Left: Oh Su Chin has a Bachelor of Science in Food Science from the University of Melbourne. She is an Assistant Director in the Food Regulatory Management Division, Regulatory Standards Department at Singapore Food Agency (SFA).
Middle: Justin Guan is an Engineer at the Waste & Resource Management Department at the National Environment Agency (NEA). He has a Masters in Advanced Chemical Engineering with Process Systems Engineering (PSE) from Imperial College London.
Right: Vernice Toh obtained her Degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from Nanyang Technological University (NTU), and currently works as an Engineer in the Water Supply Department (Plants) at PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency.
S ustainability presents unique and difficult challenges for Singapore. Unlike other nations, we rely on strong trade links to obtain our food and water supplies as we have little of our own. Hence, we are easily buffeted by climate change or worldwide events that shake our store of resources.
The job of maintaining a clean environment and procuring vital supplies like food and water falls on the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources and its three statutory boards – the National Environment Agency (NEA), PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency, and the Singapore Food Agency (SFA). As their names suggest, they are responsible for providing Singaporeans with a clean environment, water and food, and with them, all the good things in life.
To continue to supply vital resources, the three agencies must tap on the one resource most important to Singapore – its people. For that purpose, the three agencies sponsor the National Environment and Water (NEW) Scholarship to groom young talents as future game-changers who anticipate resource challenges and develop solutions for them.
We spoke to NEW Scholars Oh Su Chin, attached to SFA, Guan Shunfeng Justin, who is with NEA, and Vernice Toh, attached to PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency , on just what goes into ensuring a sustainable resource supply and what that means for their aspirations and careers.
Regulating the Food Supply
Contrary to popular belief, Su Chin’s work at SFA does not involve cooking up tasty dishes or sampling snacks. She cleared the misconception quickly, and at the same time, told us how her long-standing interest in food science complements her role at the agency.
“I feel that food science is an indispensable part of our lives. It is a field which allows you to apply your skills to different types of food and processes along the food supply chain,” she enthused. “Most importantly, it plays an important role in ensuring safe, nutritious and sufficient food supply for the world.”
The NEW Scholar is on her third rotation within SFA, and is currently the Assistant Director in the Food Regulatory Management Division, Regulatory Standards Department, where her responsibility is to check if a country or establishment exporting food to Singapore is able to meet Singapore’s food safety standards.
Su Chin is happy to be opening up such possibilities, speaking with pride about her assessment of pasteurisation on microbial contamination in eggs.
“Though Singapore currently does not import pasteurised shell eggs, it is a pre-emptive assessment. Assessing the risks and hence establishing the risk management measures beforehand will help to open up new sources of table eggs which were previously unable to meet Singapore’s food safety standards,” she explained.
But while most of us can tell a good egg from a bad egg, making decisions about safe sources of eggs is much more difficult and requires the relevant education and training. Su Chin’s course in Food Science at the University of Melbourne under the NEW Scholarship gave her a thorough grounding on hazards that can be found in different food types, their potential impact on public health, and the science behind various food manufacturing processes, all of which aid her in making comprehensive risk assessments.
However, she is quick to assure us that a career in food science is not the only option at SFA. She narrated: “There will be planned job rotation for exposure to other areas of SFA’s work, leadership and management programmes, and secondment to ministry or other agencies.”
Such a whirlwind of activity makes the bond period pass by in a flash. Su Chin reflected on her own experiences as she advised: “Though a four- to six-year commitment with the organisation may seem long, do not let it hold you back, as an unwavering belief in the organisation’s mission will get you far in the organisation.
“Maintain a growth mindset and always remain inquisitive!”
Improving the Energy Supply
Guan Shunfeng, Justin took up the NEW Scholarship to explore new frontiers and how they can be applied in the local context.
He is an engineer by training, but it is his specialisation, Process Systems Engineering (PSE), that really excited him.
“The PSE field spans across data analytics, computer science and chemical process systems,” he explained. “I have always been intrigued by how science meets art in the conceptualisation of chemical process problems into mathematical equations, and the use of advanced computer techniques to gain prescriptive insights and answers to the problems.”
