Open doors, crowded chatrooms: More than 6.8m tune in to NUS’ e-Open House

The NUS e-Open House drew in audiences from near and far, as visitors crowded the websites, livestreams, webinars and social media sessions hosted by the faculties, schools and programmes.

The eight-day event attracted 6.83 million visitors, more than double the 3.07 million people who attended the University’s inaugural online Open House last year.

There was something for everyone, whether they wanted to find out about the academic programmes on offer, the vibrant student life of the University, the various residential options available, or the entrepreneurship and industry programmes that they can choose from.

While the main event from 27 Feb to 6 March is over, live activities are in fact continuing for the rest of the month. Details are available at the e-Open House website.

“The sessions were very informative as I had insight into the life of students at NUS,” said Teo Fang Fei, a recent graduate from Anderson Serangoon Junior College.

“I felt that the e-Open House was effective in helping me with administrative matters (related to undergraduate education), as well as understanding more about the holistic opportunities offered at NUS.”

Much of the attention was on the exciting new interdisciplinary programmes in store for incoming undergraduates.

Fang Fei attended the sessions of the new College of Humanities and Sciences (CHS) and the NUS Faculty of Engineering (FOE), which has launched a new Common Curriculum for freshmen together with the NUS School of Design and Environment (SDE).

Focus on interdisciplinarity

CHS, whose freshmen will go on to choose a major from the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) or the NUS Faculty of Science (FOS), organised Zoom and Facebook Live sessions to describe the unique aspects of the curriculum. Future employees are being increasingly expected to solve problems across multiple disciplines, said industry professionals and employers, who also shared about the demands of the modern workplace and how the CHS would prepare graduates for the future.

“The kinds of problems I’m interested in solving are complex. As a hiring manager, the humanities bring a capacity to look at these problems with another lens, and a set of tools to solve, or dissolve, these problems that are not typically part of the domain of technology,” said Ms Susan Lorraine Hanna, Director for Operational Excellence & Strategic Initiatives at pharmaceutical multinational Organon & Co.

FASS Vice Dean and Philosophy Associate Professor Loy Hui Chieh and FOS Vice Dean and Physics Professor Sow Chorng Haur logged in to moderate discussions and answer questions.

“Working with colleagues from FOS who are themselves serious and motivated to represent CHS -- that's a real joy! I couldn't have asked for better partners,” reflected Assoc Prof Loy.

Prof Sow also shared how happy the CHS team was with the level of audience engagement. “We deployed suitable platforms that allowed questions to be raised and quickly responded to despite the large numbers. The panel format works and makes for a more fulfilling experience.”

Current FASS and FOS students also shared tips at the student panels.

“e-Open House was an opportunity for me to give back by sharing experiences that may help prospective students, especially those who were interested in the upcoming CHS,” said FOS Year 4 Statistics major Ryan Teo, who is also pursuing minors in Public Health and Geographical Information Systems.

“There was a lot of anticipation for the e-Open House,” shared fellow panellist Divya Sethupathi, a second-year South Asian Studies major at FASS, who is pursuing a second major in Life Sciences and a minor in Community Development and Leadership.

Divya added, “Prospective students were very keen in learning more about the modules I was taking, and how my two different majors were helping me in academics as well as preparing me for the future in terms of career options.”

The efforts of Ryan, Divya and other panellists were appreciated by many attendees.

River Valley High School graduate Toh Ping Ting relished the question and answer format, which provided resolution to many a query. “The e-Open house does provide me with sufficient insights to make an informed choice about what I would want to do in university, ” said Ping Ting.

Nanyang Junior College alumnus Wong Jun Xiang, who is awaiting admission into university after completing his National Service, said, “I learned that NUS is changing its curriculum to address the needs of the industry with the new common curriculum at CHS.”

He added, “By chatting with the student ambassadors, I learned about the differences between courses that sounded similar such as Data Science and Analytics and Statistics, and this allowed me to better appreciate the multidisciplinary approach of university education.”

After attending the CHS and FOE e-Open Houses, Jun Xiang has decided to enroll in either CHS, where he could study Data Science and Analytics, or FOE, where he could pursue Industrial Systems Engineering and Management, due to the multidisciplinary nature of these programmes.

Bridging engineering and design

FOE recently announced a Common Curriculum with SDE. Students will be able to take courses from both schools seamlessly, and choose from new major-minor and double-major combinations that bridge the domains of engineering as well as design and the environment.

FOE’s Open House included talks to introduce the various programmes available, as well as virtual live forums where students and professors took questions from the public.

“There is always the balance between the trepidation of going for something new, versus the promise of a new programme,” said FOE Dean Professor Aaron Thean, who addressed questions at a forum. Prof Thean is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and one of the National Research Foundation’s Returning Singaporean Scientists.

He told NUS News, “We’d like to impress upon (prospective students) that there will be a new flexibility and they’ll be able to craft their programmes going forward. And this is going to make engineering more adaptive… I hope the students looking at this prospect will consider the fact that it will be a fantastic journey to work with us, to build up their expertise and become super marketable.”

NUS Biomedical Engineering’s Head Professor Dean Ho, who spoke alongside Prof Thean at the forum, said that the many questions received showed a lot of excitement about the changes. “There’s a lot of intrigue with what the future of engineering looks like,” said Prof Ho, who is Provost’s Chair Professor, Director of The N.1 Institute for Health, as well as Director of The Institute for Digital Medicine at NUS. He also paid tribute to the teams working tirelessly behind the scenes to make the e-Open House successful in communicating NUS’ vision to the public.

