Since 2001, the University Scholars Club (USC) has served the needs and concerns of USP students, aiming to make their university experience a more fulfilling one. USC Management Committees (MC) over the years have initiated various activities, including welfare and social activities to strengthen community bonds, and a range of academic and creative projects to showcase and develop the talents of students both inside and outside the classroom. Of course, how can one forget the annual Freshmen Orientation Project, which integrates freshmen into the social fabric of the USP Community!
We catch up with three presidents of the USC to find out where they are now. Meet Pearl, a director and producer with Channel NewsAsia; Jeremy, who works with the Ministry of The Environment and Water Resources; our current USC president, Cheng Lei. They share their most memorable USP experiences, greatest takeaways from serving as president, and how their learning in USP helps them in their work and lives.
Pearl Maria Forss
Sociology + USP, Class of 2004
President of the 1st USC Management Committee
Pearl directs and produces documentaries for Channel NewsAsia (CNA)
Jeremy Auw Jian Jin
Life Sciences + USP, Class of 2013
President of the 10th USC Management Committee
Jeremy works in the Water Policy Division at the Ministry of The Environment and Water Resources
Lim Cheng Lei
Computing (Information System) + USP, Class of 2018
President of the 15th USC Management Committee
Cheng Lei is in his second year of study in NUS, and is USC’s current president
Going back to when you were a freshman, why did you first decide to join USP?
Pearl: Actually, at the time USP did not exist. It was called the Talent Development Programme, and it allowed us to have more cross-disciplinary exposure. The idea of being stuck with my main specialisation for 4 years sounded terribly dull, and there were limited cross faculty modules back in the day. This was the best way to learn new things and meet people from other faculties. They changed the Talent Development Programme to USP when I was in year 2.
Jeremy: I discovered USP on the recommendation of a scholarship organisation. I looked up usp.sg and noticed the tagline, “Curiosity Wanted”. Somehow, the word “curiosity” captured my imagination. It described a person who would approach the world with a critical mind and a humble spirit. At that point, I sort of knew USP was for me.
Cheng Lei: I felt that it is important that I get exposure to the various domains to get more diverse knowledge. This is even more relevant in my degree, computing (information system), where change and innovation happen endlessly. With diverse knowledge, it will allow me to appreciate better the thoughts and ideas of others.
What are some of your best memories from being in USP?
Pearl: Definitely staying in the hall (before USP moved to UTown) with other USP students. I loved the fierce debates we had over all kinds of issues. The hall provided a space for those discussions. People always had an opinion about something, and weren’t afraid to voice it. It was constant intellectual aerobics, and I learnt a lot from my peers.
Jeremy: I remember with fondness the days when USP was still housed at Blk ADM. In those days, USP didn’t have much space (in comparison to what it has now). We would have classes on Level 6, seminars at Level 7 and Chatterbox on Level 3. But we made the most of what we had. By day, Chatterbox was a study space, meeting space, computer lab and storeroom. But by night, the gloves would come off. Chatterbox could be anything: an open-mic café, haunted house, production prop-making area, rag standby area, existential late night conversational area, sleeping area, townhall area, painting area and so on. The constraints made us creative. Honestly by the time we left, the fixtures were worn down from all the activities that they had endured through the years. But it was our space and we were proud of it.
My two years at the USP residential college were memorable too. I lived in a suite with a bunch of friends, most of whom I met while active in USC. We would eat, drink and talk a lot, basically. The topics could run the gamut from development and math to animals, robots, Taylor Swift and USC. I would be exhausted every day from cloning or culturing cells at the lab and failing 90% of the time (scientists out there may empathise). It was awesome to come back to the suite and lose myself in the conversation and company.
Cheng Lei: It is hard to pinpoint the best of the memories forged in USP. To me, each and every memory has its own unique significance and weight. However, I have to say that the bonds forged with my neighbourhood when I was a freshman are much closer to my heart. From the endless midnight chit-chat sessions to coming together for a steamboat, our friendships brought light to another side of university life.
What are you currently working as?
Pearl: I direct and produce documentaries for Channel NewsAsia. My job is to study Current Affairs issues in the region, come up with story suggestions, and then piece together entertaining, informational and thought provoking half or one-hour-long TV documentaries. I've worked on issues like organ trade, rape in India, North Korean human trafficking issues, and my latest project is about China's Silk Road and their plan to assert themselves as a superpower.