Exploring new frontiers, be it a research topic or a lifestyle change, has always been a top priority to Justin. Hence, he gravitated towards the NEW Scholarship for the wide range of novel experiences it offered.
“I chose the NEW scholarship because I was certain it would kickstart my career in changing mindsets, spearheading the implementation of environmental policies and initiatives on a national scale, and playing a direct role in the upkeep of public health,” he outlined.
And the scholarship delivered beyond what it offered. On top of sponsoring Justin’s university education, he was immersed in a “holistic development”, as the agency offers a wide range of positions from operations to enforcement work and even research-based projects, all of which he would get to experience through various job rotations.
Currently, he is part of a team driving the development milestones of Singapore’s next waste-to-energy (WTE) plant, the TuasOne Waste-To-Energy Plant. His role involves conducting ground inspection and audits, reconciling conflicting stakeholder interests, and envisioning collective, actionable targets for project partners. When completed, TuasOne will be the largest WTE plant in Singapore.”
He credited the supportive work culture at NEA with giving him the confidence and knowledge necessary to face such a large project. “Everyone values good fellowship and there is an immense sense of sharing and caring among colleagues,” Justin enthused.
He also wished to extend such support to those aspiring to build a career with NEA. Describing it as a “playground of exploration, learning and growth” for future scholars, he emphasised how NEA supports its executives at every stage of their growth by empowering them to chart their career and learning development.
Clearly, as it was for Justin, NEA is the agency for those seeking something new.
Managing the Water Supply
“Since childhood, I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of invisible forces that could power our lives. As I grew older, I started becoming more interested in electricity and how its versatility allows mankind to achieve so many accomplishments,” Vernice recounted, on why she chose to study Electrical and Electronic Engineering at NTU.
Her unwavering interest meant that the NEW Scholarship was an obvious decision for her, as it served as “a direct path to embarking on a fulfilling career”. Additionally, she was be able to take advantage of internship opportunities before graduation, where she got to experience the work culture and make connections firsthand.
During her internship with PUB, she was worked in two different departments and got a feel for how our National Water Agency makes a difference in people’s lives through maintaining a steady water supply. This further strengthened her resolve to contribute to its mission upon graduation.
“The NEW scholarship places emphasis on the environment and water sector,” she related. “Even till now, Singapore is still being confronted with challenges regarding its water security. The idea of being able to innovate and contribute to Singapore’s future was the key reason why I decided to sign up for the NEW scholarship.”
She is currently an electrical engineer responsible for the maintenance, replacement, and improvement of electrical equipment in Chestnut Avenue Waterworks (CAWW).
Overseeing the water supply and making adjustments for the future makes for very time-sensitive work, where deadlines are fluid and sudden emergencies may occur at any time. Thankfully, Vernice knows how to juggle her responsibilities and use her time wisely thanks to an unlikely ‘teacher’ – her cheerleading activity back in university.
The sport entailed long training hours and tremendous physical energy, so she learnt how to balance that commitment along with her academic studies out of necessity.
“This is applicable to my current work, as I realise that it’s nearly impossible to finish everything on my plate at once – I have to prioritise my responsibilities and discharge my duties to the best of my abilities.”
Thanks her time-management skills, she is able to take full advantage of all the opportunities PUB has to offer.
Engineers in the Arts
In their off time, the NEW Scholars showcase their artistic flair. Justin enjoys street and portrait photography, while Vernice plays the Guzheng, an instrument that she picked up when she was eight years old.
“For young engineers like me, we are challenged to keep learning and upgrading ourselves, not just to stay relevant but also to find new solutions and bring more value to Singapore’s engineering workforce,” she highlighted.
But ultimately, it is the chance to help Singapore face the ever-evolving challenges in water supply management that keeps her motivated. She also hoped that future scholars would possess the same drive.
“Singapore is facing an ever-growing and evolving challenge to enhance its water security as well as protect its coasts against rising sea levels,” said Vernice. “Joining PUB would put you at the forefront of this challenge and provide you with numerous opportunities to develop yourself, regardless of whatever role you take on.
“It is by no means an easy career - but it will be an immensely rewarding one if you have the right passion for the job!”