SINGAPORE - Curious about the work done by the armed forces, Lieutenant Ang Zyn Yee signed up for a camp run by the Defence Ministry (Mindef) when she was 17.
She liked the experience so much that she opted for a career in the Republic of Singapore Navy, where she got a taste of life at sea on the littoral mission vessel RSS Fortitude.
Lt Ang, 20, is one of two recipients of this year's President's Scholarship.
The former Hwa Chong Institution student will go to Brown University in the United States, where she will study economics and statistics.
Speaking to The Straits Times on Thursday (Aug 12), Lt Ang said the camp that piqued her interest in the Singapore Armed Forces was the three-day Mindef Experience Programme, which she attended in 2018.
That ignited a spark that took her to Officer Cadet School, where she was awarded the Sword of Honour - given to the best trainee in each batch.
Lt Ang said she chose Brown University because it allows undergraduates to choose from a range of courses.
She said: "I also intend to dabble in subjects like politics, computer science and history to get a diversity of experiences and perspectives."
The second recipient of this year's President's Scholarship is Ms Wong Chia Ying, 19, who is a former Raffles Institution student.
She is heading to the University of California, Los Angeles in the US in September to study English. She will join the teaching service after she completes her studies.
Ms Wong said she wants to make an impact on curriculum-related matters and in the classroom, especially on issues related to disadvantaged or marginalised communities.
She said: "I want to be part of policymaking that is inclusive in its diversity, meaning that regardless of your sexuality, gender expression, special education needs or educational or career pathway, you should be supported and cared for in school."
The two women received their scholarships from President Halimah Yacob at a virtual ceremony on Thursday.
Since last year, the Public Service Commission (PSC) will announce only scholarship recipients who are pursuing their studies in the same year, which explains why there are only two recipients in 2021.
Last year, only one recipient was announced, while in 2019 there were four.
The President's Scholarship is the most prestigious of all undergraduate awards given out by the Public Service Commission (PSC) and has been awarded yearly since 1966.
In an address at Thursday's ceremony, Madam Halimah said: "Today, I am pleased to award this year's President's Scholarship to two exceptional young ladies who have demonstrated remarkable leadership qualities and strong commitment towards serving our nation."
She added that the public service has stepped up to face challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic but it will not be the last crisis the nation faces.
Madam Halimah said: "As future leaders, you have to remain steadfast and continue to serve with dedication and humility.
"Stay resilient and adaptable so that you can create policies that will serve the best interest of Singaporeans. Stay engaged and connected to the community and listen to the views and concerns of our people with empathy and understanding."
She added that it is their duty to embody the values of the public service.
Both women said the scholarship comes with a great deal of commitment, responsibility and prestige, but they both have supportive families that keep them grounded.
Lt Ang, who has two younger brothers, said her parents were equally happy and concerned when they heard she had been selected for the scholarship.
"They know it's a very heavy responsibility so they advised me to keep working hard because the road ahead is not easy and this is just the start," said Lt Ang, whose father is an engineer and mother is a housewife.
Ms Wong said both her mum and dad cried when they found out the news, but then later sat her down and talked about the importance of staying grounded.
Her father works in the security industry and mum works in the financial sector.
She said: "They told me that moving forward is important but also that I should not to lose sight of my initial goals and let the pressure get to me."