Passion for Public Service: Interview with MINDEF Defence Merit Scholars

Keng Meng (left) and Zach at the Political Science Department

Last month, two students from FASS were awarded the Mid-Term Defence Merit Scholarship from the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF). Both Political Science honours students, Tan Keng Meng and Chen Zixian Zach received the prestigious award from Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen at an awards ceremony held at the Sheraton Towers.

The Defence Merit Scholarship was introduced with the aim to recruit outstanding undergraduates and groom them for senior management positions in MINDEF. With the wide spectrum of career opportunities available in MINDEF, the scholars can look forward to rewarding and challenging careers that will develop their potential to the fullest.

FASS News caught up with Keng Meng and Zach to find out more about their motivations for getting the scholarship and how they feel about joining the public service after completing their studies.


Tan Keng Meng (Second from right) with other scholarship recipients speaking with Dr Ng (right)

Congratulations on winning the Defence Merit Scholarship. Can you share with us what inspired you to take up this scholarship?

Keng Meng: A confluence of events inspired me to take up the Defence Merit Scholarship. First, I have always been interested in defence issues and I feel that every Singaporean has a role to play in protecting Singapore.

Second, as a Political Science major, I am fascinated by international affairs and foreign relations.

Third, my overseas exchange and internship experiences have been instrumental in affirming my passion for public service. These three factors converge upon a career with the Ministry of Defence. This scholarship is an opportunity for me to serve, pursue my interests, and apply what I have learnt to the benefit of Singapore and the world.

Zach: Having done an internship at MINDEF (coordinated by the NUS Career Centre), I felt a strong alignment between my personal values and the core values of the organisation. It gave me the confidence that MINDEF would offer me excellent opportunities in a dynamic work environment and at the same time fulfill my personal mission.

I consider myself fortunate that MINDEF also offers me the chance to pursue my research interest in military involvements – something that I like and am good at – as a full-time job. The scholarship was essentially icing on the cake, as it allowed me to commit myself to the organisation and vice versa. As such, taking up the scholarship was an obvious choice.


And how has your NUS education influenced your decision to join the public service?

Keng Meng: It was at NUS that I nurtured my passion for and learnt extensively about politics, specifically international relations. This was complemented by the breadth component of the NUS education that saw me taking modules outside of my major. These modules included Communications and New Media modules which I took extensively. They enabled me to connect politics with other disciplines and the wider world.

Consequently, the comprehensive NUS education helped me better understand the world I am living in. This encouraged me to do my part and make a difference to the world. In addition, it also impressed upon me the gravity of my decision to join the public service. For this, I would like to express my gratitude to NUS, in particular the Departments of Political Science and Communications and New Media, for all the knowledge I have acquired. I look forward to continue amassing a wealth of knowledge in the future.

I found an intellectually stimulating environment at NUS. I had really great and rewarding discussions with the Political Science faculty and my fellow Political Science majors on a variety of topics such as Singapore politics and the global economy. Our passion for what we study rubbed off on one another. This created an environment that supports our pursuit of knowledge and dreams. To this, I want to say thank you to the Political Science faculty, staff, and majors, especially my fellow Honours students, for all the help they have given me.

Zach: Having taken numerous FASS modules (particularly those from the Political Science Department), I have come to believe in the vital role that the public service plays in shaping the Singapore society. Whereas the private sector concerns itself with cost and benefit, profit-oriented approaches, the public sector focuses itself on maximising the public interest.

As such, this idea of working for the people appeals strongly to me. Furthermore, I feel that the various disciplines within FASS have done an excellent job in equipping its students with critical skills, with which to examine every aspect of life. Such skills have only served to benefit me in seeing many issues in contemporary societies that could be handled better or should be tackled.

Hence, these two aspects of my education made it a natural choice to aspire for a career within the public service, to get involved in charting Singapore’s future path amidst a challenging local and global environment.


Where do you see yourself ten years on?

Keng Meng: I am committed to a career with MINDEF and want to continue working in the public service. Over the next few years, I hope to develop skills and accumulate experiences that would enable me to better contribute to Singapore and the world. I also hope to be in a position in which I could make useful contributions to NUS such as participating in the FASS Mentorship Programme.

Zach: I wish to see myself as a leader within the public service, wherever I feel that I can contribute, while continuing as an avid learner. I hope to be in a position to bring about positive change, be it in my local community, within MINDEF, the Public Service or in the greater society. That being said, I certainly wouldn’t mind going back to school again, because I’ll definitely be missing having academic debates in tutorials and seminars!


This is kind of unrelated, but we noticed that you guys went on the Student Exchange Programme (SEP) at University of California, Berkeley and Boston University. Can you share something about your SEP experience with us?

Keng Meng: An overseas student exchange programme is an opportunity to share and take in perspectives, especially from those of different cultures. The thing that struck me the most was the high level of student involvement at UC Berkeley. The students are extremely active in the university, community, and nation at large. They want to make their voices heard and do their part in shaping their community.

For instance, during football matches with other universities, the stadium overflowed with students that came to support their school. A town hall meeting with the school administration on rising tuition fees saw an overwhelming number of students participating in the dialogue. There is a strong culture of identification with the school and community. This is what inspired me to play an even more active role in contributing to the society.

There are passionate students in NUS too, as demonstrated by NUS Student Union (NUSSU) and the NUS Arts Club. As a member of the Arts Club, I have met friends who have sacrificed their time and energy to organise projects for the faculty and NUS. My time at Berkeley was memorable in part because of the atmosphere of energy created by the students. On this note, I feel that participating in the Arts Club (or any other faculty clubs, CCAs, and NUSSU for that matter) is a great opportunity to be involved in NUS and the community.

Zach: One takeaway for me was the need to be accommodating of diversity, in particular the diversity of thought and cultures. Specifically, my trip to Boston has taught me the importance of accepting other cultures and peoples, especially since Boston is an extremely diverse society. There is always something you can learn from anyone, no matter who you find yourself amongst. In Boston, I encountered people of various ethnicities and from all walks of life, and through these interactions I’ve since come to gain new perspectives that have considerably shaped my understanding of the world.

Thank you, Keng Meng and Zach. We wish you fulfilling and successful careers ahead!

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