Meet Our Four Microsoft YouthSpark Scholarship Recipients

Four young Singaporeans with disabilities, (from left) Tan Jun Long, Raymond Zheng, Tan Jian Hao and Noah Si were awarded the Microsoft YouthSpark Scholarship to pursue tertiary education in information [...]

Four young Singaporeans with disabilities, (from left) Tan Jun Long, Raymond Zheng, Tan Jian Hao and Noah Si were awarded the Microsoft YouthSpark Scholarship to pursue tertiary education in information technology (IT) related fields. They received their awards from Guest-of-Honour Ms Low Yen Ling, Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Education & Ministry of Trade and Industry, at an awards ceremony held at ITE College Central on 7 October.

Here are our scholars –

Noah Si, 19
First-year Bachelor of Computing (Computer Science) and Bachelor of Science (Mathematics) student at National University of Singapore

Noah had just started nursery when his teacher noticed that he had poor eye contact and was not interested in class activities. He was four years old when he diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Noah completed his primary education at Pathlight School and went on to Seng Kang Secondary School. Despite his seemingly ‘different’ mannerism, his peers were friendly towards him and gave him time and space to get used to the new learning environment. Noah made good progress and was made a student councilor. Besides offering help to students who were academically weaker, he also wrote for the school newsletter and yearbook. He continued to help his former teachers tutor students in geography and social studies after he graduated.

He was a member of the school’s infocomm club at Temasek Junior College where he enjoyed the photography workshops and excursions, 3D printing sessions as well as C++ programming classes. These activities also created opportunities for him to develop friendships and bond with his friends.

It was his strong passion and curiosity for science and mathematics that led him to a double degree in Computer Science and Mathematics at the National University of Singapore (NUS) where he is now in his first-year of studies. He made a resolution to channel this passion into something productive and innovative that will positively impact the world.

Noah spent the first half of 2016 completing a research project at the NUS, as part of the ScienceIN3 programme conducted by the Chinese Development Assistance Council and NUS. The project, which he started in 2014, involved constructing a useful device to help people with print disabilities access eBooks using head movements. The importance of the project went beyond technical learning, but the desire to help others through technological innovation gave Noah a huge sense of satisfaction. He hopes to discover new technologies and use them in products that will change and empower people’s lives.

Noah aspires to become a professor and share not only the beauty and fun of mathematics and computer science, but also inspire future generations with the story of how he overcame the odds, especially to the autistic community.

“Be yourself, for everybody else is already taken. Don’t let your autism prevent you from playing a useful role in society,” he quotes.

Tan Jian Hao, 22
First-year Bachelor of Science in Information Systems student at Singapore Management University

Jian Hao is a second-time recipient of the Microsoft YouthSpark Scholarship – the first time was in 2013 when he was in the first year of his diploma studies at Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP). Jian Hao was diagnosed with loss of hearing at seven, a result of high fever. He has been wearing hearing aids in both ears since.

Although Jian Hao had always communicated through speech, he was apprehensive about interacting with his peers while attending Yuying Secondary School (YYSS) as he had difficulties understanding them. Along the way, he befriended other hearing impaired schoolmates, and through them he learnt lip-reading and sign language. With encouragement from his family and newfound friends, he regained confidence and began interacting with other students in school.

Jian Hao put in extra effort to keep up with lessons in class. He relied on hand gestures and handwritten notes to communicate with his classmates and teachers, especially when he needed clarifications. His efforts paid off and he was awarded the Ministry of Education’s Good Progress Award in 2009 as well as the Ministry of Education’s PRAISE Award in 2010 and 2012 for displaying resilience and responsibility towards his studies. As a member of YYSS’ wushu team, he attained bronze in Belt Grading by the Board of Examiners at the De Wu Pugilistic Association in 2008 and went on to represent the school at inter-school competitions in 2010.

While pursuing a Diploma in Engineering Informatics at NYP, Jian Hao made it to the Director’s List for three semesters. In 2015, Jian Hao and some of his peers participated in Imagine Cup which was organised by Microsoft. The team’s application that would help the deaf learn and correct their speech in a more convenient manner earned them second place. He was vice-captain of the Lifesaving Club and led his team to competitions, and planned training and orientation camps. He won Bronze for the competition’s group category. Jian Hao also participated in competitions outside of school. He won a Bronze medal for the Men’s 100m freestyle in the Singapore National Games in 2014. A sports enthusiast, Jian Hao also participated in running competitions organised by NYP, where he won Gold and Bronze medals during his time of study. Apart from academics and sports, Jian Hao volunteers as a sign language interpreter for the SADeaf Igniters, a general volunteer group at SADeaf.

