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Helping others take flight

When Ms Katherine Chan told her parents that she was considering taking up an aerospace engineering diploma at Temasek Polytechnic (TP), they tried dissuading her from entering the male-dominated field.

Yet they were the ones who sparked her interest in aircraft in the first place.

Some of her fondest childhood memories include family outings to air force open houses, where she would get excited about fighter jets, helicopters and aircraft, and picnics at Changi Beach where she loved watching planes fly by.

“As my interest in planes grew, I began watching shows on air crash investigations. That’s when I realised I was more interested in how an aircraft works, rather than actually flying it,” says the 23-year-old, who eventually won her parents over.

After graduating from TP in 2016, Ms Chan learnt about a new degree programme developed in collaboration with SIA Engineering Company (SIAEC) that Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) was launching.

The Bachelor of Engineering with Honours in Aircraft Systems Engineering appealed to her immensely and she joined the programme’s pioneer cohort in 2018.

Overcoming all odds

Currently a Year 2 student, Ms Chan was offered the SIT Mid-term Scholarship last November. She believes it has not only helped to chart her career path, but also overcome challenges that inhibit her personal growth.

The self-professed introvert has become more confident after attending programmes such as the scholars’ camp and outreach events such as SIT Open House. She is also the vice-president of SIT’s tchoukball club, and a youth mentor to Secondary 3 and 4 students in a youth outreach programme called Young Engineer’s Space (YES).

She shares that her biggest challenge comes from being part of a pioneer cohort of students. There are no seniors to turn to for advice on schoolwork and projects, nor past year papers to review and practise on. But she is grateful that her professors are especially patient and willing to lend support.

A rewarding career
Following her recent completion of a foundational training on mechanical and electrical repairs to aircraft, Ms Chan will start an eight-month Integrated Work Study Programme (IWSP) in her final year. She will be attached to SIAEC, which oversees maintenance, repair and overhaul services for more than 80 international airlines and aerospace equipment manufacturers.

“The IWSP will train us to be licensed aircraft engineers (LAE). I’m looking forward to gaining more specialist knowledge and skills with on-the-job training in the SIAEC hangars, where we will be assigned to LAEs to carry out repairs and overhaul of the aircraft,” she says.

Being an LAE is tough, and its responsibilities, hefty. But Ms Chan is undaunted.

“An LAE’s mistakes can cost many lives. But it can also be rewarding to know that at any point in time, there are hundreds of people on board a plane that I’ve helped to fix and maintain. And that I’ve played a part in facilitating others to travel the world,” she adds.