The National University of Singapore (NUS) honoured the achievements of 32 outstanding alumni and four two-member alumni teams at the prestigious NUS Alumni Awards 2021. The Eminent Alumni Award was conferred on three esteemed recipients – first-generation leader Mr Ong Pang Boon, top diplomat Ambassador Chan Heng Chee, and former top civil servant Mr Philip Yeo.
Held biennially by the NUS Office of Alumni Relations, the NUS Alumni Awards recognise alumni, who have excelled locally as well as internationally, and made significant contributions to the University and society. The Awards were presented in four categories, namely, the Eminent Alumni Award, Distinguished Alumni Service Award, Outstanding Young Alumni Award and the Team (Alumni) Award.
NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye said, “We are delighted to honour 40 outstanding alumni – the biggest cohort of recipients since the inception of the awards – who hail from diverse backgrounds, from healthcare, civil service, finance to the arts. Their trailblazing work and contributions inspire us to continue nurturing generations of changemakers who exemplify the NUS values of innovation, resilience, excellence, respect and integrity. We will continue to develop and motivate our students to unlock their potential, and explore new frontiers of growth and accomplishments.”
Eminent Alumni Award Recipients
This year, the University is honoured to confer the Eminent Alumni Award on Mr Ong Pang Boon, Ambassador Chan Heng Chee and Mr Philip Yeo. The Award is presented to NUS alumni who have distinguished themselves nationally or globally for their excellent and sustained contributions and achievements in public and community service; in arts, sports, culture or entrepreneurship; or in a profession or scholarly field.
Mr Ong Pang Boon
Mr Ong Pang Boon is one of Singapore’s prominent first-generation leaders who laid the groundwork for the stability and success the country enjoys today.
After attaining a geography degree at the University of Malaya, Mr Ong’s political career soon took flight in 1955 as an election agent for founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew (‘41). In the following year, Mr Ong received a personal invitation from Mr Lee to work for the People’s Action Party (PAP) as its Organising Secretary. Mr Lee shared in his memoirs that without Mr Ong, he would have been rendered a “deaf and dumb Secretary-General” as Mr Ong went beyond the call of duty to bridge the gap between the party and the local Chinese community.
In 1957, Mr Ong was elected City Councillor for Tanjong Pagar and became the first and only Deputy Mayor of the City Council of Singapore. Speaking fluent Mandarin, Hokkien and Cantonese, he artfully communicated with the people to align the party’s vision, commitment and blueprint with community needs. At the 1959 Legislative Assembly election, Mr Ong stepped down as City Councillor to contest as PAP’s candidate for Telok Ayer. He successfully won the seat and joined the nine-member PAP Cabinet. He remained as the elected representative of Telok Ayer constituency until his retirement in 1988.
During his political career of 29 years, Mr Ong served as Minister in the Home Affairs, Education, Labour and Environment ministries. At the age of 30, Mr Ong became Singapore’s first Minister for Home Affairs.
From 1963 to 1970, during a time when education issues were highly politicised, Mr Ong took on the challenge as Minister for Education. He set the basis for the country’s bilingual policy which became a cornerstone of Singapore’s world-class education system. To imbue students with national consciousness and pride for the country, Mr Ong initiated and implemented the recital of the school pledge, which was subsequently adopted as the national pledge. He was personally involved in drafting the Mandarin version of the pledge.
In 1971, Mr Ong became the Minister for Labour, a role he served in for the next decade. Subsequently, he was appointed the Minister for the Environment and first Vice-Chairman of the PAP. Mr Ong stepped down from the Cabinet in 1984 and retired from politics in 1988.
For his sterling contributions to the government and the nation, Mr Ong was conferred the Order of Nila Utama (First Class) in 1990. In March 2019, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hosted a dinner to celebrate Mr Ong’s 90th birthday. Speaking at the dinner attended by current Ministers and many of the old PAP stalwarts, PM Lee thanked Mr Ong for his “lifetime of dedicated service to the PAP and many illustrious contributions”, adding that Mr Ong is “one of the Old Guard who had laid the basis for Singapore’s survival, sovereignty and eventual success.”
Ambassador Chan Heng Chee
One of Singapore’s most successful and long-serving diplomats, Ambassador Chan Heng Chee has been, and continues to be, one of the stalwarts in both academia and international diplomacy.
In 1964, Ambassador Chan was the first woman to graduate with First Class Honours in Political Science from the then University of Singapore (US). She went on to obtain a Masters from Cornell University in the United States in 1967, and completed a doctorate at US in 1974. She lectured at NUS and was the first woman to head the Department of Political Science, and went on to serve as the Executive Director of the Singapore International Foundation and Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in 1991. In addition, she was the Founding Director of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) which was set up in 1988.
