From persistence to prestige: Nanyang Polytechnic graduates from NT and ITE on their journey to success

Two of Nanyang Polytechnic's Distinguished Award winners share how their longer route did not deter them from thriving.

Kirby Tan

Will redo the same personality test until I get the results I want.

Published: 16 June 2023, 5:44 PM

At 21, Val Siau has achieved far more than what her 12-year-old self believed possible – a Diploma in Engineering with Business, a 3.94 GPA and the Lee Kuan Yew Award. This former Normal Technical (NT) student has graduated as one of Nanyang Polytechnic’s Distinguished Award recipients. 

It wasn’t luck that got her there. Rather, it was tenacity.

Back in primary school, personal circumstances prevented Val from attending class regularly. As a result, she didn’t do well in her Primary School Leaving Examination. Still, she wasn’t discouraged.

When asked what motivated her, she said: “I think it was something innate. It’s very hard to explain because you kind of have to experience it to be able to understand how it feels,” she said. “But for me, a part of me just knew that I could do more and I should be doing more, and I wasn’t working as hard as I could’ve been working.”


The Lee Kuan Yew Award for Mathematics and Science is granted to the top technology or computer science graduates in each polytechnic. PHOTO CREDIT: VAL SIAU


For the next year, Val studied hard and was promoted to the Normal Academic stream. 

Yet, this came with its own challenges. When she first transferred, she found that many of her classmates held negative perceptions of those from the NT stream. “Being that young, people can be quite cruel,” she said.

Besides feeling isolated, she also struggled academically. She explained that because NT had a different curriculum, she was a year behind her peers. To catch up, she actively sought help from her teachers and constantly asked for extra work.

Her efforts paid off, as she emerged second in class the very same year she transferred. Her classmates’ impressions of her improved as a result.

Despite her achievements, she was never complacent. She devoted herself to her studies, scored six points for her N-Levels and secured a place in the Polytechnic Foundation Programme (PFP)

In her four years at NYP’s School of Engineering, she continued to work hard, maintaining a high GPA all while taking part in various co-curricular activities – including the student-run Entrepreneurship Club that gave her the opportunity to “grow out of (her) shell”. 


Val was also an active member of the Peer Supporter Club. PHOTO CREDIT: NANYANG POLYTECHNIC


There were hardly any events when she first joined the club. While the president at the time was not very proactive, she also noted that students don’t have the capacity to organise events all the time.

As such, she took matters into her own hands by networking with entrepreneurs and working with them to bring events into her club. The sense of initiative she displayed got her elected as the Vice President the next year, and the President the year after. 

“I was a really reserved person (but) I realised that I couldn’t be that shy person anymore if I actually wanted to get things done,” she said. “I needed to be able to delegate, I needed to work on my leadership skills, and (the Entrepreneurship Club) definitely did help me become a better leader.”

Val describes her story as one of resilience. “If I think back on it now, I can see that it was just this very firm belief that if I take a step forward and actually try to do something, even if I fail, I’ll be infinitely better (than) if I didn’t try at all.”

Another Distinguished Award recipient to have walked the road less travelled is 25-year-old Mohammed Muaz. His path, however, had a few more detours than Val’s.


Muaz says there is no “perfect pathway” and that as long as students stay resilient and work hard, they can all “end up at the same destination”. PHOTO CREDIT: NANYANG POLYTECHNIC


Coming from the Express stream, he had always thought attending polytechnic right after graduating from secondary school was a given. His world came crashing down when he realised his O-Level results only qualified him for the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

“I didn’t take education as something I needed to take seriously back then when I was in secondary school. I was still fooling around, hanging out with my friends after class (and) during exam periods,” he said.

“I thought going to ITE meant the end of all my aspirations and dreams. But little did I know, going to ITE was actually one of the best things that could’ve happened to me.”

Enrolling into ITE College Central helped him get back on track. Since ITE’s emphasis on hands-on learning played to his strengths, he began to excel in his studies. In his second year, he received the Most Improved Student Award from the School of Design and Media, and graduated with a GPA eligible for polytechnic admission.

But before he could step into NYP, he had to serve the nation. Those two years inspired him to work even harder. 

He shared that because his bunkmates were mostly graduates from junior college and polytechnic, their conversations often revolved around university plans. He wondered why they could “succeed in their education pathways” while he couldn’t.

You know in the army, we struggle the same way, we get tired (by doing) the same thing, there’s not much difference between us. I guess it’s just the amount of effort we put into our work,” he said. This was the mindset he adopted as he pursued his Diploma in Industrial Design at NYP. 


Muaz shared about his “education comeback story” when he represented NYP at the IHL Dialogue Session with President Halimah Yacob. PHOTO CREDIT: BERITA MEDIACORP


Still, his initial weeks were filled with apprehension. 

As polytechnics require more theoretical knowledge, he was concerned if he could adapt to the change in curriculum. But as time went on, he found that the knowledge he picked up in ITE was still relevant. 

“I didn’t need to spend too much time learning the foundation,” he said, adding that he focused more on improving his technical skills. 

Then, there was his age. He entered polytechnic at 22, and was five years older than most of his peers. Fearing judgement, he started to withdraw. 

This came to the attention of his lecturers, who began encouraging him to become the “big brother” of his class by taking on leadership roles and sharing his experience. Following their advice, he started to build his confidence. That was when he realised his fears were unfounded.

He said that none of his classmates treated him differently because of his age.

“In fact, they were more welcoming and open,” he added. “Because they know that you’re a slightly older student, they would want to hear more about your stories, so it was quite easy (for me) to make friends.”

Thereafter, his journey in NYP was what he described as “smooth-sailing” as he joined many CCAs and mentorship programmes – including the Harvard Business School Club of Singapore Mentorship Programme. 

By the end, he graduated with a 4.0 GPA and was granted the Tay Eng Soon Award For ITE Upgrader. 


Muaz was the 2023 valedictorian of Nanyang Polytechnic’s School of Design and Media. PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTUBE/@WEARENYP


Muaz said the award meant a lot to him as he recalled the day he received it. He said: “…students would come to me and say ‘Muaz, I’m proud of your journey’ because they were also from ITE.  

“Some of them share the same background story with me, that they were disappointed they had to go to ITE.” 

He believes his journey is a testament to how it’s possible for ITE graduates to build their way up and flourish. Having gone through this winding path, he affirms that he has no regrets.

“I still feel that if I could turn back time, I would still go to ITE because there’s just something about going through this journey,” he said. “It’s like going up the stairs… a continuous journey of improvement.”

As other students embark on their own paths, Muaz hopes they embrace the change and challenges that come along their way. He attests that as he lived by the “say yes and figure it out later” motto, he got many opportunities to grow and develop.

Like Muaz, Val believes that having a go-getter mindset is crucial.

She shared that some of her peers tend to wait for things to happen “passively” which can lead to a “self-limiting mindset”. 

“They don’t believe or think that they should go and ask for opportunities… (they) just wait for life to happen to them,” she shared. “Just take a more active role in your life. If you know you want something, you have to work for it and you have to ask for it.”

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