You’d better be ready for a high-five when you see Professor Thomas Magnanti, the president of SUTD, strolling down the corridor towards you. Affectionately known as ‘Tom’, he often walks around the campus, interacting with students, faculty and staff, whether in the cohort classrooms, Fab Lab, or the offices. You can’t miss him — Tom walks with a spring in his step and you can’t help but feel energetic and excited around him.
Tom continues to surprise and lift the spirits of people he meets in the new East Coast Campus. “Just the fact that it’s such a small, intimate campus. You get to interact with people everyday. You see them everyday.” That’s his favourite part of being in SUTD. He loves the sense of community that has been built up here amongst students, faculty and staff.
“When we think about where we’ve come from, and where we are now, it’s really quite extraordinary.”
Tom’s vision for SUTD is short, concise and elegant: To be the world’s number one university in technology and design. “When anyone thinks about technology and design, who do they think of first? Us.” That’s where he aims to put SUTD on the world map.
Looking back, he remembers how SUTD first started, when a team of 20 occupied one floor — the Ghim Moh campus. It must have been an exciting experience starting a new university from ground up. Tom said that it was sad to leave Ghim Moh for the Dover Campus, but it was a move that was important and of course, essential as SUTD welcomed its first three batches of students. Having settled in to the new campus, Tom is excited to welcome many more batches of students to the SUTD fold.
“It’s like when you’re a kid and you grow up at home, and eventually you move out to your own house. We’ve grown up here metaphorically, it’s been our home. We’re moving out into the brave new world.”
He loves how SUTD students bring a lot of energy, creativity and passion to their work. One of his favourite projects involved students analysing Angry Birds for a physics project. They presented their findings through a skit — something that was very memorable and refreshing. Tom is impressed with how articulate and confident the students are, traits that are important qualities for all young aspiring professionals.
One of his students will surely remember this moment with Tom. “After one of the admission exercises, after all the potential students had gone, I started talking with one of our students. He had just completed his NS, and we started talking about exercise. So I challenged him to some sit-ups. We started doing our sit-ups and I beat him!”
Tom brings that same energy to his work and everyday life as well. He remembers teaching one of the first classes at SUTD, on the very first day of university. Everyone was surprised to find the president of the university teaching a class, but he enjoys it all. At one of the matriculation classes, he ended it with a sweep of his lightsaber, and those famous wise words: May the Force be with you!
There are exciting times ahead for SUTD. Be ready for the high-fives because you know they are coming. So what defines the SUTD experience? Tom says it best:
“Energy. Passion. Excitement. We want people to wake up every morning and to be excited for the day ahead of you. This was going to be a day when I’m learning, doing something interesting, something important.”