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From Oxford to Columbia: How she’s prepping for Changi Airport’s future
Ella Tan Changi Airport Group scholar
Ms Ella Tan hopes to deepen her skills while pursuing her master’s degree in political science at Columbia University in New York. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ELLA TAN

A passion for exploration has led this CAG scholar halfway across the world, where she is gaining diverse skills to enhance the Republic’s status as a global air hub

Driven by a sense of curiosity and passion for adventure, Ms Ella Tan has always been drawn to the unknown. In the thick of the Covid-19 pandemic, she moved abroad to pursue her Bachelor of Arts in History at the University of Oxford. 

Amidst pandemic restrictions, she had to navigate the minutiae of daily life, like handling rent and managing household chores on her own, while adjusting to a new school in an unfamiliar environment dictated by fluctuating social isolation rules. 

Nevertheless, she says those experiences made her the person she is today. 

“I learnt how to adapt to ever-changing conditions while maintaining my peace of mind,” says Ms Tan. “Living in Britain not only broadened my horizons but also taught me to be adaptable and resilient, and to thrive in uncertainty.”

Taking a leap of faith

Ms Tan’s overseas studies and living expenses are fully supported by the Changi Airport Group (CAG) Undergraduate Scholarship

CAG scholars are given opportunities to attend overseas student exchange programmes, summer programmes and internships and later, embark on a multifaceted career with the organisation through job rotations, secondments and overseas assignments. 

Despite initial trepidation about joining the aviation industry, she was drawn to CAG’s dynamic and innovative work managing one of the world’s most awarded airports. 

With the organisation’s diverse business functions, she knew she would have myriad opportunities to exercise her strengths and interests, learn new things and develop herself. It was what eventually motivated her to apply for the scholarship.

Since becoming a CAG scholar, Ms Tan has performed two internships with the organisation and tried her hand at the wide-ranging work that the company is involved in.

As an Airside Operations intern, she was tasked to lead a data analysis project on risk management related to Foreign Object Debris in the aerodrome. There, she was given the chance to shadow operations teams on overnight shifts and participate in runway inspections, among other responsibilities. 

These hands-on experiences not only gave her a glimpse into the innermost workings of the airport but also allowed her to use the observations to come up with solutions that would benefit the company. 

At the end of the internship, she also had the opportunity to make policy recommendations to higher management. 

Later, as an intern with the Strategic Workforce Planning team, she took the lead in launching Kids@CAG, a pilot employee welfare initiative comprising two children’s camps and a full-day family tour of Changi Airport.

“While both involved very different types of work, what I valued most about them was the opportunity to take ownership of my work, and to develop myself as both a leader and a team player,” says Ms Tan, of her two internships.

“It is not about how much you have achieved so far but how you will make use of the opportunities given to you in the future.”

Ms Ella Tan, recipient of the CAG Undergraduate Scholarship

Leveraging global perspectives 

Ms Tan believes these richly rewarding internship experiences, coupled with her global education, have prepared her well for a career at CAG. 

“As the operator of a leading air hub, CAG must respond to ever-changing local and international conditions. I believe my studies have equipped me to tackle complex and dynamic problems within such a fast-paced environment,” she says.

Her history studies at Oxford have also equipped her with the skills to analyse global issues from an interdisciplinary perspective and delve into diverse fields such as politics, gender studies, development and international relations. 

These, in turn, have helped her grasp the nuances of the aviation industry. 

“It not only expanded my perspectives immensely but also taught me how to think critically to analyse complex issues and solve multi-layered problems,” she explains. 

With CAG’s support, Ms Tan is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Political Science, with a specialisation in comparative politics at Columbia University in the United States. 

She says that her coursework allows her to diversify her skill sets through modules in coding and statistical analysis. It will also enable her to apply and deepen the research skills gained during her undergraduate studies. 

Studying in New York – a global hub of politics and culture – has also given her opportunities to learn from leaders and scholars from around the world while gaining a comprehensive understanding of the current geopolitical landscape. 

Most recently, she was given the chance to attend the World Leaders Forum and meet with Singapore’s President Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

Her scholarship experience has reaffirmed her belief that one can always excel outside of their comfort zone. 

For students looking to apply for the CAG scholarship, she advises them to “be authentic in showing off their personality, interests and strengths; know what they can bring to the table; and not feel like they need to fit certain expectations”. 

She adds: “After all, it is not about how much you have achieved so far but how you will make use of the opportunities given to you in the future.”

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