Having left an indelible mark in academia, Ambassador Chan began her diplomatic career in 1989 when she became Singapore’s first permanent representative to the United Nations. She also served concurrently as Singapore’s High Commissioner to Canada and Ambassador to Mexico. She has received numerous awards, including Singapore’s first “Woman of the Year” award in 1991.
In 1996, Ambassador Chan was appointed Singapore’s, and East Asia’s, first female ambassador to the United States. She represented Singapore in Washington between 1996 and 2012, making her one of the country’s longest serving diplomats. During her watch, US-Singapore relations flourished in areas including trade, defence and security, with highlights such as the signing of the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USSFTA) in 2003, the first FTA that the US entered into with a Southeast Asian country, and the Strategic Framework Agreement in 2005, deepening the two nations’ defence relationship.
Ambassador Chan continued to receive more awards and accolades, including the Inaugural International Woman of the Year Award from the Organisation of Chinese American Women in 1998, and the Distinguished Service Order from the Government of Singapore in 2011. In that same year, she was named by the influential Washingtonian magazine as one of “100 Most Powerful Women” in the capital.
When Ambassador Chan left Washington in 2012 at the end of her appointment, she received the Inaugural Asia Society Outstanding Diplomatic Achievement Award, the Inaugural Foreign Policy Outstanding Diplomatic Achievement Award 2012, and the United States Navy Distinguished Public Service Award. Upon returning to Singapore, she became Ambassador-at-Large for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was appointed to a three-year term as Singapore’s Representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights.
Ambassador Chan was inducted into the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame in 2014. She was among nine members appointed by the Constitutional Commission to review the system of elected presidency in Singapore, and in January 2017, she led the Singapore team of delegates to the Universal Periodic Review conducted by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. She remains Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and is Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Deputy Chairman of the Social Science Research Council in Singapore, and a member of the NUS Board of Trustees.
Mr Philip Yeo
As a prominent leader in the Singapore Administrative Service for nearly three decades, Mr Philip Yeo Liat Kok was instrumental in spearheading groundbreaking developments in Singapore’s military, economic and biomedical fields.
After graduating from the University of Toronto under a Colombo Plan scholarship in 1970, Mr Yeo obtained a Master of Science from the then University of Singapore in 1974 and a Master of Business Administration from Harvard University under a Fulbright scholarship in 1976. A beneficiary of multiple scholarships himself, Mr Yeo later went on to pioneer many educational initiatives throughout his career.
Mr Yeo served in the Singapore Administrative Service for three decades from 1970 to 1999. He took on various appointments in the Ministry of Defence in December 1985, and served as Permanent Secretary for logistics, defence research and development, and defence industries. Mr Yeo assumed the role of Chairman at the Economic Development Board (EDB) in 1986.
He is credited for the game-changing shifts in Singapore’s economic development during his chairmanship at EDB, when he successfully redirected efforts from traditional fields to new areas of business. Under his stewardship, Singapore participated in infrastructure development projects at home and abroad, with projects such as Jurong Island, Biopolis, Fusionopolis, and the industrial parks in Wuxi, Bangalore, Vietnam and Suzhou.
At the same time, from 1981 to 1987, Mr Yeo helmed the role as the first Chairman of the National Computer Board (now Infocomm Media Development Authority). He was responsible for championing Singapore’s first national computerisation plan to usher the country into the information age to harness its widespread benefits.
From 2001 to 2007, Mr Yeo served as Chairman of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), successfully building A*STAR to a world-class centre with leading scientific research capabilities. Today, Singapore is at the forefront of Asia for its biomedical research and development largely due to Mr Yeo’s visionary leadership.
Mr Yeo then assumed the responsibility of Chairman of the Standards, Productivity and Innovation Board (SPRING Singapore) in 2007. In the same year, he was appointed Senior Advisor for Science and Technology to the Ministry of Trade and Industry. He was also made Special Advisor for Economic Development in the Prime Minister’s Office from 2007 to 2011, during which he assisted with strategic government partnerships with foreign governments and established new economic links. Mr Yeo proceeded to become a Member of the World Health Organisation Expert Working Group on R&D Financing in 2009. From 2010 to 2013, he was a Member of the United Nations Committee of Experts in Public Administration.
