IN HER teenage years, Ms May Tay’s career aspirations changed every few months. She wanted to be a poet, engineer and lawyer, to name a few. “I knew I needed the flexibility and time to discover what I really wanted to do,” says Ms Tay, 23. Yale-NUS College gave her the perfect opportunity to fully explore her options. The Global Merit Scholar says she was honoured to receive a full scholarship and was deeply inspired by the potential the college saw in her. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of a pioneering and bold project,” says Ms Tay, who graduated last year as part of Yale-NUS’s first batch of students. A collaboration between Yale University and the National University of Singapore, Yale-NUS College is Singapore’s first liberal arts college. It was established in 2011 and admitted its first intake in 2013. All students are automatically considered for merit-based scholarships upon application to Yale-NUS. Its undergraduates typically enrol in a four-year programme that focuses on a broad-based multi-disciplinary learning approach in the arts, humanities and social and natural sciences. All Yale-NUS College students take a compulsory common curriculum designed to give students in-depth exposure to a range of fields across academic disciplines, from science to the humanities. In their first two years, undergraduates can also explore different courses from 14 major fields of study before deciding on a major by the end of their second year. Some majors include anthropology, global affairs, literature, physical sciences, psychology, urban studies and philosophy. “I saw the scholarship as an opportunity to be more proactive about my undergraduate education,” says Ms Tay. Speaking about the benefits of the multi-disciplinary common curriculum, she says: “The idea behind it is incredibly powerful and important — that one’s education should not be restricted to traditional academic silos or limited by whether one feels more like a ‘science person’ or an ‘arts person’.” In her second year, Ms Tay chose to major in Environmental Studies after an introductory course left her thoroughly intrigued by the subject. The scholar was “shopping around for good courses to take” in her sophomore year when she attended the first class of the Introduction to Environmental Studies module. Her interest was piqued by the professor’s engaging teaching style. She recalls: “He raised the dilemma of unlimited human consumption on a fundamentally finite planet. “I realised I didn’t have a clue what a more sustainable alternative future looked like — when our consumption levels are already reaching a tipping point. This spurred me to pursue this major and find out for myself.” Ms Tay says majoring in Environmental Studies enabled her to explore her love of hiking and her interest in the social sciences. The subject also sparked a desire in her to bring about meaningful change in the world. The scholar appreciated the small discussion-based classes — comprising about 20 to 30 people — saying this enables students to form close relationships with their professors.
Ms Tay, who now works in Stockholm as a business controller trainee at fashion label H&M, says Yale-NUS also stands out because of its diverse community. “Yale-NUS students, staff and faculty come from everywhere in the world. I had never been in a more international community in my life.” Ms Tay is glad the scholarship gave her financial and academic freedom. “The fact that it was bond-free gave me the courage to explore various academic interests without having to worry about being ‘stuck’ to one major,” she adds. The scholar also appreciates that she was able to spend a semester abroad at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. She shares that her time at Yale allowed her to experience life as part of a larger and older university community. “I was also able to take graduate courses at Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and its School of Management.” She was especially excited to pursue niche courses that covered both business and environmental studies. For example, she took a graduate-level class at the School of Management called Managing Sustainable Operations.
“We studied a business case for sustainability and I learnt a lot, especially from my older classmates, who shared differing views on corporate sustainability based on their years of experience working in both private and non-profit sectors.” Ms Tay says the real-life experiences that her classmates shared “thoroughly enriched” the classroom discussions. “I was lucky to get into really good classes with great professors and classmates, as well as make a few friends with whom I still keep in touch.”