By Matthew Aviso
*All photos in this article were taken before the implementation of COVID-19 safe distancing measures.
From left to right: Ms Chong Siak Ching, Ms Samantha Seah (daughter of Ms Chong and Mr Seah) and Mr Seah Cheng San. Image provided by Mr Seah.
In 2008, an old army friend teaching at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School approached Mr Seah Cheng San and his wife Ms Chong Siak Ching for a gift to the department. What started out as a small gift for one faculty turned into several bursaries across the wider NUS community – eventually extending to Yale-NUS College as the Yale-NUS Alumni – Seah & Siak Study Award. The Study Award was established with the intention of inspiring current and future alumni to give back towards their alma mater and is awarded to students who require financial aid and assistance.
“I saw the need to help more students who require financial assistance,” Mr Seah said. “We have been donating and helping to set up similar funds in other Halls of Residence and faculties. So, the idea of setting up the Yale-NUS Alumni Study Award was an extension of what we wanted to do to help students who require financial aid. It is also meaningful that my wife is on the Governing Board of Yale-NUS. Ms Chong, who is currently the Chief Executive Officer of National Gallery Singapore, is also an alumna of NUS. She graduated in 1981 with Honours in Estate Management and obtained a Master in Business Administration in 1991.
Growing up in a kampung with no electricity and running water, Mr Seah benefitted from financial support in his education. He graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering from NUS in 1982 and completed a Master of Business Administration from NUS in 1992. Grateful for the education he received, he established an NUS Engineering faculty-level endowed bursary fund that has since accumulated millions in dollars to aid several students who required financial assistance in the department. For this, he was awarded the Engineering Alumni Services Honours and continues to support the bursary while supporting other departments in the wider NUS community – Yale-NUS included.
For Terence Choo (Class of 2021), the Yale-NUS Alumni – Seah & Siak Study Award not only helped with a significant portion of his tuition fees but has also been a great source of motivation.
“There have been times when everything gets overwhelming,” Terence said. “But I am constantly reminded of my privilege of having the opportunity to pursue what I am interested in without having to worry too much about the finances.”
Like other Yale-NUS students, Terence went through the Common Curriculum in his initial years of college. The Common Curriculum is a set of courses which all Yale-NUS students study in their first two years to introduce them to foundational concepts and modes of inquiry across the natural sciences social sciences and humanities. Despite the academic challenges he faced, Terence was motivated by the donors’ support and worked even harder, sticking to his life motto: Maximising all learning opportunities.
He went on to make the most of his college life by pursuing his passion for education. As a past executive committee member of KidsAccomplish!, Terence planned and conducted elective classes for primary school children, which included topics ranging from philosophy to cell biology.
Wanting to explore other facets of the education sector, he also sourced for an internship at Thailand-based social enterprise, Wedu from the Centre for International & Professional Experience (CIPE). He was responsible for market research on the education scene in Southeast Asia, which helped to identify key countries in the region that had demand for funding for tertiary education and access to long-term mentorship for women.
Terence (front row, extreme right) on a Goyac trip to Mount Kerinci. Image provided by Terence.
Besides his work in the education sector, Terence was also keen to enrich his life outside of the classroom by participating in several co-curricular activities such as playing with the ultimate frisbee team, climbing a mountain at Mount Kerinci in Indonesia, and working at the Yale-NUS Insectary to take care of stick insects.
“I have formed many valuable relationships through these experiences, which I will treasure in the years to come,” Terence said. He also expressed his appreciation to the donors for their support in enabling him to pursue his passion, “They have helped me advance closer to my goals, and I cannot thank (them) enough for playing a huge role in my college experience.”
An enthusiast of giving back and a firm believer that education is a good social leveller, Mr Seah shared, “I am happy to be able to help students who require financial aid achieve their dreams and aspirations.” He also hopes that the recipients will work hard and discover the spirit of giving back to their alma mater in the future when they are ready.
It seems like Terence – with his big heart and steadfast spirit – might just be up to the challenge.