a mission to solve this problem, having co-founded Asia Risk Transfer Solutions in early 2016.

"We are developing an innovative technology system that will change the way insurance contracts are designed, underwritten and monitored, and how claims are settled,” Alex explains.

His interest in this area began during a stint at NTU’s Institute of Catastrophe Risk Management. This interest was further piqued when he interned at Risk Management Solutions in California, where he worked alongside its founder, Emeritus Professor Haresh Shah of Stanford University, to analyse the causes for this lack of catastrophe insurance in many parts of Asia. Their collaborations led to the establishment of his start-up.

"I am thankful to have met excellent mentors in NTU," says Alex. "They taught me a great deal about innovation and leadership, and are always there when I need advice and support.”

Four overseas exchanges and a hot banking job
Jasmine Lee
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The University Scholars Programme has changed economics graduate Jasmine’s life in more ways than she could have imagined when she first enrolled in the inaugural batch of this programme four years ago.

From being an average student “who had rarely topped anything”, she has emerged a Dean’s lister and snagged the Economic Society of Singapore Gold Medal and Koh Boon Hwee Scholars Award.

The NTU programme, she says, has provided her with opportunities beyond the classroom, unleashed her potential and pushed her out of her comfort zone. It turned her into a confident traveller, as she went on four overseas programmes, drawing on the best of the East and West – to Taiwan, China, Germany and Ireland. She blossomed from a wallflower to an eloquent speaker and further pursued her passion in performing, becoming the lead singer in her hall band.

She knew she hit the high notes when her entry for the international Undergraduate Awards was among the top 10 per cent of 5,000 entries worldwide.

“I surprised myself!” says Jasmine, who has found her dream job as a management associate in a foreign bank.

Down but not out
Sangeetha Ragu
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In her second year at NTU’s College of Engineering, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. But Sangeetha, who is from the pioneer cohort of University Scholars Programme students graduating this year, fought to stay positive.

Says Sangeetha: “I had to go for chemotherapy, was going to lose my hair and had to study from home for a semester since I couldn’t be in crowded areas. But I had the most beautiful, loving family. All I had to do was study, keep a smile on my face and be positive. I love to write so I kept a blog to motivate myself and others. I also tried sewing and drawing.”

“My professors could not have been more supportive, especially Prof Ooi Kim Tiow, who constantly kept in touch with me and was very reassuring. I definitely wouldn’t have gotten through this so smoothly without their support,” she says.

Her advice to others who are going through tough times: “Just remember that you are stronger than you think! Surround yourself with the love of your family and friends. You don’t have to go through this alone.”

“I believe in working really hard and letting new opportunities find me. And then praying that I have the courage to take on these opportunities, regardless of how daunting the circumstances may be. The ever-present plan is to just be happy!” beams Sangeetha, who has not only beaten second-stage cancer but bagged a plum position at Shell Singapore.

From poverty to possibilities
Nigel Tan
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A pot of soup lasted three days. There was no TV – just one smartphone to keep his family abreast of news outside their two-room rented flat.

But hard times are behind for Nigel, who is graduating with first-class honours in materials engineering this year. He starts work soon as a research engineer with NTU.

The top N-level student in his school graduated from Singapore Polytechnic with merit, and won a slew of awards during National Service.

“My dad’s coffee shop and restaurant business failed when I was in primary school and he became bankrupt. This made me determined to study harder, so that I could make life better for my family,” says Nigel, who didn’t do well in primary school.

Since his parents’ divorce in 2000, Nigel has had to juggle many jobs and school, on top of cleaning house and playing Mum to his two younger sisters. But he managed.

“If you feel like giving up, just look back on how far you have come,” says Nigel.

Dad’s the way
Dinesh Prem Nair
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When his dad was stricken with cancer last year, Dinesh rushed to hospital each day after school – and then hurried back home to look after his mum, who has severe arthritis.

“I completed my assignments as early as possible, so that I had time to spend with my parents,” says Dinesh, this year’s top History student who will receive the Lee Kuan Yew Gold Medal.

A Normal (Academic) stream student in secondary school, Dinesh defied the odds at NTU, topping his cohort thrice and making the Dean’s List twice. He is starting his career with the Ministry of Home Affairs.

“My father’s strength gave me the confidence to soldier on. My dad is a fighter, having been with the Singapore Police Force for 45 years. Nothing would disappoint him more than to see me break down,” says Dinesh.

Dinesh also learnt to appreciate what he has. He quotes the late boxer, Muhammad Ali, who once said: "Don't count the days. Make the days count."

Lit lights up her life
Jasmine Alexis Doo
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Her world crumbled when she lost her dad in her first year at the School of Humanities & Social Sciences. But Jasmine pushed on, even more determined to do him proud. As she reflects: "I felt I owed it to my dad to continue striving and doing better in my studies."

While at Temasek Junior College, Jasmine struggled and sometimes fell to the bottom of the cohort. This year, however, she graduates as one of the top students of her year, and is heading to the University of Cambridge to do her Master of Philosophy in Management.

It was the environment and people at NTU that made such a big difference, says Jasmine. “Our professors welcomed differing views and valued our original insights. My peers also always brought something interesting to the table, so I looked forward to classes all the time,” she says.

“I burrowed into schoolwork like never before, and grew increasingly passionate about literature, especially in my research work,” she adds. “One person that truly inspired and spurred me on was my professor, Assoc Prof Neil Murphy. He believed so strongly in me. I haven't had many teachers like that before.”

From Cs to double masters
Jayseellan Eisvran
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With his “straight Cs”, Jayseellan barely made it to NTU’s School of Art, Design & Media. But once in, he was set to prove everyone wrong – that he was made of sterner stuff – especially to those who had not believed in him.

Staging a turnaround, he did well enough to be accepted for a double masters’ programme at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London.

“I wasn’t thinking of pursuing a master’s when I started. I was just passionate about what I was doing and wanted to excel in it. My ambition was to graduate as a designer with professional attribution and to have a strong portfolio. I constantly challenged myself and was very driven,” he says, adding that he might like to end up as a lecturer at NTU.

“Everyone will judge you, but only you can judge yourself accurately. If you want to do something, just do it. Don’t let your grades or people be the excuse for you not to.”

Try-umph for Ridhwan who goes from N-levels to PhD
Ridhwan Muzaki

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction
A three-time Dean’s lister, this School of Biological Sciences graduate failed his primary school examinations but is a prime example of how your PSLE results don’t have to determine your future.

Ridhwan is graduating from NTU this year and will be pursuing a PhD at his alma mater on a prestigious scholarship. After Singapore Polytechnic, Ridhwan was eager to enter NTU – and succeeded only a year later, on his second attempt.

Source: Berita Harian © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction
Thinking ahead, he spent most of his time studying his older brother’s notes while waiting to enrol in NTU. His brother is a fellow NTU biological sciences graduate and is receiving his PhD scroll on the same day as Ridhwan.

The turning point for Ridhwan came when he was in Secondary 4, after a chat with a school teacher.

"She was a mother figure to me. I reflected and thought to myself: If I don't try and work harder now, my future will never be bright," he recalls.

That year, he became the top N-level Malay student.