It all started at a week-long internship at ST Engineering, where as a young junior college student, Mehakpreet Kaur Virdi had a first inkling of what she wanted to do with her career.
She recalls: “They brought us to different offices, like their aerospace office, and their marine office. I was already interested in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) field at that point, but what struck me was how in every office, you see different people doing different things, yet still working in synergy.”
“The designers, the builders, the product guys - they all come together to keep things running smoothly. I could see myself in a dynamic environment like that.”
A hardworking and keen learner, Mehakpreet always did well at school. But when it came time to enter university, she knew she wanted to venture into a field that wouldn’t just make her a smarter person, but also someone who can make a difference.
“When I first learnt about computing in junior college, I tried to find out everything I could in this area. I looked at companies like Apple and Facebook, and saw that they were essentially formed by people who had ideas, and worked to bring them to life.
“Just look at how these ideas have made such a big difference to the world!”
With an air of quiet ambition, the 19-year-old sees computing as her gateway to a purposeful career.
She explains: “I’d like to do something with my life that leaves a positive impact on society. I particularly like the idea of exploring entrepreneurship, and using my computing skills to build something that I’m really passionate about.”
Mehakpreet’s desire to make the world a better place started from a young age. In secondary school, she once worked on a campaign about animal welfare, targeted at young children.
At the NUS Open Day, she was immediately drawn to the global opportunities available to students, as well as the university’s emphasis on internships for gaining practical experience.
Now a first-year student at the School of Computing, Mehakpreet also managed to secure an NUS Merit Scholarship that will offset much of the costs of her studies as well as her participation in such programmes.
The scholarship is bond-free, which she finds liberating. She says: “I have greater flexibility to try different things without having to decide right now what I want to be doing in four years’ time. I’ll also get to take on service learning projects as part of the scholarship programme, which I enjoy. My group-mates and I have already begun discussing some ideas for doing a project that benefits children in Singapore.
“As a whole, it also gives me a lot of room to explore other enrichment activities, and to go all out and try everything I can make time for as an NUS student.”
Diving into the world of computing hasn’t been easy, even for someone who’s accustomed to scoring straight As in school. Without prior experience in the subject, Mehakpreet initially struggled with programming, and found that it posed the steepest learning curve among her foundational modules.
Fortunately, her professors gamified the lessons, where students could earn points by writing short lines of code on an online portal.
“It became a game where we cleared levels by completing tasks, and got to see our codes in action. Not only was it fun, it actually made me want to code even more.”
As she learnt more about programming, she saw a dynamism to the subject that excited her. For one, doing well isn’t just about devouring textbooks, or gunning for the model answer like in math.
“While we do need to study hard to pick up the basics, programming is actually a very collaborative subject. We discuss our codes, we help each other out, and even though we are given the same question to solve, there is no model answer. Everyone develops their own solutions.”
She illustrates this with a real-world example: “The apps and devices we all use today are all the results of computer science. The fact that these things are great to use is a testament to the creative process behind it, where many people worked together and developed different solutions so that the product could be shaped into its strongest form.”
As such, even as she builds up her technical knowledge, Mehakpreet sees her University Scholars Programme modules as an opportunity to challenge her creativity even further.
“One of my favourite modules from my first semester was a USP module on writing and critical thinking. There were only 12 people in the class with one professor, and we had many small-group discussions which I found very engaging and insightful.”
By having group discussions with her classmates, Mehakpreet was able to push her critical thinking skills while taking her first USP module on writing academic papers.
Coming from a junior college background, she confessed that expressing her own opinions didn’t come naturally to her. The USP module helped her find her voice as it encouraged independent thinking.
On campus, the diverse mix of scholars she interacts on a daily basis has also exposed her to vastly different ways of thinking and learning.
“In the real world, you have to have your own opinion. Being exposed to such diversity has actually made me feel more comfortable expressing my own perspectives too.”
With so much learnt and such confidence gained in only her first semester, Mehakpreet is curious to see how her NUS journey would eventually shape her dreams of leaving her mark on the world.
She says with a smile: “I have a feeling that the experiences I’m going to have in the next four years will play a big part in shaping the direction that I decide to go in eventually.”
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