Ask anyone who the USP resident event photographer is, and chances are that “Tham Jun Han” will pop up. Fresh from his exchange stint at ETH Zurich, the Year 3 Engineering Science major sat down with us to share his experience of being in the USP community.
A familiar face around USP, Jun Han is often known as the guy behind the camera, capturing memories of events such as the annual Freshmen Orientation Programme (FOP) and the annual inter-house Quidditch games. When he is not behind the camera, Jun Han also organises and participates in many USP events, and has taken on many different roles within the USP community.
Jun Han’s reason for choosing USP probably resonates with many incoming university students: many complex real-world problems are turning out to require interdisciplinary solutions. To come to USP, he shared, was to break out of his “engineering bubble” and to look at problems from different perspectives, especially social ones. Hence, he greatly values the intellectual exploration that comes with an interdisciplinary program like USP.
When asked if he had any reservations before applying to USP, he answers, “I was indeed worried that a group of curious and critical thinkers might result in an overly argumentative community,” though he soon realised that his worries were unfounded. After joining the USP, he was comforted by the safe and mutually-respecting environment for discussions co-created by faculty members and students.
In fact, Jun Han loved the environment so much that he went on to play a large role in shaping the community, serving first as Orientation Week Director. Jun Han led his team to convey a message of inclusiveness to the incoming freshmen by showcasing the many facets and sub-communities of USP life.
In the following year, Jun Han became the Vice-President (Welfare) of the University Scholars Club (USC) Management Committee. During his term, he helped out in USP-wide events and mentored event planners. He also led teams to look into to improving living spaces, streamlining student feedback, and working on tangible solutions based on the feedback to improve academic and student welfare. He saw potential in people with diverse backgrounds, passions and interests interacting within the same programme. He cites USP’s relatively small enrollment, and receptive staff and faculty members as the reason for impactful changes to be made within relatively short time periods.
Jun Han took the opportunity to engage with the wider community through USP International Programmes, such as Builders Connect and the NUS Study Trip for Engagement and Enrichment (STEER) to Sri Lanka. Builders Connect exposed him to the inner workings of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) that work to alleviate poverty in the Philippines. The close interaction with the NGOs deepened his understanding to their approaches of community development and microfinance, and he hopes to apply some of his knowledge to improve social programmes in Singapore.
Jun Han admits that he came into university doubtful about the true impact of students volunteering abroad, and he was very excited to have the opportunity to write an academic research paper on student ‘voluntourism’ for the USP cornerstone Writing and Critical Thinking module in Year 1. In Narratives of Everyday Life, taught by Associate Professor Peter Vail, Jun Han conducted interviews with students who had been on compulsory overseas CIP trips in school, and investigated how the students negotiated the conflicting identities they construct.
Aside from the content, Jun Han also lauded Associate Professor Vail’s approach to the class. “Prof Vail is a really passionate lecturer that was always willing to experiment with new pedagogies,” Jun Han explains. For the class, each student was provided with an iPad to do their readings, record interviews, and take turns sharing their interviews and essays to the whole class via Apple TV, making for “an interactive and lively classroom experience that I have never experienced”.
Inquiry-tier modules, too, struck a chord with him. He loved that many USP modules (including science-based modules) replaced final exams with term papers. He regards the freedom to craft one’s own problem statements and address them as useful skillsets for the workforce.
“I got to write an essay that traces the multicultural evolution and history of Katong Laksa and a term paper that philosophically questions the truth of physical laws. I also learnt a lot from my classmates from other majors who will actively prepare and participate in the in class discussions.”
With future plans to further his studies and possibly entering academia, as well as dabbling with technological solutions for social causes, Jun Han believes that USP gave him a clearer idea of what he can and wanted to do. His experience in Builders Connect and conversations with Associate Professor Albert Teo (USP Deputy Director) inspired him to use his expertise to do more for his local community.
So how does one go about charting his or her path in USP? Jun Han emphasised that being self-aware and clear about one’s motivations is key to fulfillment in university. “Think hard about why you chose to come to university, and use that to discover what is most suitable for you.”