Jian Hao hopes to work in the IT field where he can apply his IT knowledge at work, or work in a deaf-friendly place where he can help people with disabilities at the same time.

“I’m really grateful to Microsoft for giving me the scholarship once again. The road to excelling in my studies has not always been easy, and I’m glad that my family and friends have been there throughout this journey to give me their biggest support and encouragement. Now that I’m receiving the scholarship for a second time, this gives me greater confidence in pushing through the challenges ahead and to further excel in life,” said Jian Hao.

Tan Jun Long, 19
First-year Diploma in Business Intelligence and Analytics student at Nanyang Polytechnic

Jun Long was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder when he was four and has been receiving intervention support since.

When he was in primary school, he had difficulties interacting with his peers in school and was often bullied. Jun Long also faced difficulties in his studies and fared badly in his Primary School Leaving Examination.

When he entered the Normal Academic stream at Bukit Merah Secondary School, he would get into fights frequently. He was labelled “annoying” by his peers and often felt lonely. However, with strong support and encouragement from his family, friends and teachers, Jun Long was determined to push himself and he did so by putting in extra effort to practice his phonics and vocabulary to improve his speaking skills.

He also tried to apply what he had learnt from the intervention classes, and consulted his school counsellors on problems he faced in school. This improved his social interaction skills, and he made new friends when he was in upper secondary. With determination and perseverance, Jun Long’s grades improved and he started to do better in his examinations. He was among the top students in the cohort, and passed his GCE ‘N’ Levels with three distinctions and his GCE ‘O’ Levels with two distinctions.

In addition, Jun Long was highly-involved in co-curricular activities in school. Not only was he was a member of the Scouts Club in secondary school, he also took part in the National Accounting Quiz and the LCCI Computerised Accounting Mind-Your-Own-Business Course Level 2, where he was awarded a Certificate of Merit and Distinction respectively.

Jun Long is currently a second-year student in Nanyang Polytechnic, pursuing a Diploma of Business Intelligence and Analytics where he is also a member of Squash Club and a committee member in the LEO Club. Jun Long aspires to be a Business Analytics.

Raymond Zheng Shuwei, 19
First-year Bachelor of Science (Data Science and Analytics) student at National University of Singapore

While Raymond was born with a rare, progressive degenerative and incurable genetic disorder of the eye, medically termed as Retinitis Pigmentosa, he was only diagnosed at four years old. Legally blind, he has a field of vision the size of only a 10cm by 10cm tunnel, which may deteriorate any time, sinking him into a world of complete darkness. His condition is further complicated by colour blindness, night blindness and extreme light sensitivity.

Raymond was only able to read one word at a time. He could not learn at the same pace as his peers and it would typically take him two to three times longer to study than others. Due to his small field of vision, Raymond finds it very difficult to keep up with the lectures. He often had to read up on his lecture notes beforehand and consult his teachers and classmates if he was unclear about any concepts. These efforts paid off when Raymond was awarded the Most Improved Student Award for his GCE ‘A’ Level results.

Raymond joined the chess club in Pioneer Junior College despite having no prior knowledge of the game. Due to colour blindness, he could not differentiate the colours of the chess pieces and this was a major handicap for him. He had to memorise the positions of the chess pieces and devised strategies, usually under time constraint, to beat his opponents at the game. Notwithstanding these struggles, Raymond represented his school in an inter-school competition where the team finished in fourth place.

Raymond always believed in giving back to the society and helping others. He had volunteered to help raise funds to install water filters to provide clean drinking water in rural parts of Indonesia under the Metro-SIF programme.

Raymond is a currently a first-year Bachelor of Science in Data Science and Analytics degree student at the National University of Singapore. He aspires to be a data analyst and he hopes to make contributions equal to, if not more than, what a non-disabled person is capable of. He also hopes to spread the awareness of such conditions and help the community understand the difficulties faced by people who are in similar situations.