Can we all agree that the negative portrayal of millennials by the media is outdated?
On a seemingly typical Thursday evening after work, we caught up with our recently graduated alumni Ms. Amanda Chiam Hui Juin and Mr. Zac Phan Zheng Zhi to hear about how they defy these stereotypes.
The enticing aroma of coffee wafted through the air as we settled down into our seats in the café, making ourselves comfortable. While Amanda and Zac shared their stories, the background noise fades, making way for their bright personalities.
Amanda graduated with a Bachelor of Accountancy (Honours) degree and is currently pursuing her career as an Audit Associate at KPMG.
Zac received his Bachelor of Science in Marketing (Honours) degree, with a minor in Analytics, and is currently a Deals Data and Analytics Associate at PwC Singapore.
Both KPMG and PwC are professional service company and among the “big four” auditors globally.Both Amanda and Zac were among the 168 pioneer full-time students out of the 2,268 students who graduated during the 2018 convocation.
Looks can be deceiving – while petite, Amanda is certainly not lacking in spirit.
“I like that SUSS doesn’t just emphasise on academic results. During my interview, I wasn’t asked about my past academic achievements but instead, I was asked about what I did outside of school,” the Audit Associate recalled of her interview for her application to SUSS. “I believe that being a student is not just about studying.”
Even though she had opted to study accountancy, Amanda had wanted to be a teacher after her studies in junior college. “Interacting with students is very fulfilling for me. Rather than staring at a computer screen every day, I get to interact with people, which is something I enjoy doing.”
Fortunately, Amanda got the chance to teach during her years in university. She spearheaded a service-learning project with Pertapis that offers free weekly tuition to children from low-income families.
“We don’t only teach the children and help them with their schoolwork. We would communicate with them about their lives. It is important to engage them emotionally and connect well with them to actually help.”
Pushing her limits even further, she joined the Gobi Desert Challenge in 2017 and 2018 with fellow students and faculty members and trekked for 112 km through portions of the great Gobi Desert in China. The expedition also raised funds for the Muscular Dystrophy Association of Singapore (MDAS).
“The opportunity was very unique and stood out from the regular study missions to modern companies in cities. I figured it was a good chance for me to explore something different. Furthermore, Gobi Desert is somewhere I would probably never think of going, if not for this expedition,” said Amanda, when asked why she decided to participate in the challenge.
Being one of only two girls who went on the trip in 2017, Amanda had to train hard for the Gobi Desert Challenge. As the expedition would involve walking continuously for four days, it was crucial that she built up her stamina.
“To train, I would walk home from my then work attachment location. From Raffles Place to Bukit Timah, it took us a while, but it was worth it.” It was definitely a satisfying experience finishing the challenge. With an increased passion in exploring mountains and trails, the SUSS alumna also participated in the university’s second expedition to the Gobi Desert this year which saw more students joining.
Amanda also attended summer school in Korea, where she took a course in Introduction to Sociology and did volunteer work to help the homeless in Seoul.
Zac is a positive and hardworking individual who does not back away from adversity.
Coming from a single-parent family background, his mother had to juggle multiple jobs. “She works much harder than anyone her age should. I am thankful that my mother has supported my family well throughout this period. Now, my sister and I look forward to doing our part for the family,” said the Data Analyst.
“I started working part-time jobs when I was 14. My first job was being a door-to-door ice-cream salesman. It taught me the importance of determination and to never be afraid of failures.”
Today, past internships in companies such as AECOM, Nielsen and Saladstop shaped his professional development in the data analytics field. He also added how his experience at SUSS had influenced his decision to pursue his career. Having been exposed to a variety of initiatives at SUSS, he learnt to step out of his comfort zone and to seek answers to problems outside of prescribed learning materials. This is similar to addressing dynamic business problems in his role as a data analyst.
When asked how he managed to graduate with a stellar CGPA, Zac folded his arms and reflected.
“In my view, an accurate analogy to describe my journey in attaining any important goal (academic or otherwise) would be that of a marathon in an unfamiliar territory. It requires one to demonstrate discipline and perseverance, along with a keen sense of curiosity, to always push ahead and overcome the unknown.”
“It is important to set incremental goals that would push you towards the finish line rather than having an ambitious goal that makes you fall short.”
Other than dedicating his time to his studies, achieving an outstanding GPA, Zac also co-founded ‘Beyond Self’, an initiative that aims to empower and motivate the vulnerable children in the Whampoa community. The group had since renovated the learning environment in the community and revamped lesson plans.
