Not many can claim to be able to have their cake and eat it too, but Ms Melia Ho can — quite literally.
It's hard not to argue that she's living her best life as a second-year student in Temasek Polytechnic's (TP) Applied Food Science & Nutrition (now known as Food, Nutrition & Culinary Science) diploma course and intern at A*STAR's Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences.
As its co-founder, she also manages online vegan bakery, Delia.v Patisserie, which places emphasis on using natural ingredients like olive oil, unrefined sugar and fresh fruits, as well as catering for the needs of diabetic and gluten-sensitive customers.
Of course, with so many things on her plate at once, one might think that she has bitten off more than she can chew.
But Ms Ho is not most people. If her life could be summed up in a single word, it would be “food”. Her secondary school life was spent poring over healthy recipes, watching YouTube cooking tutorials, and improving the nutritional contents of traditional recipes through trial and error.
“I really enjoyed seeing how different ingredients react with one another,” she says. “It’s interesting to analyse the appearance, taste and texture of the food I make, and finding out why any of the attributes aren’t up to my expectations.”
Making a low-glycemic index version of her grandmother’s pandan chiffon cake sparked off her interest in creating healthier pastries with more nutritious ingredients.
When these earned her a substantial following on Instagram, Ms Ho began using her account as her food photography portfolio, kick-starting her career as a freelance food photographer, and inspiring her to start Delia.v Patisserie with her sister.
So when it came time to choose her post-secondary path, applying to the Early Admissions Exercise (EAE) to pursue her passion was the natural choice.
Taking first place
The EAE is an aptitude-based admissions exercise that allows students to apply for polytechnic admission prior to receiving their O-level, Nitec or Higher Nitec grades.
By not constraining admissions criteria solely to academic performance, polytechnics are allowed greater flexibility to admit students, thus allowing a wider range of talents to be recognised.
“Vacancies are limited for niche courses like mine,” says Ms Ho. “Without the EAE, I would have faced stiffer competition, and I might not have gotten into the course that I wanted.
“Getting a place in TP early also helped alleviate some of the stress when preparing for the O-levels,” she adds. “Knowing that my spot in TP was secure, I found that I could actually concentrate better on my O-levels.”
So it comes as no surprise when she says that enrolling in TP via the EAE was one of the best decisions she has ever made.
Her time in TP has exposed her to a number of different areas, from microbiology to food chemistry, broadening her knowledge of the subject.
Among other experiences, the curriculum had her take a field trip to Bangkok, where she and other members of her cohort gained exclusive access to food manufacturing factories.
“It was a really eye-opening experience to see textbook knowledge being applied in real life,” she says. “After the trip, I was even more inspired to pursue my studies in the area of food science.”
In terms of co-curricular activities, she was also given the opportunity to be head of publicity of the Temasek Polytechnic Entrepreneurship Club, a position that she credits with honing her organisational and leadership skills.
And those words aren’t just for show, either — she received the Promising Young Entrepreneur Award from TP last year, and netted herself a place in the school’s Student Leadership Programme to help further develop her leadership qualities.
Outstanding in their field
Some talented students don’t seem to shine at high-stakes conventional exam-based assessments, says Dr Goh Lay Beng, director of TP School of Applied Science, where Ms Ho is currently studying.
But the EAE selection process gives them an opportunity to showcase their passion and aptitude in areas not demonstrable through pen-and-paper-type exams, and thus align their career trajectory with one that highlights their passion and sense of purpose.
Melia, she says with a laugh, is like a self-propelled torpedo — clear on its destination, and unstoppable.
To Dr Goh, it was immediately obvious that TP was the right place for Ms Ho to study, given her ambitious personality and drive to succeed. In her time there, she was granted several opportunities to participate in industry projects and cross-disciplinary exposure to diversify her skill set.
“Not every polytechnic prioritises having a dedicated department looking after innovation and entrepreneurship,” Dr Goh adds. “Her success to date is no coincidence; she uses her passion to transform her challenges into her milestones.”
Ms Ho is rather more modest about her achievements. “I just pursued my passion, and did things that made me happy,” she says.
What comes next for the plucky young baker?
While the long-term goal is to run her own health and wellness café, she plans to accrue more knowledge and work experience first — likely with her current company, A*STAR, where her colleagues are nurturing and opportunities to learn are plentiful.
“I’ll wait for the right opportunity, as life is quite unpredictable,” she says. “But I’m keeping my options open.”