16 April 2017: Sustaining an interest in sustainability, Yale-NUS seniors head to Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (Yale F&ES)

By Daryl Yang | Image by Aleithia Low

As the pioneer batch of Yale-NUS students is set to graduate in May 2017, some of them will head to one of the College’s parent institutions to continue their studies.

Chua Wan Ping and Xie Yihao (both Class of 2017) have been selected as the first two students to attend the Concurrent Degree Programme (CDP) with Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (Yale F&ES).

A five-year programme designed for students who wish to pursue careers in an environmental field, the programme provides well-prepared Yale-NUS students with accelerated graduate training in environmental science, management and policy.

Both Wan Ping and Yihao are Environmental Studies majors at Yale-NUS College and are no strangers to Yale F&ES, having both taken graduate classes there during their semester abroad at Yale.

According to Wan Ping, it was her experience at Yale F&ES that solidified her interest in continuing her environmental education there.

“After I experienced the quality of the classes, the access to world environmental leaders who were there as speakers and visitors, and the great energy from Kroon Hall, I was pretty sure I would be sending in an application the following year,” she shared.

She had first learnt about Yale F&ES from Tweedy Ordway Professor of Environmental Health and Political Science John Wargo from Yale F&ES when he visited Yale-NUS College. Professor Wargo serves as a Visiting and Consulting Professor at Yale-NUS College and is also Chair of the Yale College Environmental Studies Major and Program.

Wan Ping has been actively involved in the sustainability community, having co-founded I’dECO, the Yale-NUS sustainability movement, and organised the inaugural the Sustainable Solutions Network (SSN). Taking up this graduate programme seemed like an appropriate next step.

“As my career goals started becoming more solidified, it seemed like the CDP would fit in well in giving me the skills that are relevant to my career plans and to build SSN. It would also give me an international perspective on sustainability issues through my connections with professors and classmates there,” she shared.

Interestingly, it was the very first introductory course to Environmental Studies that both Wan Ping and Yihao took that incubated their interests in this field.

“Introduction to Environmental Studies was one of the best courses I have taken and was what really drew me into the major. The subsequent courses that I took from different professors were all inspiring and exposed to me how multifaceted environmental issues are,” Yihao reflected.

Similarly, it was the interdisciplinary side that appealed to Wan Ping: “Environmental Studies is at once psychology, ecology, sociology, chemistry. After taking these classes, I cannot see it any way else now.”

As part of their graduation requirements, Yale-NUS students are required to complete a year-long capstone project. As Yihao’s interests lie in the intersection between health and the environment, he decided to explore the issue of mosquito abundance in Singapore’s public housing estates, built by the Housing Development Board (HDB).

“Apart from my interests, I also wanted the capstone to involve both qualitative and quantitative analysis methodologies. This capstone project enabled me to achieve both expectations and fits into my academic endeavour nicely.”

His project is titled ‘Constructing a Model for Mosquito Abundance in HDB Estates in Singapore Using Meteorological, Environmental and Socioeconomic Predictors’.

As Wan Ping’s interests were in food and agriculture, her capstone focused on a multi-stakeholder sustainable palm oil certification body called the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

Titled ‘The Making of Sustainable Palm Oil:  An Application of the Advocacy Coalition Framework in the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil’, the project represented a culmination of her experiences at Yale-NUS College that exposed her to the complex challenges facing the palm oil industry.

For instance, she previously attended a Learning Across Boundaries (LAB) trip to Sarawak, Malaysia where she learnt and lived with indigenous tribes protesting against palm oil and hydro-dam development on their native land. The trip was co-organised by the Yale-NUS Centre for International & Professional Experience (CIPE) and the Claremont Colleges.

“After we returned to Singapore, we met with several NGOs and sustainability representatives from Wilmar, the biggest plantation owners in Indonesia and Malaysia. That trip left a deep impression on me, both academically and emotionally,” she shared.

In addition, she also did an internship with Grow Asia, an NGO founded by the World Economic Forum and ASEAN, where she was assigned a project on the palm oil industry in facilitating multi-stakeholder agriculture partnerships.

For Yale-NUS students admitted to the Yale F&ES 5th Year Concurrent Degree Programme, they will be awarded the Master of Environmental Science (MESc) or Master of Environmental Management (MEM) degree, following one additional academic graduate year of study at Yale F&ES.

Admitted students will be required to work in an environmentally-related position for one year following graduation from Yale-NUS, and prior to matriculating at Yale F&ES. Wan Ping will be taking up a communications and sustainability role in the food and beverage industry before heading to New Haven for the programme.

When asked what they were most looking forward to, both Yihao and Wan Ping expectedly were concerned about the environment. While Yihao noted that “New Haven is a beautiful city in Spring and Fall”, there was one thing Wan Ping was not looking forward to – winter on the US east coast.

What she is looking forward to, however, is being a student again. “I look forward to taking what I’ve learnt in the workplace to the classroom, and examining the ways academia can enable business and non-profit practices,” she shared.

Yihao and Wan Ping have received the Bataua Scholarship and H L Kwee Scholarship respectively, which will go towards covering their final year of study at Yale University.