The early cohorts of Singapore Polytechnic (SP) were a brave and savvy bunch. Confident of the many possibilities SP would create for them, they embarked upon the poly education route and in the process blazed trails not just for themselves, but also for future generations of SP students.
Some of SP's pioneer graduates. (from left to right): Lam Lychow, Bob Fang, Wee Chwee Heng, Sheng Hwai Nak and Harbans Singh
Agents of Change
Did you know that much of what you enjoy in Singapore and SP can be traced back to SP’s pioneer students? It’s true! Since SP began, students have grabbed hold of the opportunities their schooling opened up for them to effect great impact. Here are just some of many examples.
Building Up a Cityscape
From its very beginning, SP has steadily built on its foundation in architectural education. The School of Architecture & the Built Environment (ABE) of today keeps growing from strength to strength, and each new cohort goes on to add their own touch of SP to cityscapes throughout the world.
Should these people ever need a muse or inspiration, they only need to look around campus for an immediate testament to what their SP education can result in.
This is because the current SP campus on Dover Road, bustling with life and full of cool spaces, is part of the fine work of one of SP’s first Architecture graduates, Mr Wee Chwee Heng.
Mr Wee is a prominent urban planner with significant design experience, who has participated in several projects in Singapore and overseas
Mr Wee graduated from SP in 1963, and when it comes to giving back to his
alma mater, he is a person who has done so many times over. For this was the very man appointed to chair the Master Plan Committee for the relocation of the polytechnic campus from Prince Edward Road to Dover Road! Not only that, he also helped to oversee the implementation of SP
Campus Expansion Phases 3, which was the building of Blocks 19-22 on the hilltop and the staff apartments, and 4, which was the building of the Singapore Maritime Academy and surrounding buildings.
In an illustrious career spanning five decades, Mr Wee has also worked on numerous projects in Singapore and overseas. These range from major landmarks such as hotels and resorts, to educational campuses and other urban planning projects. What all that means is that wherever you are in Singapore Polytechnic, Singapore or beyond, there’s probably a structure near you that Mr Wee has had a hand in building!
Power to the People
Mr Sheng Hwai Nak took up Electrical Engineering in SP and graduated in 1963. Armed with his diploma, Mr Sheng quickly found that his newly minted qualification was in great demand. Singapore was in her early stages of nation building, and that necessitated the services of skilled engineers like Mr Sheng who was awarded a scholarship to study for a Master’s Degree in Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, USA.
Mr Sheng is one of the pioneer engineers who helped develop Singapore's power systems
Upon his return, Mr Sheng joined the then-Public Utilities Board (PUB). It was there that he brought his poly-obtained skills to the fore and helped to engineer a legacy that we all enjoy up to today.
“While in PUB, I was part of the team tasked to develop extra high voltage systems to serve Singapore’s growing power needs. These were vital for Singapore’s infrastructure – without power, there’d be no industrialisation,” Mr Sheng shares.
What this all means for us today is that nearly every aspect of life as we know it, from our computers to our appliances, was in part made possible thanks to Mr Sheng’s skilled work! In fact, Mr Sheng also wrote the feasibility study that led to the development of Senoko Power Station, the largest power station in Singapore. This is indeed a person who helped power up a nation.
And it all started from his time in SP.
One for Student Unity
The SP student experience has also benefitted greatly from the foundations set by its pioneer generations.
Take the SP Students’ Union (SPSU) as a prime example. This SP mainstay is the largest student organisation in SP, and it constantly engages the student body with events and initiatives all year round. Were it not for a group of SP pioneers wanting to do more for their school, this union might not have taken off so quickly.
Mr Singh was one of the key founders and first President of the SP Students' Union
Mr Harbans Singh had the privilege to be the SPSU 1st Council President when it all began in 1959. Interestingly, Mr Singh was actually a teacher by profession, but as Singapore was very keen on building up people’s technical skills, he was among a group of 20 qualified teachers sent to SP for an intensive departmental training course on technical skills teaching.
Drawing on their relative maturity as teachers and renewed student experience at SP, these teacher-student hybrids set about creating a students’ union for the poly. They felt this would be a strong way to round out the poly’s character and unite the student body.
“Being mature students, this group helped the start-up of the first SPSU Council. We then organised general, social, sports and information activities for the members, and I recall fondly the tremendous fellowship we shared,” says Mr Singh.
Many of SP’s calendar mainstays of today came to be thanks to Mr Singh’s trailblazing during those early years. From the yearly orientation activities we enjoy when we first join SP, to the graduation parties that culminate our SP journey, Mr Singh is a pioneer that helped bring about all of them!
Colour in Our Lives
Mr Lam Lychow was the SPSU President in 1961, where he made it a point to welcome new SP students to the fullest with fun-filled orientation activities.
Mr Lam was the second President of the SPSU and part of the team who brought colour TV broadcasts to Singapore.
“As President of the Students’ Union, I helped to organise various activities to bond the new students during Orientation Week. Of all the activities we organised, the one that I am the most proud of was the Orientation Ball of 1960/61, which capped off the week’s events,” Mr Lam reminisces.
“It was a grand affair. We transformed the car park at the Prince Edward Campus into a beautiful stage, with the backdrop designed by the Architecture students. There was even an artificial pond!”
From enlivening people’s experiences and enjoyments in SP, Mr Lam then went on to do even more of the same after he graduated. This time on a national level!
As the engineering skills Mr Lam had acquired in poly put him in good stead and high demand, the then Radio & Television Singapore’s Department of Broadcasting was quick to snap him up as an engineer following his graduation in 1964. It was there that Mr Lam found himself faced with the unique opportunity to literally bring more colour to people’s lives.
