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From NTU students to NTU profs

Be inspired by these four profs who were once NTU students just like you
by Derek Rodriguez

Have you ever imagined yourself as a professor one day? You may think it’s out of your league now, but many of your own profs were once students in NTU themselves.

One of them is Assoc Prof Shirley Ho, who entered NTU as a communication student with ambitions of becoming a journalist.

“After completing my A-levels, I was deciding between accountancy and communication studies in NTU and chose the latter because I had dreams of being a news reporter,” says the Associate Chair (Faculty) at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication & Information.

“I quickly discovered that there were many other interesting facets of communication apart from journalism. I was particularly intrigued by the phenomenon of communication itself and took a number of research modules and that triggered my desire to be a researcher.”

Similarly, School of Materials Science & Engineering Chair Prof Lam Yeng Ming found herself drawn to the opportunity to learn how engineering theories translate into real-world applications.

Prof LamPROF LAM (SECOND FROM LEFT) AS AN UNDERGRADUATE NEAR THE FOUNTAIN BESIDE TAN CHIN TUAN LECTURE THEATRE

“My NTU education gave me a peek into the life of a materials scientist and it drove me to find out more. My early career as a development engineer took me to many places, like the United States, Japan and Korea, but when NTU offered me a route back as an academic, I could not say no.”

For Prof Louis Phee, who admits that he “grew up breaking toys and putting them back together”, NTU, with its reputation of churning out hands-on engineers, was a natural choice for him to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering.

Says the current Dean of Engineering: “I had my first taste of research doing my final-year project. It was love at first sight! I was inspired by my profs too. My favourite teacher was Prof Ooi Kim Tiow, who’s now the Acting Chair of the School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering. He’s totally selfless and passionate about teaching and helping students. I remember thinking to myself while sitting in his lecture many years ago: ‘One day, I’m going to be a lecturer like Dr Ooi!’”

Adds Prof Phee: “Coming back to NTU was a no-brainer. I really find satisfaction in imparting knowledge to students who sit on the very same seats I used to sit on. The fact that I knew the professors played a part too. They were doing world-class engineering research and I wanted to be part of that. As a young faculty member, my first thought was that I could call my previous professors by their first names. But I still ended up blurting out ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ in the first few weeks!”

Memories of alma mater

Prof LooA young Assoc Prof Loo (third from left, in white) with his engineering classmates.

In his position as Associate Chair (Students) at the School of Materials Science & Engineering, Assoc Prof Joachim Loo takes care of the well-being of undergrads in the school. It’s a fitting position, as Assoc Prof Loo had a self-described “happening” varsity life as a materials engineering student.

“I had four splendid years as an undergraduate where I stayed at Hall 2. I was an active student leader both in school and in hall and represented both in all sorts of sports and games. NTU left me many beautiful memories, so returning wasn’t an opportunity I was going to pass up,” says the materials engineering graduate.

“The best takeaway is probably the friends I made. One of my former hall mates is now my daughter’s form teacher. And several classmates are now business owners whose companies are household names.”

Likewise, Prof Phee spent four memorable years living on campus, in Hall 2 and Hall 4. “The halls never slept. Giggles and the sounds of guitar strumming filled the air at night. It was normal to see people doing laundry or cooking Maggi noodles at 3am. The 8.30am lectures were simply impossible to wake up for; I hear they still are,” he laughs, adding: “I’d do it all over again.”

NTU then and now

The professors, who completed their degrees in the late 1990s and early 2000s, have seen the NTU campus transform dramatically over two decades, not least in food and fashion.

“NTU has become a melting pot of difference cultures, with faculty and students from around the world. Also, the students are more fashionable now. During my time, everyone wore jeans and T-shirts,” says Prof Phee.

Adds Assoc Prof Loo: “Forget about McDonald’s or Starbucks, we only had a few canteens to satisfy our tastebuds. Though I still miss the chicken chop rice I used to have in the Hall 5 canteen.”

Classes and lectures in NTU have changed too, with teaching innovations like technology-enabled learning and team-based learning making their way into NTU’s smart classrooms.

Prof Lam, a graduate from the Class of 1996, thinks students’ mindsets have changed since then, and so have their methods of learning.

She says: “Students are more willing to challenge professors now, which is great for discussions in and out of class. They have access to more information and so are learning to be more critical with it. Also, with all the new technology for learning comes more freedom and more responsibility in their approach to learning. It’s very encouraging to see that most have the maturity to make the right decisions.”


Prof Louis Phee

Since walking into Lecture Theatre 1 as a freshman in 1992, Prof Louis Phee has gone from a shy young man to a world-renowned scientist and innovator. He has received numerous awards for his scientific achievements, which include minimally invasive methods of surgery using robotics.

Assoc Prof Shirley

A recipient of the prestigious Hillier Krieghbaum Under-40 Award for young communication scholars, Assoc Prof Shirley Ho’s primary research focus is science communication, where she leads studies that examine the public’s opinion towards science, health and environmental issues. She credits her final-year project supervisor, Dr Hao Xiaoming, who retired from NTU last year, and former communication deans Prof Ang Peng Hwa and Prof Eddie Kuo as central to her decision to join academia.

Prof Lam Yeng Ming

Prof Lam Yeng Ming is a leading scientist in the field of nanostructured functional materials and their applications in solar energy harvesting and environmental remediation. One of her most recent innovations is a nanogel that will be used to enable plants to grow in tough conditions such as dry weather and on high-rise buildings. A resident of Hall 8 during her student years, she enjoyed campus living so much she became a hall fellow when she returned to NTU to teach.

Assoc Prof Joachim Loo

Assoc Prof Joachim Loo has more than 180 international papers and 16 patents to his name. As an undergrad, he pursued four projects including a design project and an industrial project. These ignited his passion for research and reinforced his desire to devote his life to science.