Public Service Commission (PSC) Scholarship awards

Hearing others' woes stirs empathy

Public Service Commission scholarship winners Phoebe Shihui Collins and Aaron Rosario Jeyaraj. A total of 71 scholarships were given at the award ceremony yesterday. This year's recipients - who come from 15 different schools such as junior colleges
Public Service Commission scholarship winners Phoebe Shihui Collins and Aaron Rosario Jeyaraj. A total of 71 scholarships were given at the award ceremony yesterday. This year's recipients - who come from 15 different schools such as junior colleges and polytechnics - were chosen from a pool of more than 2,000 applicants.ST PHOTO: DON WONG

For seven months, between October 2015 and April last year, Ms Phoebe Shihui Collins helped out at weekly Meet-the-People Sessions in Pasir Ris and came to know the problems Singaporeans from various walks of life face.

That experience left a deep impression on Ms Collins, now 19, who has decided to pursue a career in the public service.

"You know there are some people who have different lives from you, but it doesn't sink in until you've heard their stories directly," she said. "Empathy is important for civil servants. You can only be empathetic if you have the knowledge of what people are going through."

Ms Collins is among the recipients of the Public Service Commission scholarship this year. The Dunman High School alumnus will be studying economics at the University of California, Los Angeles, this September.

The eloquent teen recently completed a three-month internship at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, where she did research work that offers an understanding of the economy for rational policymaking.

Ms Collins, the middle child of an Irish father, 54, and a Singaporean Chinese mother, 53, believes that being a civil servant comes with many responsibilities, but it also gives her a sense of purpose.

"If you are in the public service, the impact that you make is far-reaching, and that is a heavy responsibility," she explained.

At the age of 10, she moved to Hanoi, Vietnam, where her father was stationed for work, and attended an international school there.

Her father works in finance while her mother is a career consultant.

Those two years living in a foreign land drew the once shy girl out of her shell.

"Not only was I in a different school system but I was also in an environment with a mix of different cultures," said Ms Collins, who has an older sister, 21 and a younger brother, 17.

"I gained more confidence because I was put in social situations that I was not familiar with, such as going for sleepovers. The diversity of people and scenarios that I found myself in allowed me to put into practice social skills, things that have stuck with me till now."

That experience also left her with a deeper appreciation of the progress Singapore has made.

Ms Collins feels the public service is entering a challenging but exciting phase, "where things are being tried and we have to be daring".

She said: "Past scholars have set high precedents with all that they have done in their careers to serve Singaporeans. I hope to get the most out of my education so that when I come back, I am prepared to give my best to serve as well."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2017, with the headline 'Hearing others' woes stirs empathy'. Print Edition | Subscribe