Entering university is often one of the biggest points of self-reflection in our lives – where do I see myself after I graduate? How will my choices in university affect my future? For Cheng Lei, his passion lies in computing, but he did not envision himself “just sitting there and coding all day”. He desired to be challenged beyond his comfort zone and a broader form of learning that a single degree couldn’t provide.
And so began his USP Story...
As an Information Systems student in the School of Computing, the USP curriculum provided him with valuable exposure to other academic fields. For one, he had the opportunity to hone his writing skills. Through the Writing and Critical Thinking Module: Issues In and Around Justice, he was also exposed to the realm of moral justice. Although it was initially challenging for Cheng Lei to grasp the background of great Philosophers from scratch, he eventually introduced his own take by providing a logical analysis of abstract philosophical concepts in his final essay.
Indeed, the mix of people from different faculties in USP allows for novel and varied opinions to be raised regarding an issue. In addition, the structure of the USP curriculum is designed to facilitate the harmonisation of various perspectives and deeper exploration of course material through alternative viewpoints. Cheng Lei came to this conclusion while taking the Singapore Studies Module: The Making of a Nation. Given that many of us seem to be knowledgeable about Singapore’s short history (especially after taking national education classes in school), the assignment that required students to recreate the Singapore narrative using only four forms of evidence proved refreshing for him, as the students were forced to re-examine the knowledge they had. They were now challenged to push aside their prior knowledge of history to explore a whole range of possible new narratives and viewpoints, and Cheng Lei believes this understanding of multiple perspectives shapes one to be more critical and well-rounded.
Beyond the rich academic experience USP provides, its tight-knit and unique community is also something Cheng Lei truly appreciates. In fact, when asked about the one thing in USP he will miss the most after graduation, he answers without hesitation, “The people. The friendships forged with (the people in administration) and with my fellow peers, they are things I will really look forward to reconnecting with after I graduate.” Indeed, the nature of residential living, of “spending a lot of time with people you never thought you’d meet in university”, going through a similar USP curriculum and being vested with the opportunity to shape this community allows people to truly grow and do life together. He shares about a group of friends from his freshmen floor who call themselves the “steamboat gang” that still meets up regularly to have steamboat, even as their conversation topics have evolved from curriculum matters to their future plans and ambitions.
Moreover, he appreciates how the people in USP are embracing of different perspectives even as they are keen to share their own insights as well. These discussions allow for exchange of knowledge and opportunities to learn from each other.
This community was of such significance to Cheng Lei that he chose to serve in the USP’s Management Committee (MC) for two terms, including a second term as President. He thoroughly enjoyed his time in the MC, which allowed him to truly appreciate the amount of student participation in USP. To him, the student autonomy in USP is extremely unique: students are given a multitude of opportunities to shape USP, be it in the form of community life or academic learning, with strong support from the administration. The small community also allows space to try out new initiatives, building a culture of innovation and improvement. This sense of student empowerment encourages students to voice out their opinions to provide the direction for the MC to take action and curates a smooth feedback loop for continued improvements. His time in MC added a whole new dimension of learning to his university life including communication and people management skills – skills which will be indispensable as he moves on to the outside working world. Now, even as an MC-retiree, Cheng Lei continues to shape the USP community by sharing his views and pushing ideas to fruition.
Cheng Lei also had the opportunity to expand his learning beyond the local context through a Student Exchange Programme to the University of Calgary in Canada. The Canadian culture of collective effort where they voluntarily formed study groups, openly shared their knowledge and were forthcoming with their limitations was truly eye-opening for him. He was also able to explore the vast amount of nature that Canada has to offer. Visits to various national parks and other picturesque locations were certainly memorable and offered a refreshing break from his study routine.
Indeed, Cheng Lei’s past three years in USP have been nothing short of what he had hoped for - to challenge himself through greater exposure not only academically, but also in terms of his skills and perspectives. With the plethora of opportunities available in USP, there are many possible endings to one’s USP story. What you can be sure of, however, is that the closely-knit mish-mash of individuals in the USP community will definitely make your story an interesting one.