To broaden his horizons, the avid runner had also participated in a study mission trip and attended summer school overseas.
We posed a few more questions to learn more about Amanda and Zac’s university experience for the past four years and their future plans.
Now that you have graduated, how would you like to contribute as an alumnus?
Zac: I want to be a mentor for the current students because my former experiences as a mentor and mentee in many programmes have helped me greatly. In particular, I could play the role of a career mentor to provide updated insights into this industry (from the perspectives of a fresh graduate who had just started working). I could also help the students with the writing of their resumes and preparing for interviews etc. I hope to also establish a strong SUSS alumni network in workplaces.
Amanda: As I really enjoy volunteer work, I would contribute by giving advice on service-learning projects. I also agree with Zac on building a stronger alumni network for us to remain connected.
How do you feel being among the first graduating cohort for the full-time programme in SUSS? What did you experience as a student?
Zac: Being in the pioneer batch of the full-time programme, we didn’t have any seniors whom we can speak to. Without many points of reference, the unknown looming before us was certainly fearful initially. However, we learnt to work together with our peers and later on also built our own independence.
Amanda: We had to start our own service-learning projects as well. While that was tough, we learned from the experience.
Zac: With the full-time programme being new, job interviewers may not know about SUSS. Sometimes it hurts when interviewers ask me what SUSS is (chuckles).
Amanda: Yup, that too. However, I see it as a good conversation starter during interviews!
Zac: It helps that since employers do not have past experience with us SUSS full-time students, they are usually willing to give us a chance, especially the SMEs. We had the opportunity and responsibility to create the positive first impression for SUSS full-time students.
Service-learning is a graduating component for full-time students. As the pioneer batch, you have to start your own projects, how has that impacted your life?
Zac: I think the key takeaways include learning project management and how to deal with people’s expectations. As a project leader, I had to liaise with the school, the organisation we partnered and our group members, and manage their expectations. There were many decisions to make. It certainly wasn’t easy, but it was a good learning experience for us.
Amanda: We had to approach organisations that we wanted to work with. I faced rejections and had to source other opportunities. It was tough but fulfilling as we created our own projects and watched these grow to become something sustainable for our juniors to continue the efforts in helping the community.
Zac: Also, we don’t just help the community grow. I saw myself growing as well, as the community showed me what I lacked, such as social awareness. I realised that too many of us took a lot of things in life for granted.
During your time with your service-learning projects, were there any memorable events or moments?
Amanda: I am currently teaching a Secondary Four student, whom I have been helping with schoolwork since she was in Secondary Two. We have bonded over the years and she would confide in me about problems at home as she doesn’t really have anyone she can turn to. I would give her advice and guide her outside of schoolwork as well. She is actually really smart, I feel that she just needs the right guidance to help her find her way in life.
Zac: The community is very tight-knitted, and the children have a sharing nature. There was this party, and my group and I were passing out sweets and other goodies to them. As the group was huge, we passed the goodies to children nearest to us for them take some and pass the rest to those further away. Without any prompting, they decided to pass all goodies to the back first before distributing from there. They considered their peers before thinking about themselves, it was heart-warming to witness such gracious behaviour in them at a young age.
Tell me about the friendships you have forged during your studies at SUSS.
Zac: My friends and I are very close, having taken the same courses and worked on multiple group projects together. So of course, our friendship would last beyond graduation, we still meet and share about things in our lives.
Amanda: Being in the pioneer batch, our cohort is actually very small. I believe most of us know one another, so there’s definitely strong connections amongst us.
What are your hopes and dreams? Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
Amanda: I foresee myself staying in the accounting field for the next few years. However, I may explore other options in the future, such as taking up a Master’s Degree.
Zac: I see myself becoming more accomplished in the data analytics scene. I also envision myself acquiring more skills to stay relevant in this dynamic industry. I will definitely consider pursuing a Master’s Degree if it helps me gain more valuable experience and knowledge.
Lastly, do you have any words of advice for new students or your fellow graduates?
Zac: UUndertaking a four-year degree course is a complex and arduous process. You should always plan ahead and understand how your degree course could contribute to achieving your life goals. More importantly, I believe that we should always follow our passion – whether in studies, work, or life. After all, learning without passion is not true learning! And only with true learning, can we better ourselves.
Cheers to Amanda and Zac, for exemplifying SUSS’s educational philosophy – Head, Heart, Habit. We wish them all the best in their future endeavours!