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Unlikely scholar overcomes self-doubt to find his calling as a rail engineer
As a project engineer at the Land Transport Authority, SIT scholar Jantzen Lee is an integral part of the team who commissions new trains for the Thomson-East Coast Line. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

Guided by mentors and driven by real-world challenges, this SIT scholar now applies his hunger for growth to commissioning new trains for the Thomson-East Coast Line

Mr Jantzen Lee never imagined he would qualify for a university scholarship as he was not a top scorer at the polytechnic. 

However, when he attended the open house at the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) in 2019, he discovered that their undergraduate scholarship was not awarded based on grades alone but on one’s potential to make a real impact on society.

Intrigued, Mr Lee applied for the scholarship but was not prepared for the gruelling interview.

“The Admissions and Financial Aid (AFA) team from SIT conducted the interview, and one of them, assistant director Saleh Omar Talib, posed so many tough questions that I thought I had failed the interview,” recounts the 26-year-old.

To his surprise, they gave him the scholarship.

“I guess they liked my outspoken nature,” he says with a laugh. “The scholarship really put me on the fast track to my career.” 

Before enrolling at SIT, Mr Lee had no idea where his future lay. He had studied international logistics and supply chain management at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, but felt lost about his career choices while he spent the next two years doing national service. 

When he visited SIT for the first time, the university’s Sustainable Infrastructure Engineering (Land) degree programme (now renamed Engineering Systems) caught his attention. He was struck by how so many things had to work together in Singapore’s efficient transport network. That was when he decided to pick his path and not look back. 

Having joined full-time in 2022, Mr Lee is now a project engineer at the Land Transport Authority (LTA), as part of the Rolling Stock Projects team that oversees the design, manufacturing, testing and commissioning of new trains for the Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) to bring about greater accessibility to the commuters.

His LTA job has striking parallels to his SIT scholarship journey: Constantly meeting challenges head-on to achieve high performance.

Meeting deadlines under pressure

One of Mr Lee’s key responsibilities at LTA is to ensure that new trains for the TEL are operationally ready before being put into passenger service. 

The trains undergo a series of rigorous testing both overseas and in Singapore to ensure that they operate as intended. The test scenarios include simulating passenger service conditions and system degradation. The LTA engineers also work tirelessly from night till dawn, splitting into three shifts over 24 hours, to ensure the project deliverables are achieved.

The pressure to commission the trains on time can be stressful yet fulfilling, and Mr Lee has learnt from his scholarship experience how to take things in stride. 

“I was a perfectionist and did not like to make mistakes,” he reveals. “However, my mentors in the SIT scholarship programme encouraged boldness and created a safe environment that promotes growth and learning over fault-finding.

“Thanks to them, I am now less afraid to make mistakes and am ready to take on more challenges.”

Mr Lee’s mentors included Mr Saleh from SIT’s AFA team, SIT career coach Ong Gin Yong and his work mentor Lim Wen Xin. They guided him in various key areas like soft skills development and industry best practices while exposing him to new opportunities in the field of engineering.

“My work mentor told me that how much we want to learn depends on how hungry we are as individuals,” he says.

Growing as a scholar

That hunger to grow was further stoked by being with like-minded achievers at SIT. 

During his first year, Mr Lee attended the SIT Scholars’ Camp, where he and other scholars discovered their strengths and weaknesses through workshops and gaming activities.

In his second year, Covid-19 struck, and he learnt to apply his leadership skills in a virtual space, serving as an emcee during an online event to welcome the next batch of scholars. 

During the years of nationwide lockdown, he began to experience self-doubt about his status as a scholar, but his mentors and fellow SIT scholars never lost faith in his ability to excel. 

“I will always remember what my mentors told me: To always be learning and growing.”

Mr Jantzen Lee, recipient of the SIT Scholarship

Through their scholar network activities, they continued to encourage each other to press on. 

“I used to believe that scholars needed to ‘have it all’ – that is, excel academically, be charismatic to lead peers and do well in co-curricular activities,” says Mr Lee.

“However, I’ve learnt that it is not about having it all together, but about who we can become.”

Integrating work and study at SIT

His fast track in learning the ropes at LTA was also made possible by SIT’s year-long Integrated Work Study Programme (IWSP). 

The IWSP is a distinctive feature of SIT’s degree programmes that allows students to integrate theory and practice with their choice of industry. 

Students attend career skills workshops to identify career goals, build resumes and improve interview skills, followed by a rigorous interview process for work placements.

“I started the IWSP programme at LTA in September 2021,” says the SIT scholar. “One year later, I graduated and went back to work with the same LTA division”. 

“This meant that I was operationally ready from my first day of full-time work, while other new hires had to take time to grasp the basics of their roles.”

His scholarship and SIT experience may have helped him get ahead of the curve, but he is not about to slow down. 

“I will always remember what my mentors told me: To always be learning and growing,” he says.

“Thanks to SIT, I now have a mindset to always embrace new challenges.”

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