6 years after he first set sight on SUTD, 23-year-old Leong Hei Kern is finally a happy Freshmore deciding between the Engineering Product Development (EPD) and Information Systems Technology and Design (ISTD) pillars. Wooed by the prospect of a novel design-meets-engineering pedagogic philosophy, Hei Kern felt certain that no other local university had a similar program. “Design and engineering inter-relate so closely that it doesn’t make sense to see them as separate entities,” he emphatically opines. “I’ve always thought that when you learn engineering, it has to be learnt together with design.”

“SUTD felt like a present that I had to wait awhile to finally open.”

Hei Kern got an initial taste of his dream education with the help of his alma mater, Singapore Polytechnic. He managed to secure an internship program at SUTD where he researched traffic jam simulations and affordable electrocardiogram (ECG) technologies. Following that, Hei Kern joined SUTD as an exchange student from Singapore Polytechnic for the first “3.007” module, making him more confident of his choice. One to impress, Hei Kern remained on SUTD’s radar when he emerged top 5 in SUTD’s Technology and Design Challenge 2011 and earned himself a coveted spot at the IDC Robocon 2011 held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Having made a mark with his ECG project, he was invited back to SUTD to present his work and help out at the Open House event that year. “It was easy because SUTD continuously engaged me,” says Hei Kern, noting that it wasn’t a one-way relationship. Following the Open House presentation, he was also roped in by an internship mate to perform in a band for SUTD’s Groundbreaking ceremony.

“SUTD is a unique place for a specific type of people. They must have an innate excitement and fire for starting or implementing physically and technologically-grounded projects.”

As a Public Service Commission (PSC) scholar, Hei Kern was in a position to choose between many education pathways. While he had no trouble placing his entire faith in SUTD, his parents and family members were initially concerned about the risks of entering a brand new institution. “I had to do a sales pitch to my parents and uncles and aunties,” Hei Kern recalls, reassuring them that he had weighed his options clearly. After careful consideration, Hei Kern decided to turn down an offer from the Renaissance Engineering Program Scholarship in NTU.

Six months into his first year and it is clear that Hei Kern is swimming comfortably with other passionate minds just like his. “I effectively have nerds everywhere,” he muses, appreciating the support and kindredness he seems to have found amongst his peers. He also applies his interest in music by participating in a few SUTD bands. On top of this, Hei Kern is very heartened by the faculty’s commitment to maintain an interdisciplinary slant to project-based learning.

Hei Kern is eager to equip himself with some technological grounding in SUTD, understanding that such knowledge is essential to assess the feasibility of any future project. The bright spark sees himself pursuing research related to the Internet of Things (IOT) and data analytics, which hopefully will lead to a posting at the impending GOVTECH initiative after graduation. “Using engineering knowledge to solve problems is interesting,” he asserts, especially ones that concern sustainable solutions for Singapore. We certainly look forward to seeing Hei Kern excel and what he accomplishes next!

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