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Cultivating a passion to serve

Most first-year undergraduates prefer to explore their options before declaring a major. But Ms Calynn Tan, 19, had already decided to enrol in the new Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) degree programme at the National University of Singapore (NUS) last year.

The recipient of the NUS Merit Scholarship feels that the multidisciplinary programme, which was jointly established by the university’s Philosophy, Political Science and Economics departments in 2018, would offer her “a well-rounded understanding of various intricately-linked disciplines, rather than just one in isolation”.

A firm believer in the big picture, Ms Tan knows that having a good grasp of sociopolitics and economics would help her make better decisions for the benefit of society when she enters a career in public service in the future.

She explains: “For instance, having a sound knowledge of politics and economics will enable me to take into account political and economical considerations of giving subsidies to the underprivileged. In some Semester 1 courses, I was also able to draw links between the cost-benefit structure underlying economics with principles of utilitarianism in philosophy.”

Since Ms Tan started her undergraduate studies, she has had the opportunity to engage local political analysts and even a retired Singapore diplomat in conversation — experiences she counts as huge privileges.

Last October, she attended a fireside chat with former Ministry of Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary and Ambassador-at-Large Mr Bilahari Kausikan, who shared many valuable insights on the internal and external affairs of Singapore, including the rivalry between the United States and China.

“As I was once a Bicultural Studies Programme scholar, this sharing was of particular interest to me,” she enthuses.

Giving back to society
Apart from devoting time to her studies and her occasional role as finance secretary of the PPE Society, Ms Tan also spends her time making good on her desire to give back.

Currently, she is working to gather her fellow scholars and start a Seeds Of Good initiative, an NUS community development learning programme that empowers students to contribute to society. Ms Tan is looking into a programme that would serve the underprivileged migrant community by equiping them with practical, transferable skills, enabling them to mentor others of similar backgrounds.

But her real passion lies in helping youth — who, like herself in her formative years, are struggling in their personal lives — to not only achieve academic excellence, but also find solace.

During the June holidays last year, she helped organise a Youth Games Day for over 200 youth — some of whom were identified as at-risk — aged 13 to 19, in partnership with Queensway Secondary School. She now provides free weekly tuition to youth from less-privileged backgrounds at her church.

Ms Tan believes that the classroom is a place where teachers can interact extensively with their students on an almost-daily basis, putting them in a position where they can make a positive, lasting impact on their lives.

“On a larger scale, I also believe that the way to tackling many socio-economic problems is through education, which has the power to change whole generations of people. And I want to have a part to play in it,” she adds.