For his extensive and eminent contributions, Mr Yeo has a long list of awards credited to his name. He was awarded the Singapore Public Administration Medal (Silver) in 1974, the Public Administration Medal (Gold) in 1982, the Meritorious Service Medal in 1991, and the Order of Nila Utama (First Class) in 2006. In recognition of his role in fostering precious bilateral ties between Singapore and the rest of the world, he has also been conferred multiple awards by countries. In 2011, he was conferred the honorary Doctor of Letters by NUS. Mr Yeo also received honorary doctorates from Karolinska Institutet (Sweden), Imperial College London (UK), Monash University (Australia) and honorary Fellow of King’s College London (UK).
Distinguished Alumni Service Award Recipients
Twelve NUS alumni were conferred the Distinguished Alumni Service Award for rendering excellent and sustained service to NUS, its predecessor institutions and/or the alumni community. These award recipients are:
- Mr Abdullah bin Tarmugi, Permanent Council Member on the Presidential Council on Minority Rights, former Minister for Community Development and Sports, and former NUS Board of Trustees Member
- Ms Aw Kah Peng, Chairman of Shell Companies
- Ms Jocelyn Chng Yee Kwang, Managing Director of Sin Hwa Dee, CEO and Co-Founder of JR Group, and former Member of the NUS Alumni Advisory Board
- Mr S Chandra Das, Non-Resident High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, and former Member of Parliament
- Mr Barry Desker, former Non-Resident Ambassador to the Holy See and the Kingdom of Spain
- Mr Desmond Lee Ti-Seng, Minister for National Development
- Dr Lee Tzu Pheng, award-winning poet and literary pioneer, and winner of the Cultural Medallion for Literature
- Professor Leo Yee Sin, Executive Director of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases
- Mr Dilhan Pillay Sandrasegara, CEO of Temasek Holdings (Private) Limited and CEO of Temasek International
- Mr Jack Sim Juek Wah, Founder of the World Toilet Organisation
- Dr Tan Lai Yong, Associate Professor at College of Alice & Peter Tan, NUS
- Mr Sonny Yuen Chee Choong, Managing Director of JonDavidson Private Limited
Outstanding Young Alumni Award Recipients
Seventeen young NUS alumni were also honoured for their achievements and outstanding contributions to their chosen fields. These award recipients are:
- Ms Annie An Dongmei, Solutions Architect at Amazon Web Services
- Mr Laurence Putra Franslay, winner of the President’s Volunteerism & Philanthropy Awards 2020
- Dr Sharon Heng Ling Zhi, Ophthalmic Surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital, and Chairperson of the NUS Alumni London Chapter
- Mr Lim Wei Jie, Co-founder and Director of Foreword Coffee Roasters
- Mr David Low Jia Wei, Co-Founder and Chief Data Scientist at Pand.ai
- Dr Mohammad Hossein Davood Abadi Farahani, Founder, CEO and CTO of SEPPURE
- Mr Muhammad Ibnur Rashad Bin Zainal Abidin, Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Ground-Up Innovation Labs for Development (GUILD)
- Mr Ow Tai Zhi, Co-Founder and Chief Investment Officer at AutoWealth Singapore, and Member of the NUS Alumni Advisory Board
- Mr Rameez Ansar, Co-Founder of Circles.Life
- Ms Carrie Tan Huimin, Member of Parliament and Founder of Daughters of Tomorrow
- Ms Audrey Joy Tan Yan Xi, Chief Dreams Architect and Co-Founder of PlayMoolah
- Dr Andy Tay Kah Ping, NUS Presidential Young Professor
- Mr Aseem Kumar Thakur, Co-Founder of GIVE.asia, and Founder and CEO of Aseemai
- Ms Tin Pei Ling, Member of Parliament, and CEO of Business China
- Mr Wong Kah Chun, Chief Conductor of the Nuremburg Symphony Orchestra, Germany
- Ms Janice Wong Huixian, Chief Artist at Janice Wong Singapore and Owner of 2am: dessertbar
- Dr Zhou Lihan, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer at MiRXES
Team (Alumni) Award Recipients
The Team (Alumni) Award recognises the outstanding achievements of alumni teams who have collectively distinguished themselves in their chosen fields. The four two-member team award recipients are:
- bantu: Mr Nicholas Ooi Hsien Loong and Ms Janelle Lee Jiaxin
- Carmine Therapeutics: Dr Shi Jiahai and Dr Le Thi Nguyet Minh
- Chow and Lin: Mr Stefen Chow and Ms Lin Huiyi
- ShopBack: Mr Henry Chan Hian Yi and Mr Joel Leong Yong Siang