Jeremy: I am currently in the Water Policy Division at the Ministry of The Environment and Water Resources. I help to formulate policies to strengthen the financial and operating performance of PUB, the National Water Agency, with the goal of supplying sustainable, reliable and high-quality water for Singapore. Occasionally, I dabble in emerging issues such as haze.
How do your experiences in USP help you in your work and/or external commitments?
Pearl: USP instills you with an intellectual curiosity, and a framework for analysis. That's what you are going to need. Most things I learnt in books became obsolete within months of joining the work force, because we live in the age of the information superhighway. But learning how to make sense and filter the information overload, that's something I picked up from USP, which stays with me till today.
Jeremy: There were many takeaways from USP but I would highlight two: write lucidly, and be comfortable with the competing needs of different stakeholders.
Professor Barbara Ryan once quipped: think about what you want to say, and say it. It’s surprising how hard that can be. In fact, I got so obsessed with figuring this out that I took not one but two of Prof Ryan’s classes. Of course some people said that I was a little masochistic. I agree. Writing lucidly isn’t just tedious. It’s also a process of self-flagellation. But I spent nights wrestling with how to lens a theory of nation on a piece of art because I had to perfect the skill of saying exactly what I mean. I’ve taken this lesson with me since.
Being comfortable with tension is not something that came naturally to me, but I was forced to confront it every day as President of USC. Every committee meeting would involve some debate about how best to allocate our (limited) budget and manpower pool. Or plan a social event. Or help freshmen integrate into USP in a new residential environment. Or solve the problem of affordability at the college. Everyone had his or her opinion, and often as USP students, we would adhere to these convictions with a nontrivial degree of fanaticism. Diversity was beautiful, but it was also unsettling. Over time, I got comfortable with it, and dealing with such tensions at the workplace today is par for the course.
Cheng Lei: I have gained tremendous experience from USP, which has been extremely useful in my external commitments, such as community service and work. It is the unique dynamics of USP and the confidence that the administration has for their students that have allowed me to test new ideas. The experience gained in USP became a good stepping stone in my external commitments.
As USC President, what do you think were your greatest contributions to USP during your term?
Pearl: Starting a faculty club which still runs today! I’m so happy to see that our idea conceived through coffee/suppers has taken on a life of its own, with so many passionate people coming after us.
Jeremy: Any accomplishment during my term was a team effort. I merely facilitated the work that was done by the Management Committee and the various standing and working committees. A big piece was starting conversations about how living in a residential college would alter governance and leadership in USP. These conversations tackled questions that were quite alien to USP, such as whether seniors would live in suites or single rooms, or how residential fellows would work with USC, or how we should merge freshmen orientation with the college neighborhoods to have a House System. Some ideas that emerged were great on the first try, and others turned out to be irrelevant and faded eventually. But we ignited these conversations early, and that was a crucial piece of the 10th Management Committee’s work.
What do you hope to achieve during your term as President?
Cheng Lei: I hope to be able to foster strong bonds and strengthen the communication links between the students and the Management Committee. This also means that the Management Committee needs to remain relevant to the USP students and truly reflect their voices to the various key stakeholders. Beyond that, I hope to make a structural adjustment to the changes introduced in the 13th Management Committee so that these efforts can become the backbone of future Management Committees.
Do you have any words of advice for current and future USP students, and what are your hopes for USP and USC in the future?
Pearl: Money is a means to an end and not an end in itself. Don't get caught up with chasing salaries. My life goal is a life well lived, and focusing on what I love to do, instead of how much I am paid to do something, has given me greater happiness in the longer term.
Jeremy: To produce people who think critically about the world, but also create tangible impact for the community and society around us. Our country and world face intractable problems that need solutions from people who possess the skills and passion of USP/USC graduates. I hope that USP will become more aware of its unique position and sharpen its focus on preparing our graduates to transform their chosen fields, whether Politics, Business, Arts, Academia, Government, Technology, or otherwise.
Cheng Lei: With the evolving of the education system to embrace more diverse learning, I hope that USP can continue to innovate and introduce new perspectives to learning. Also with each graduating cohort, I hope that our alumni network will continue to strengthen and that more alumni would be willing to step forward to contribute to the development of USP.
For 15 years, USC has played a significant role in fostering the USP spirit. We look forward to more exciting and inspiring times ahead with the USC. We are thankful for the dedication and commitment of all USC Presidents, past and present.
Find out more about USC and their upcoming events here.