"Alumni, faculty, students, staff, we must see USP as one community, not disparate entities. And it starts with us, when we interact with seniors, when we organise events or propose initiatives, to be cognisant that USP is huge, diverse and ONE."
“You were the Golden Snitch?” A genuine question, a few gasps, and then a matter-of-factly answer, “Yes, for a couple of years. I remember trying out the game at the field and hiding in one of those steeplechase pits…”
It felt like one of those Friday evenings when you had knocked off, relieved that there was no “OT” that night, with a little less weight on your shoulders. Yes, but not quite. You were actually cheery and a little excited about the night ahead. Maybe you had a romantic dinner planned out, or a new gadget just arrived in your mailbox. Or perhaps, just perhaps, there was a slight chance you were headed for the Scholars Programme Alumni Network (SPAN) Get-Together 2014.
On 14 November 2014, the annual SPAN Get-Together was held at Marriott Singapore as 101 alumni, faculty, staff and students from the National University of Singapore University Scholars Programme (USP) made time for an evening of memories and great company. As with the get-together dinners of yesteryears, the evening began with welcome-back speeches by USP Director Professor John Richardson, and USP Deputy Director (Student Life) Associate Professor Albert Teo. This year, however, was somewhat special, for a third speaker was introduced.
“Hi all, I am Jin, from the Class of 2008, and I would like to speak to you about our newly established USP Alumni Society.”
Entering its 15th year, USP has come a long way since its inception in 2000, with the fusion of the Talent Development Programme and the Core Curriculum Programme. With the successful organisation of We Will Dance, Singapore’s first fund-raising dance marathon, by USP alumni in August 2013, talk of forming an alumni society for USP began making its rounds among the various alumni circles. In July 2014, an interim executive committee was formed to lay the foundation for the USP Alumni Society.
Jamie Thong Yu Jin (Psychology + USP, Class of 2008), or simply Jin as he is affectionately known, heads this interim committee as Acting President and is supported by USP graduates from a good mix of years – from as early as the Class of 2005 to as recent as the Class of 2013. The purpose of the alumni society, as Jin explained, is to serve as a platform for USP alumni to connect with peers, undergraduates, beloved faculty and staff, and enable greater collaboration in furthering meaningful causes and initiatives.
Connect – With fellow alumni, faculty, staff and students
USP now has a sizeable pool of graduates and, as Jin reflected, many of his peers desire to stay connected to USP, to each other, to the faculty, to seniors and juniors too. This is where an alumni society can help—to make this happen!
One way to do so, as Sindhu Tjahyono (Civil Engineering + USP, Class of 2005) suggested, is for the alumni society to organise activities centred on “fun” or “common interests” instead of conventional networking sessions. No Trivia Matter, organised by a few alumni in February 2014, is one good example. Conceptualised as a casual gathering over a Singapore-themed pub quiz, No Trivia Matter was very well received.
In a group conversation on how alumni might wish to be reconnected, Clement Kwok (Engineering Science + USP, Class of 2013) quipped, “You know what I think? We all miss lessons and conversations with our professors, so maybe there’s something there [we can pursue]…” Turning to Josephine Cai, USP’s very own career advisor, Clement added, “Thus far, I think the mentorship programme has been a great platform!” The mentorship programme that Clement referred to is the USP Alumni-Student Career Mentorship Programme. Set up and administered by Josephine (Jo), this programme matches USP undergraduates with alumni mentors who share similar industry interests and career goals. “Jo helped me a lot in my graduating year,” and being a mentor now, in Clement’s words, “is a way to give back to the community.”
When asked to share his USP experience, Galven Lee (History + USP, Class of 2014) took a contemplative pause before responding that, “Actually, a lot of things in my life happened because of USP. My joint degree programme [with the Australian National University], my girlfriend, my current job, they are all linked to USP.”
On interactions with current undergraduates, Galven suggested having “Alumnights”, weekly dinners when alumni are welcome to dine in Cinnamon College (USP). “Now that USP has a physical space like this to ourselves, we should consider making use of it to grow our community,” Galven continues, “and maybe, it can become a norm for alumni to drop by for a casual dine-and-chat with students at their own time.”
In another conversation, Shane Yan (Psychology + USP, Class of 2008) suggested the possibility of “power dinners”, much like power lunches (also known as lunch and learn) in the corporate world but with the sharing conducted by fellow alumni, students or professors. This way, there will be knowledge exchange and everyone can learn from industry experts, keep abreast with the academic world or simply share best practices. Alumni who are trainers can also conduct short learning sessions for all. This will allow for networking, idea exchange, mentoring and learning for everyone on various aspects of life.
Collaborate – To run events and further causes together
Beyond connecting alumni with faculty and students, Jin and his committee are also looking at cause-based mentorship as a model for future collaborations. Citing We Will Dance as an example, Jin elaborated on how this fund-raising event has been transformed from an alumni-run event into a working prototype for cause-based mentorship initiatives in future. Returning in 2015, We Will Dance is now driven by a team of USP students, mentored by USP alumni.
On ideas for future collaborations, Shane proposed hackathon or idea generation platforms, where students, alumni and professors can gather and share specific areas of interests or problem statements. Such a platform encourages collaborative efforts in brainstorming for possible solutions. Such ventures could incorporate design thinking, allow for multidisciplinary perspectives, and potentially take the form of Independent Study Modules that USP students may pursue. Ideas generated could even translate into real projects, which could be open to development and execution by anyone else in the USP and wider NUS community.
In a recent survey administered by the University Scholars Club (USC), over 60 per cent of the 444 USP student respondents indicated interest in finding out more about “career pathways” and “life experiences in general” from alumni while 32 per cent of survey respondents showed interest in discussing “current affairs and public policy” with alumni.
“This year, we hope to pull the USP community closer together,” responded Goh Seng Chiy (Chemical Engineering + USP, Year 2), President of the USC 14th Management Committee, when asked on the Club’s role in alumni engagement, “Alumni, faculty, students, staff, we must see USP as one community, not disparate entities. And it starts with us, when we interact with seniors, when we organise events or propose initiatives, to be cognisant that USP is huge, diverse and one.”
After an evening of reminiscence and laughter, this year’s SPAN Get-Together came to a close but not without many group photos, goodbyes-after-goodbyes and great anticipation for the fledgling alumni society as USP enters its 15th year in 2015.
Oh, and just one more thing.
“Well, there was really no place to hide out in the open field…and yes, if they ask me back to be the Golden Snitch again, why not?”
For more photos of this event, please check out the album @ USP Facebook.