Grooming Engineering Innovators

Left: Tracie Teo | Right: Tan Ying Yi

Attracted by the opportunity to be at the forefront of engineering innovation, two scholars share with us what life is like with one of Asia’s biggest defence and engineering groups with diversified businesses in the aerospace, electronics, land systems and marine sectors.

By Renee Seow

You may think that gymnastics and the Hollywood blockbuster Pearl Harbor have nothing in common, but for Tan Yingyi, both played a vital role in shaping her aeronautical ambitions.

“I’ve always loved the feeling of flying through the air so when I was a sprightly 6-year-old, I took up gymnastics. Then, after watching the aerial acrobatics in Pearl Harbor, that was when I decided I wanted to be a pilot,” the 25-year-old reminisces.

Unfortunately, due to height restrictions, Yingyi’s pilot ambition failed to take off. So, she did the next best thing – landing the ST Engineering Overseas Scholarship instead.

Besides giving her the opportunity to pursue her ambitions, the scholarship also gave Yingyi the flexibility to study in any field that she wanted. “It gave me the choice of choosing my course of study and university, as long it was related to what the company does,” she says.

Soaring High
To fuel her aviation aspirations, Yingyi majored in Mechanical Engineering at Cornell University before making the short hop over to Columbia University to get a Master’s degree in Engineering Management System.

Now, Yingyi is a Senior Project Engineer in the commercial business unit of the Engineering Development Centre at ST Aerospace, the aerospace arm of ST Engineering.

Together with her manager, Yingyi currently oversees the passenger-to-freighter conversion project, a programme that converts passenger planes into other types of aircraft, such as cargo planes.

“ST Aerospace is one of the rare few companies that allow me to work with aeroplanes – not just servicing them, but actually designing and modifying their parts. As my office is just located above the hangar in Seletar where the planes are parked, I get to observe the progress of modification work every day,” she enthuses.

When Yingyi is away from the confines of the aircraft, she liaises with customers and tracks schedules, ensuring that everything is on track.

Wide-ranging Exposure
Since joining the company in 2009, Yingyi has had the opportunity to get her feet wet in the various facets of the aerospace industry.

From going down to the ground and designing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to having a helicopter view and dealing with the programme management aspects of different projects, Yingyi has gathered truckloads of experience.

Citing examples, she says, “We get to perform business studies and assist in proposing new business ideas, which are valuable opportunities for a young engineer like me.”

The most rewarding experience for Yingyi was a 5-month overseas posting to Shenyang, China in 2010 as an on-site representative at a supplier’s factory. Many had doubts as to whether she could survive the experience as she was the first female to be posted overseas alone in Shenyang for almost half a year, but Yingyi proved the naysayers wrong.

“Shenyang is not like the UK or US. They do not have the culture of giving special attention to ladies. One really has to be tough and self-reliant. I was pretty proud of myself for staying through the programme,” she says with a smile.

Doing Things Better
Opportunities like the one Yingyi received are the norm instead of the exception in ST Engineering, as 23-year-old Tracie Teo would attest to.

Upon graduation in April 2011, the University of Michigan alumnus was posted to ST Kinetics, the land systems and specialty vehicles arm of ST Engineering, where she was roped into several projects in areas close to her heart.

“Since I joined, ST Kinetics has given me many opportunities right from the start – new committees and projects that I could be a part of, offering advice in the field that I specialised in,” Tracie says.

The Industrial & Operations Engineering major elaborates, “Among the areas we focus on to drive productivity are operational strategy approaches, such as Lean Six Sigma. I was excited when ST Kinetics started this initiative to look at improving operational efficiency and productivity, especially in our manufacturing processes, which is a field I wanted to practise in.”

Driven by the newly formed department Operations HQ as one of its strategic initiatives, this pilot project aims to optimise manufacturing processes and increase efficiency through the use of scientific methods and new manufacturing strategies.

It could have turned out very differently for this high achiever had she decided to venture into medicine or law, two other possible careers that she was considering. Ultimately, she decided on ST Engineering for the business-oriented environment it offers.

“I wanted to go into engineering but I wasn’t interested in the traditional ‘hardcore’ engineering fields as I wanted to pursue a management role. When I found out that an industrial engineering education offers a good mix of engineering and business aspects, and is an excellent platform for advancing into management, it was an easy choice to make. I haven’t regretted it since,” Tracie explains.

Thankful to ST Engineering for awarding her the scholarship, Tracie adds, “I like that ST Engineering is very selective and careful about whom they pick. The Group has a relatively smaller pool of scholars compared to some other organisations; hence the scholars’ career aspirations can be better taken care of.”

Valuable Lesson
Looking back on her experience, Tracie has one simple advice for those who are now treading on the path that she once walked – research the company thoroughly; find out in detail what it does, its outlook for the future, and if it’s a good fit for you.

“Some peers of mine took up scholarships only to end up working in areas they weren’t interested in. So, think about what you really want and if you’re still unsure, take a year off and explore,” Tracie advises.

For those who have shortlisted ST Engineering as one of their potential scholarship providers, Yingyi has this to say, “The Group is huge with diversified businesses in various industries – there’s definitely a role that will cater to your interest. If you’re like many young adults who don’t know what they want, the ST Engineering scholarship allows you to try out various roles to find your interest.”

ST Engineering is a multinational company with a global network of over 100 subsidiaries and associated companies in 23 countries and 41 cities worldwide. The organisation has gathered a host of accolades, including the World Class Winner at the Global Performance Excellence Awards 2011.

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