28 December 2018: Scholarship opens up possibilities to Yale-NUS students

By Denise Tan and Yip Jie Ying

One of the hallmarks of a Yale-NUS education is the multitude of opportunities, both local and international, that is available to its students. As recipients of the Prima Scholarship at Yale-NUS College, students Shenali Nimanthini Wijesinghe (Class of 2021) and Jameela Silmi (Class of 2022), as well as alumnus and former recipient Ronald Chen (Class of 2017), have had freer rein to pursue their passions.

Shenali was able to embark on the inaugural Yale-NUS Summer Institute in Global Strategy and Leadership held at Yale University in the summer of 2018. This rigorous summer programme uses the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy framework to give students in-depth lessons on the world’s most pressing problems, such as the environment and global trade.

Jameela Silmi and Shenali Nimanthini Wijesinghe. Image taken by Lynn Ee.

During her time at Yale, Shenali analysed data and wrote a policy paper on sexual assault in Sri Lanka. “Through those weeks, I learnt more about the world than I ever thought I could, from debating about notions of power and the right approach to problem-solving, to learning about the art of negotiation and game theory,” she said.

Apart from her overseas endeavours, one of Shenali’s goals is to make an impact on her community. She is currently in the middle of setting up an online lifestyle magazine focusing on topics relating to health and wellness as well as life and work.

Shenali is grateful for the Yale-NUS community and how the Prima Scholarship has made the College feel like home by removing “a weight on [her] shoulders”.

“The scholarship has given me the space to feel safe and motivated me to try harder, to do better,” she said. “It has made me have faith in myself when I thought I was losing it. … It has opened up so many chances, so many possibilities.”

Making full use of one’s opportunities is a sentiment echoed by Jameela. After learning about the arts and humanities at Victoria Junior College, Jameela felt inspired to explore topics she was passionate about beyond the classroom. This eventually influenced her decision to apply to Yale-NUS.

“I was attracted primarily to the unique education I would be receiving here. I believe that a liberal arts education will allow me the most opportunities to grow into a mature thinker and person,” Jameela said.

Jameela (third from right, wearing blue lanyard) at orientation with her classmates. Image provided by Jameela Silmi.

Having lived in Singapore her whole life, Jameela’s experience in engaging with different ways of life at the College has expanded her horizons. “I am looking forward to immersing myself fully in a different culture — maybe learn a new language or two — and increasing my knowledge,” she said. “There is also the prospect of exploring different fields of study, ranging from analysing Greek mythology to studying the words of Chinese philosophers.”

She added; “Most of all, I am looking forward to benefitting from the diverse and intelligent thinkers in our community during my four years at Yale-NUS.”

As a former recipient of the Prima Scholarship, Ronald, an alumnus from Yale-NUS’ inaugural class, currently attends graduate school at the University of Chicago, where he studies and conducts research on the discourses and practices of martyrdom in the Middle East.

“In my first year at Yale-NUS, I was working more than 10 hours a week, and after some calculations, I realised that my finances were in order because of the scholarship,” he said. “Once I stopped working, I was able to simultaneously learn Hindi and Bahasa Indonesia at the College with the time saved. That really was the spark for me to later learn Arabic and eventually fall in love with research.”

Ronald’s interest in languages also led him to start Hindi, Bahasa Indonesia and Arabic language tables — informal conversations held over a meal — on campus to encourage an interest in these languages and cultures within the Yale-NUS community. During his time at the College, he continued to pursue his interest in languages by travelling to places such as Jordan, India, Nepal, Indonesia and the United States.

“All these trips have been extremely important to me, allowing me to develop specific skills, including language skills, to reasonable fluency,” he said. “I was also able to develop my intellectual interests and have an outlet to satisfy my curiosity about the world, and discover what I find to be meaningful in life. I realised that I like to travel, to learn, to do research, talk to people, teach and write – and hence I am on this path that I’m on.”

Ronald in Chicago, where he is pursuing graduate studies. Image provided by Ronald Chen.

The mentorship of Ronald’s Yale-NUS professors in cultivating his academic interests was instrumental in paving the way for his year-long experience in Jordan, which eventually ended up being a formative time for his future endeavours. While at the College, he wrote a paper that won the Middle East Institute’s essay prize at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and that he then further developed into his capstone. He later won the Bernard Bate Prize, awarded by Yale-NUS College, for the best capstone in Anthropology.

Each of these individual milestones reinforced Ronald’s interest in academia, leading him to take on the role of teaching assistant at NUS for half a year. Following that, he returned to Jordan for a stint as a research scholar, developing English and Arabic curricula and working on special projects with a language institute in Amman, before moving to Chicago to begin graduate studies.

“Prima has chosen to support the cause of education because we firmly believe that education is the foremost fundamental enabler,” said Mr Primus Cheng, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Prima Limited. To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the company established the Prima Scholarship at Yale-NUS in 2011.