Given Teo Wei Ywin’s love for subjects like math and physics since she was a young student for their logical applications, it’s not hard to see how engineering emerged as a natural choice of career.
You could also say it runs in her blood. She had cousins who studied engineering, and her father was an electrical specialist. As a child, she enjoyed many road trips where her father would point out the car window at the various projects he had worked on — including the old NUS Techno Edge canteen.
“I think there’s a great sense of achievement in creating things you can see and touch,” she explains. “If I have children in the future, it would definitely be great to show them what I’ve built.”
When it came time for university, her cousins tried to sway her to apply to their respective schools. In the end, however, NUS won out because Wei Ywin loved the friendly vibe and plentiful extracurricular offerings.
“At NUS Open House, everyone was very friendly and approachable. In fact, they’ll be the ones to approach you.
It also seemed like a very happening place, with many activities and opportunities.”
After matriculating, she quickly dived into these activities on offer. Before NUS, she had been an avid martial arts practitioner who was trained in Taekwondo and Aikido. In her first year at NUS, she decided to complement her existing skills by joining NUS Judo and NUS Muay Thai.
However, there was more to the training than just kicks, throws and a high tolerance for bodily pain. Wei Ywin believes she’s gained more from martial arts than just the ability to defend herself.
“In martial arts, you learn to respect your teachers and your sensei,” she explains. “You also get the sense of confidence to step out of your comfort zone. When you don’t know the techniques for self-defence, you often feel very helpless in new or strange situations.”
Wei Ywin (first from right) with her friends on exchange
Her desire to escape this “comfort zone” was what led her to do an exchange at Montreal’s McGill University in her third year. It was her first time travelling beyond Asia and living by herself, but Wei Ywin didn’t let the unfamiliarity stop her from making the most of her time in Canada.
During her semester aboard, Wei Ywin had adventures enough to fill a Netflix mini-series.
In place of a university dorm, she bunked with five other housemates from Singapore, Norway, Belgium, China and Australia in a cosy apartment off-campus. Together with her Singaporean housemates, she went on a week-long trip to Alberta.
“We heard that Alberta’s national parks were renowned for their beauty and many lakes, and so we spent an evening kayaking into the sunset at Lake Louise, which was one of the most mesmerising lakes ever. It was gorgeous.”
Wei Ywin kayaking in Lake Louise
She also signed up for a Masters-level module on hydraulics, not realising that the course would require some Masters-level programming know-how.
“Luckily, the teaching assistants are very helpful. They really did everything they could to help.”
Many adventures were had during her time at NUS Civil Engineering, but Wei Ywin did more than just enjoy herself. She also picked up a variety of skills and experiences which would aid her in clinching the BCA-Industry iBuildSG Undergraduate Scholarship and eventually, her current job as a civil and structural engineer for AECOM.
In the process of planning and building MRT systems, she finds herself drawing upon what she had learnt through the rigorous coursework in university, such as using special software for modelling and analysis in designing concrete and steel structures.
An engineer’s main job is to solve problems, and she credits Senior Lecturer Dr Paul Ong Pang Awn and Professor Koh Chan Ghee for shaping her approach to problem-solving.
“Senior Lecturer Dr Paul was my final-year adviser. My final-year project was extremely broad and he taught me that you don’t have to build something completely new. Sometimes, you can just build upon what others have done or optimise something already in use.”
“Prof Koh, on the other hand, showed me that you don’t always have to follow the system. He encouraged me to think out of the box and come up with creative solutions.”
Mentors aside, she also gained an abundance of useful first-hand experience from the engineering competitions she participated in. These competitions, like Xylem Ignite and International Built Environment Competition, pit different teams against each other. Working together with architects, environmental engineers and mechanical engineers, she had to solve real-world problems under tight time pressure.
Wei Ywin (middle) taking part in the International Build Environment Competition
“It was very fast-paced and since I was doing a summer internship at the same time, my schedule was very packed,” she recalls. “It was very tiring, but very satisfying at the same time, which is why I always returned. I like the rush.”
It wasn’t easy to balance such diverse interests with her academics and work experience, but Wei Ywin managed nonetheless thanks to her superb planning and organisation skills. Although adjusting to the fast pace of university learning was difficult at first, she gradually learnt to find her work-life balance.
“Before recess week, I would relax and enjoy myself. After recess week, I would sit myself down and get to studying,” she recounts. “Knowing when to have fun and when to study is crucial. I’ve been through phases where I revised so hard that I burned out at the most crucial moment.”
Wei Ywin (first from right) having fun scuba diving in the open waters of Malaysia with NUS Dive
For her, this sense of balance is one of the most important lessons a freshman can learn, because it allows them to fully embrace what NUS can offer.
“Always be open-minded to new things, but pace yourself so you don’t burn out in the process!”