National Environment Agency and PUB, Singapore's National Water Agency
Feature | NEAPUB

An Environment For Growth

NEW scholars Toby Ong and Wei Jiahe share how their passion in engineering and the environment led them to where they are today.

Ensuring that Singaporeans have an adequate and sustainable supply of clean drinking water, and striking a balance between environmental sustainability and economic growth are important pillars of the work at PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency and National Environment Agency (NEA). With the National Environment & Water (NEW) Scholarship, young and passionate Singaporeans can join the agencies’ shared mission to protect our water resources and shape our environment narrative. We spoke to NEW scholars Toby Ong and Wei Jiahe, both 26, to find out more about their experiences thus far.

What made you choose the NEW Scholarship?

Jiahe: I attended a few field trips that focused on environmental and urban planning issues while in secondary school. These trips made me realise that companies could grow sustainably without compromising their bottom line, which sparked my interest in environmental issues. After graduating from junior college, I did an internship at NEA to learn more about the work of the organisation and its culture. I felt that I was able to relate to NEA’s mission, so I decided to take on the NEW Scholarship to embark on a career with NEA.

Toby Ong Zheng Shuo

Toby Ong Zheng Shuo 
National Environment & Water (NEW) Scholarship
Engineer, Water Supply (Plants) Department, PUB
Bachelor of Engineering in Civil Engineering
– University College London
Master of Science in Environmental Engineering
– University of California, Berkeley

Toby: A field trip to the Bedok NEWater Factory when I was a child sparked off my interest in water engineering. The membranes, filters, and the water treatment processes that turned used water into clean water fascinated me. As part of the visit, they gave us each a bottle of NEWater, and I really wanted to learn more about the technology behind this bottle of water. I applied for the NEW Internship in 2013, where I was given the opportunity to work on a project about the energy optimisation of reverse osmosis membranes at the Kranji NEWater Factory. I found that I enjoyed the nature of work and the working environment in PUB, and this inspired me to pursue the NEW Scholarship and a career with PUB.

Share with us how the NEW Scholarship has benefitted you.

Jiahe: The NEW Scholarship enabled me to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Environmental Sciences at Northwestern University, and a Master of Science in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University. The overseas experiences taught me many things, such as the importance of contextualising issues to local conditions in policy review and project implementation. Observing how other countries handle environmental issues made me realise that other countries’ priorities and requirements differed vastly from ours. Singapore faces unique challenges associated with land scarcity and natural resource constraints, hence maximising resource recovery and reducing the volume of waste being sent to the landfill form an important part of our waste management strategy. I was also exposed to different perspectives shared by my peers in university, who came from diverse backgrounds. This helped to hone my critical thinking skills in analysing issues from different angles in my daily work.

“I think it’s good that PUB lets scholars try working in departments that they’re interested in, to explore the different areas of water management.” Toby

Toby: Apart from enabling me to study Civil Engineering in London and later pursue a Master’s Degree in Environmental Engineering in the US, the NEW Scholarship provided me with opportunities to intern with PUB during my university breaks and gain deeper insights into PUB’s different departments. I think it’s good that PUB lets scholars try working in departments that they’re interested in, to explore the different areas of water management. For me, I interned in the Catchment and Waterways department, where I learnt about drainage planning, and at the Tuas Desalination Plant during its construction phase. As a civil engineer, it was exciting to see how basements, foundations, and building structures were constructed in real life, rather than just reading it from a textbook.

Wei Jiahe

Wei Jiahe 
National Environment & Water (NEW) Scholarship
Executive Engineer,
Waste and Resource Management Department, NEA
Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Environmental Sciences – Northwestern University, USA
Master of Science in Civil and Environmental Engineering – Stanford University, USA

Share with us the key projects that you are working on in NEA.

Jiahe: As an Executive Engineer in NEA’s Waste and Resource Management Department, my scope of work involves the smooth operation and sustainability of our waste disposal facilities. I am currently working on the development of environmental standards for the use of incineration bottom ash, which is the residue generated from waste incineration, in roads and construction applications. The diversion of incineration ash from Semakau Landfill is a key strategy to extend its lifespan and maximise resource recovery from incineration residue. I find it very fulfilling to see my work play a part in helping Singapore become a regional leader in environmental issues.

What are the greatest lessons you’ve learned so far in your role as an engineer in PUB?

Toby: I’ve been working at the Johor River Waterworks (JRWW) for the past year. JRWW, like our other waterworks in Singapore, is a key water infrastructure in ensuring water supply for Singaporeans. The ability to adapt and learn quickly on the job has been one of the greatest skills I’ve learnt so far. It allows me to quickly understand and trouble shoot any issue that arises along the way. In addition, being resourceful and having strong teamwork amongst colleagues are essential in ensuring the smooth operation of the plant.

“Beyond the financial sponsorship, taking on a scholarship also means choosing your first career upon graduation.” Jiahe

Any words of advice for those looking to apply for the NEW scholarship?

Jiahe: NEA’s work covers diverse areas spanning across environmental protection, public health, and meteorological service. There are ample opportunities to work on different issues relating to the environment, take part in interdepartmental projects, and work with various stakeholders in both public and private sectors. As a result, I have acquired knowledge through problem-solving and improving existing systems and processes. I had the opportunity to collaborate with consultants, partners from research institutes, other government agencies, and establishments in the private sector to carry out feasibility studies and implement pilot projects. I urge aspiring candidates to consider the alignment of their passion and interest with the mission of the organisation when applying for their scholarships. Beyond the financial sponsorship, taking on a scholarship also means choosing your first career upon graduation.

Toby: It is essential that your interest and passion align with the agency and you have a holistic understanding of the agency’s vision and mission. For PUB, a career in the water sector is always dynamic as we strive to overcome the challenges ahead in ensuring that Singapore continues to have an adequate and sustainable supply of clean drinking water. Aspiring candidates may look forward to the different areas of PUB’s work in the management and treatment of stormwater, collection and reclamation of used water, desalination, and research and development to find new ways to better manage and safeguard Singapore’s water resources.