The year was 1966, and Mr Lam had been assigned to help Singapore transition from black-and-white TV broadcasts to colour broadcast. There was plenty of pressure. Both the 1966 football World Cup and Singapore’s first National Day Parade were around the corner. Mr Lam’s mission was to ensure people enjoyed both events on TV in glorious full colour.
“It was quite a challenge to work on colour television equipment for an outside broadcast at the time. Funds were also limited… we even had to borrow some equipment to enable the live broadcast of the National Day Parade,” Mr Lam recalls.
Yet, he was always undaunted. Mr Lam’s SP years had imbued in him a strong can-do spirit as well as a very applicable skillset. Not only did Mr Lam overcome challenges and help make colour a reality on TV, his decades-long career in broadcasting saw him effect advancement upon advancement all the way until his retirement from MediaCorp Singapore, where he had risen to become Director for Engineering.
Looking back, Mr Lam says his SP education was what started it all.
“Studying in SP was a very good experience. It really enabled me to build up a career after graduating,” he says.
Always a Good Sport
Sports enthusiasts studying in SP have plenty of activities to occupy them within the campus grounds. Practically everywhere one looks, there is bound to be a recreation facility within sight and being enjoyed.
For two 1998 SP graduates, twins Jeff and Jim Fang, the vibrant sports scene in SP is something with which they feel a very special connection.
Both were avid sportspeople in their poly years – Jeff represented the poly in swimming, and Jim in badminton – and their inspiration to excel in both sports and studies was found in their father, Mr Bob Fang, a pioneer who set the pace for SP’s sports pursuits.
Mr Fang not only initiated several sports activities in SP; he was also one of the first SP graduates to further his studies overseas.
Mr Fang joined SP to study electrical engineering from 1958 to 1961. He was also the Acting Sports Secretary of the Students’ Union in 1959, where his passion for sports led him to kick-start many sports events for SP, including SP’s first ever Swimming Meet, as well as the Triangular Meet between SP, the Teachers Training College and Nantah.
Up to today, Mr Fang still takes great pride in how he helped to establish a sports culture in SP, with those episodes evoking many fond memories of yesteryear. With his contributions, SP’s sports culture made great strides, evolving towards today, where there are numerous options available to the actively inclined academic!
“I have always been very passionate about sports, and it is the sports-related contributions I made as a student that I remember the best,” says Mr Fang.
But there’s more to Mr Fang’s SP story than sports. He also holds the honour of being one of the first few from SP’s first batch of graduates to further his studies overseas. Following his graduation in 1961, he joined an apprentice scheme with General Electric Co (GEC) in Birmingham, UK, which saw him entering the Birmingham College of Advanced Technology (now Aston University) to attain Chartered Electrical Engineer qualifications.
Mr Fang’s legacy in SP also includes the honour of delivering the Graduation Address as a guest speaker for the 1994 Graduation Ceremony, as well as serving on the Advisory Committee of the School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering during the 2001/2002 to 2002/03 Academic Years.
This is indeed a man who helped create a better SP for everyone, both as a student and an alumnus!
Music to Our Ears
The SP Symphonic Band, established in 1972, is the oldest continuous performing band of any tertiary institution in Singapore. But its very first Chairman, Mr Michael Hogan, reveals that getting the band off the ground was not all that easy.
Mr Hogan was the founder of SP's Symphonic Band, helping it grow from 1 member to 20 in just 1 year
SP was new and young at the time, without many clubs or facilities. Yet, Mr Hogan, a production engineering student, was very keen for the poly to have a school band. He thus took it upon himself to orchestrate the forming of one.
He started out as a one-man show in 1971, working alone to lay the foundations and find students to join.
“In May of 1972, there were only about six members learning instruments and playing simple music,” says Mr Hogan of the initial period.
Practice sessions were also rather challenging, even tiresome. As the musical instruments and band equipment were rather expensive, they had to be stored in the most secure room the Princess Mary Campus on Dover Road had to offer – namely, the previous army barrack’s armoury, located near what is currently Gate 2. With the practice room being on the upper levels of the Moberly building, this meant a long trek back and forth lugging all the equipment every time there was practice.
“Bandsmen had to cross the road and climb the equivalent of five floors from the armoury to the practice room in Moberly, and then back again after practice,” says Mr Hogan.
Perhaps this, the band’s first series of ‘parades’, proved the kicker that the band needed to boost its profile. Because Mr Hogan suddenly started to see numbers swell. He shares that while in Moberly, the Band grew in strength from 6 members to 20, all in the space of one year!
With numbers growing, so did the band’s ambitions. By 1975, the members wanted to perform a public concert on stage, just like international bands did. And Mr Hogan is happy to say that the resultant concert was a resounding success. In a feat never before accomplished by any school band, the SP Symphonic Band actually managed to fill up the largest concert hall available in Singapore at the time, the NTUC Concert Hall!
Just so you know, the concert Mr Hogan was talking about is
Musical Delights. If it sounds familiar, there’s a good reason. Since that inaugural debut in 1975,
Musical Delights has never skipped a beat. It is performed every year and is the SP Symphonic Band’s longest-running annual event!
That’s not bad at all for a group that started out as a one-man show!
SP is Where Legacies Begin
From personal advancement to poly activities, even nation building – the pioneer SP generations were always hungry to seize opportunities and create legacies.
But that’s only a beginning. Each new SP generation always goes on to do the same. There are always new inspirations and ideas for SP students and alumni to nurture to fruition, new ideas and passions to realise. Yours included.
So whatever aspirations you may harbour, chart the course with SP. Because from its very start, to now and beyond… with SP, it’s so possible!