GROWING up, he wanted to make a difference in society — which was how Mr Chua Jun Yang knew he would need to choose a career that would enable him to do that. When he was the head prefect at Raffles Institution and vice-president of the Student Council in Raffles Junior College, the terms of service for both duties played a major role in his decision to go into the public service. “A lot of it involved running events and introducing initiatives to benefit the rest of the student population,” he recalls. “It was almost like a precursor to policymaking,” says the 28-yearold. After junior college, Mr Chua — who has an inclination for applied sciences and mathematics — knew he wanted to be an engineer, but was not sure which field to pursue. After consulting some seniors and attending various university fairs, he decided to pursue an undergraduate degree in Operations Research and Engineering at Cornell University in the United States. He says: “I was looking for a degree that would equip me with the practical skills that would allow me to make tangible contributions to society. “So this field of engineering naturally appealed to me for its broad applicability and relevance in a wide range of industries.
“After all, engineering is fundamentally about applying science- and math-based models to solve real-life problems for the benefit of society.”
New experiences abroad
Mr Chua decided to apply for the PSC Scholarship as it was an established programme that offered the most diverse range of possible career options. He was one of 41 students to receive the Overseas Merit Scholarship from the Public Service Commission (PSC) in 2009. As his heart was set on expanding his horizons, diversity was his primary concern. So he left the bustling city-state of Singapore for the quiet town of Ithaca, New York. “I chose Cornell for its rural setting and proximity to nature,” he says. “I wanted to experience something completely different from what I would at a Singapore university.” But he also had no shortage of opportunities to explore the world. In his first summer in Cornell, he had a six-week summer school programme at Ecole Centrale Paris in France, with funding from the PSC Scholarship. There, he experienced a different education system as he interacted with engineering students from all over the world.
“The engineering programme at Cornell definitely exceeded my expectations,” he recalls. “Aside from a strong emphasis on project-based learning, the university also encouraged students to enrol in courses across a wide range of other fields.” His coursemates took classes pertaining to food science, animal physiology, archaeology and astronomy. As for Mr Chua, he took an introductory course on plant pathology, and also tried his hand at snowboarding and golf. These electives were typically out of place for an engineer to pursue. But it was this eclectic mix that made Cornell such a vibrant environment to work and study in. Mr Chua took to life in the Ivy League like a fish to water, even attaining membership in the Tau Beta Pi National Engineering Honors Society at Cornell, eligible only to the top 20 per cent of engineering majors. He graduated in 2013 with a master’s degree in Operations Research and Information Engineering. His postgraduate studies were also sponsored by PSC.
Keeping the balance
Today, Mr Chua is the senior assistant director of the Energy Division in the Ministry of Trade and Industry. On first glance, the applicability of an engineering degree to his line of work may not be immediately evident. But Mr Chua’s work also involves designing initiatives and schemes. “The thought processes are very similar to the approaches that we would take in college for our engineering projects on resource optimisation,” he says. For instance, he and his team are currently working with the Energy Market Authority to implement the Open Electricity Market in Jurong in April. As part of the preparations involves ensuring that the backend systems are ready for the launch, Mr Chua needs to have a good technical understanding of how the electricity system and market work. He says: “We need to strike a balance between protecting consumers and facilitating business innovation when designing our consumer protection measures and public education campaign.” Some of the greatest challenges he encounters stem from the fact that he almost always has to make trade-offs in his work. “As a policymaker, it can be challenging because it is not always easy to explain why we have to make these trade-offs,” he says. But ultimately, Mr Chua knows that what he does is always for the greater good. “At the end of the day, I am proud to have done my best to make life better for as many fellow Singaporeans as I could have,” he adds.