Caring for autistic brother spurs aspiring engineer to public service

Mr Abdul Qayyum Mohamed Fazil (left), 19 and Miss Tan Seet Ynn, 19, are recipients of scholarships from the Public Service Commission (PSC) on July 18, 2018.
Mr Abdul Qayyum Mohamed Fazil (left), 19 and Miss Tan Seet Ynn, 19, are recipients of scholarships from the Public Service Commission (PSC) on July 18, 2018.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Ever since she was a young girl, Miss Tan Seet Ynn has been mindful she will have to care for her younger brother Sean, who has autism.

As the 17-year-old Eden School student may not be able to work and support himself, she will have to do so, her parents have always told her.

"They said they would help me with that. But after a certain point in time, it'll just be me and my brother. And because of that, I know I have to work harder to ensure we can both survive," said Miss Tan, 19, one of 93 people who received a scholarship from the Public Service Commission (PSC) on Wednesday (July 18).

The River Valley High School graduate was awarded a PSC Scholarship (Engineering), which had 22 recipients this year, a threefold increase from last year when it was first introduced.

Miss Tan will study mechanical engineering at Nanyang Technological University (NTU). One could say it runs in the family, as her 53-year-old father is a civil engineer in the construction sector. Her 48-year-old mother is a special education teacher.

This year, 24 per cent of scholarship recipients will go to Singapore universities, the highest in the last 10 years, according to a PSC spokesman.

"These students are often drawn by the high quality of the programmes offered by local universities, and the opportunity they would have to participate in overseas exchange programmes," she said.

Miss Tan chose NTU as she wanted to form connections with the very people she would be working with in the future.

"I felt that if I'm going to pursue a career in the Singapore public service, my strongest connection should be in Singapore. How do I form these connections? By going to a local university, going through a local engineering course, and meeting people there," she said.


She had gained an interest in mechanical engineering through a four-week internship with the Land Transport Authority, during which she saw tunnel boring machines at work.

Miss Tan finds trains fascinating for how they connect people, and would like to work in the transport industry.

Another scholarship recipient who was inspired by a family member was Mr Abdul Qayyum Mohamed Fazil, 19, who was drawn to the public service because of his 48-year-old father, a Malay language teacher in a secondary school.

Mr Qayyum, who will pursue Arabic and Middle East Studies at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, said when he was younger, his father would return home late from work and spend a lot of time marking homework. Mr Qayyum would find it odd that he was not spending more time with the family instead.

"But as I grew up I began to appreciate his sense of mission. He really cares for his students, and that translated to my interest in wanting to have a sense of service and doing things for other people," said Mr Qayyum, who attended Raffles Institution.

His mother is a housewife, and he has two younger sisters still in secondary school.

He developed an interest in the Middle East, after a programme in school gave him a different perspective of the region, one not always portrayed in the media.

The region also holds lessons for Singapore, with small countries, such as Qatar, whose futures depend on the actions of its larger neighbours.

Mr Qayyum hopes to become an inspiration to the Malay community here.

"I feel that in many areas of achievement in our society, there are Malays there, no question about it. But we are a bit too comfortable in saying that 'there's a Malay there, so good for us'. I think we are not there yet, for example in medical school, law school, and just general areas of academic achievement," he said.

He hopes to inspire more Malays to follow in his footsteps, and pursue achievements at the highest levels.

"I hope it'll be interpreted in a way that 'there's one there, so there can be more there'. This is a cliche, but true."