Lisa Chin, a third-year Biomedical Engineering student who is pursuing a second major in Innovation and Design, shared about her experiences and why she chose her courses.

SDE, which is introducing the Common Curriculum with FOE, showcased many Ask Me Anything sessions and talks by its various departments, from industrial design to building to real estate. Prospective students asked their questions on Instagram and Facebook and observed classes in action – one session, that was live streamed by NUS Landscape Architecture, showcased how a typical studio session is conducted, with students presenting their projects to their lecturers and course mates for feedback.

 “Landscape architecture is a professional practice that bridges art and science. It is constantly evolving, and landscape architects’ roles are expanding into new frontiers of practice. Students will have access to a variety of cross-disciplinary courses and specialised programmes, learning a diverse range of skills and theories,” said Assistant Professor Jessica Diehl in response to questions posed on Facebook during the live session.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, a common refrain persisted – pursue your interests while keeping an open mind. “In my opinion, prospective students should be prepared to step out of their comfort zone and be open to new ideas,” said Dr Terrence Tan. The senior lecturer at the Department of Architecture had helmed a live chat on Facebook with two students.

“We are not just preparing students to be good landscape architects but also for them to remain relevant in this fast-paced, technocentric society,” he added.

Getting up close and personal, online

Interactivity was another common refrain across faculties. At NUS Business School, professors, career counsellors, alumni and students headlined live sessions to interact with the audience.

And at the NUS University Scholars Programme (USP), students got a taste of academic life with sample classes, such as a session on “Natural History and its Colonial Past” where Dr Ang Yuchen engaged about 65 prospective students in a lively discussion. Additionally, multiple student teams led live tours of the programme’s campus at Cinnamon College.

Raffles Institution alumnus Ethan Yeo, who is serving his National Service, appreciated the small-group sharing and tour format for USP and the sample lessons.

“Open House has been interesting and informative,” said Ethan, who also attended the session for the NUS Faculty of Law.

Overseas visitors

Maryam Saleel, a high school student in the United Arab Emirates who is attempting her A-levels, also attended the session for USP. She enjoyed Dr Ang’s sample class, commenting that he “was very engaging and his love for the subject clearly shone throughout the session”.

She said, “More than clearing doubts, the e-Open House opened my eyes to certain things that I hadn't heard of before or come across in my research. I didn't know NUS had a programme called NUS Overseas Colleges or that USP students could take double majors.”

Maryam was not the only overseas visitor, with the online format of the Open House allowing prospective students to tune in from all over the world.

Joselyn Victoria Dachi, a high school student from Sekolah Menengah Atas Kristen Penabur Bintaro Jaya in Indonesia, attended the Undergraduate Admissions Sharing session by the NUS Office of Admissions.

“This webinar helped me to get to know more about NUS, as my top choice university that I will apply for when I graduate from my high school in 2022,” she said.

She had many questions about her options after high school and the various university programmes that could be suitable for her.

The webinar cleared her doubts. Although not all questions could be addressed at the session proper due to the high number of questions, prospective students could reach the Office of Admissions afterwards through multiple touchpoints such as hotlines, live chats, and dedicated email addresses for queries.

“The sessions certainly provided a lot of helpful information, and the NUS team stood by to help out if we had further questions,” said Joselyn.

A slice of campus life

Regardless of one’s faculty or school of choice, campus life – in its richness and vibrancy – is an experience available to all who study at NUS. This year’s campus life showcase featured an exciting array of music, dance, and even sporting performances by students. These pre-recorded segments were further enlivened by the student emcees at RadioPulze, an NUS internet radio station, who facilitated the transitions between each performance.

One of the emcees, Shawnia Seah, shared that this was her first time taking part in an NUS Open House. Reflecting on her experience, the Year 2 Communications and New Media student said, “We had to adapt traditional hosting methods to digital ones, such as setting a lively mood through putting up themed Zoom virtual backgrounds to mimic the fun atmosphere that would have been present at the usual open houses, and facilitating giveaways on social media platforms.”

“Despite the challenges faced, we were able to successfully host the event, drawing in an audience from beyond just the NUS campus,” said Shawnia.

The halls of residence and residential colleges also held talks to acquaint prospective students with the ins and outs of residential life. Current students and hall masters touched on various aspects of living on campus, from facilities to hall events, and the interest groups and co-curricular activities available to students.

Opportunities for growth come, too, in various ways. As Associate Professor Peter Pang, College Master of Residential College 4 (RC4), observed, “I have been truly impressed by how seriously our students dedicate themselves to the Open House project. They are thoughtful, creative, and full of initiative. I am hugely grateful to their dedication, but clearly they also see it as an opportunity to grow.”

This chance is complemented by numerous others, Assoc Prof Pang added. “NUS gives you a plethora of opportunities to discover and grow, step out of your comfort zone and experience different things, and forge lasting friendships. Remember this: the NUS campus consists of much more than just the classrooms.”

The positive experience was summed up by Anderson Serangoon Junior College alumna Lau Jae Yang, who had attended the sessions from CHS, FOE and NUS Business.

“The e-Open House was overall well-executed and very informative!” she said.