Students' passions come alive in varsity clubs

Yale-NUS and SUTD let them create their own interest groups

SUTD multi-rotor club members (from left) Ivan Lee Kok Hao, Kyi Hla Win and Goh Chian Yee with their flying creations, which can take aerial photos and videos. -- ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
SUTD multi-rotor club members (from left) Ivan Lee Kok Hao, Kyi Hla Win and Goh Chian Yee with their flying creations, which can take aerial photos and videos. -- ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
(Above) Yale-NUS improv comedy club members (from second from left) Dylan Ho, Walter Yeo, Kevin Low and Christopher Tee. -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

A few times a month, Yale-NUS College undergraduates Christopher Tee, Kevin Low and Dylan Ho gather and try to come up with ways to make each other laugh.

Inspired by comedians they saw in New York on a school trip to Yale University last year, they became interested in improvisational comedy, a form of live theatre in which plot, characters and dialogue are made up on the spot.

True to its status as Singapore's first liberal arts college, Yale-NUS' pioneer batch of 155 students have started all sorts of groups, from an improv comedy club to another that promotes gender and sexuality inclusivity.

The same is happening among other "new kids on the tertiary block" such as the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), where students have been active in creating their own groups.

The two schools said student-initiated groups are a big part of their campus culture, and they encourage students to explore their interests and passions outside of their studies.

At SUTD, the first two batches of more than 600 students have started more than 90 such initiatives, be it clubs or research projects outside the classroom.

SUTD assistant director of student life Serena Lim, 34, said: "If something they (students) are madly passionate about doesn't already exist, they can always start a club or society for it."

The school reserves two afternoons a week for students to take part in these activities.

Year 2 student Kyi Hla Win, 23, was so passionate about flying craft that he formed a multi-rotor club with some 20 other students, who meet every week.

They have built aircraft that can fly as high as 1km - or more than twice the height of Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Twin Towers - and use them to take aerial footage of school events such as Sports Day.

"We are all excited to be pioneers of this particular club," said Mr Kyi, who hopes to use the club's flying creations to document historical buildings with unique architecture in future.

Meanwhile, at Yale-NUS College, students are in the midst of finalising plans for their groups, and will present their proposals to the college's dean of students Kyle Farley early this year.

A group that is planning to put on a full-length show this month feb) is the Improv Club, which has performed twice and held six workshops for students.

"A lot of improv is a process of discovery, trial and error," said Mr Tee, 21. "We 'research' by watching videos of comedy shows like Whose Line Is It Anyway.

"We weren't sure if we would succeed, but it turns out students enjoy what we do."

Another group is The G Spot, which focuses on gender, sexuality and feminist issues. It is a "safe space" for students to share their thoughts and experiences, said Ms Sherlyn Goh, 19, who is part of its core team of five members.

The 15-member group is interested not only in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, but also other topics such as race or body image.

Last year, they took part in the gay rights event Pink Dot, and got students and professors to throw away their shavers and razors. They even hosted the parents of gay college student Matthew Shepard, an American hate-crime victim, for a sharing session in November.

Ms Goh said: "It feels good to know you have the autonomy to create something rather than join a co-curricular activity that is already there."

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