Passing the NUSSU baton on

It has been about a month since the outgoing NUS Students’ Union (NUSSU) President of the 42nd Executive Committee (Exco), Wee Su-ann, passed the baton to her successor, Lee Yat Bun.

NUSSU has been promoting students’ welfare amid the challenges posed by COVID-19, and it continues to play a key role as the pandemic moves into its third year. In addition, NUSSU maintains a healthy channel for communication between the student body and different stakeholders, and continues to hold multiple consultations especially for COVID-related measures.

NUS News sits down with Su-ann as she looks back on her tenure, and chats with Yat Bun on his plans for the Union.

Staying nimble and adaptable amid changing circumstances

Throughout her term, Su-ann worked with her Exco to tackle the challenge of the pandemic, which has pushed them to always stay nimble and adaptable. From dealing with the effects of zoning and e-learning on the students, to coordinating shifts for their projects at the last minute because of the introduced iterations of Phase 2 (Heightened Alert), Su-ann, her team and their staff advisors worked around the clock to make events happen and better serve the NUS community.

One of the successes she has seen in her capacity as the 42nd NUSSU President is the collaboration with the other Autonomous Universities on preparing a Joint University paper, with recommendations for the upcoming Women’s White Paper that will be discussed in Parliament in 2022.

The Exco has also been able to adapt to the changing guidelines as the pandemic has evolved to allow for more hybrid and physical activities, such as welfare giveaways or hybrid orientation camps, that have allowed students to connect beyond a screen.

Crediting these achievements to her team, Su-ann said, “It has been a good ride! As much as people look to me to guidance as a leader, I have learnt a lot more from my team… Having a team of very dedicated individuals can also be very motivating to keep working hard to make things better!”

Legal studies and the experience of leadership

A Class of 2021 graduate from the NUS Faculty of Law, Su-ann explained how her studies in Law have also informed the ways in which she has brought about positive change to the NUS student experience. Besides training her to be more analytical and thorough in her research when preparing to advocate for policies, her legal studies have also cultivated an understanding of how policy ideas can be translated into action, and in turn, have helped her to better negotiate for various ideas.

Reflecting on how her experiences in a leadership position have shaped her as a person and honed her resilience, she said, “The role requires you to wake up every morning, no matter how busy or tired, and push yourself to have the energy to fight for what is right. Without resilience, passion burns out fast.”

“It’s also taught me to try to think of ways to be constructive and value-add. It is always easy to hold resentment or frustrations, but I try to channel that energy as motivation to find ways to make things better,” she added candidly.

“I firmly believe that it is important that we grab hold of our future and create the world we want to live in. Stepping up to become NUSSU President has allowed me to realise that there are so many ways that we can contribute and shape our NUS experience, let alone for wider society.”

Indeed, as Su-ann embarks on a legal career, NUSSU is itself commencing a new chapter. Among Su-ann’s hopes for the 43rd NUSSU Exco are the development of its advocacy work with the Senior Management to create a better NUS together, as well as the pioneering of new initiatives that are better able to target the needs of the students and introduce new forms of student life as Singapore move into an endemic stage.

Further expressing confidence in her successor’s ability to take NUSSU and NUS to greater heights, Su-ann said, “Yat Bun always has a heart for the students and is not afraid to voice out his concerns, and is also a very diligent and well-mannered person.

“I’m sure that his experience will allow him to guide and continue the work that NUSSU does.”

A philosophy of servant leadership

A Year 2 student who hails from the NUS School of Computing, Yat Bun took on the mantle of the 43rd NUSSU President, knowing that he has big shoes to fill.

Having worked closely with Su-ann before as the President of a constituent club, he said, “As a leader, she was a clear, no-frills leader who knew what she wanted and was not afraid to put in the hard work to achieve her goals.”

But Yat Bun himself is no stranger to serving in a leadership position. His passion for serving fellow students was first ignited in Secondary One, when he joined his consortium council as a councillor-in-training. He also took on leadership roles in his Co-Curricular Activity and Service Learning projects in Junior College, served as an artillery officer in National Service, and in his freshman year at NUS, took on the role of President of the NUS Students’ Computing Club.

Now, bringing a wide range of leadership experience to the table, Yat Bun is all set to make a difference in his new capacity as the NUSSU President.

“I am deeply humbled to be given the opportunity to serve the NUS undergraduate population as the NUSSU President,” Yat Bun reflected. “Throughout my leadership journey, the concepts of servant leadership and giving back to the community has stuck with me. Thus, when I was given the opportunity to run as the Union President this year, I willingly undertook it despite the challenges I foresaw.”

Vision for NUSSU and NUS

Yat Bun’s aspiration is for NUSSU to be seen as the perfect bridge between the student population and the University management, the go-to for anything University-related and a trustworthy body that can effectuate positive change for the greater NUS population.

“There exist concerns and suggestions within the student population that University offices might not be privy to. The average student might find it hard to bring these up as they might not know who to reach out to and in what manner they would have to do so,” he explains.

“NUSSU, having the benefit of greater knowledge of the University’s operations, while being students ourselves, are positioned perfectly to help represent and raise the concerns of NUS undergraduates.”

In addition, he and his Exco have many plans in store. Within NUSSU, a leadership training and development framework is in the works, which aims to provide workshops, lessons and trainings to student leaders within the Union and its constituent clubs, committees and associate bodies. This will supply a guided leadership development process that equips new officeholders with timely necessary operational and soft skills, thus reducing downtime during handover periods.

For the wider NUS student population, Yat Bun and his team are focused on maximising student life opportunities, as Singapore transitions to the endemic stage of living with COVID-19. Hoping to define a new normal for student life in NUS, they plan to devise a standardised set of regulations and guidelines for student organisations to plan and execute safe and effective events.

They are also working to facilitate the sharing of knowledge for conducting online, hybrid and physical events between the Union and its committees, constituent clubs and associate bodies, particularly as student organisations may still have limited experience conducting events in the face of the pandemic’s limitations.

Keeping an eye on future challenges

Alongside their ambitions for NUSSU, Yat Bun and his Exco also remain cognisant on the challenges and limitations ahead.

The greatest challenge he foresees is for NUSSU to keep in mind the new initiatives, events, and policies that it wants to push out, even as the workload from the Union and studies kick in.

“To overcome this, as the leader, I will have to be the one that keeps the larger picture in mind. I will have to regularly remind my team to not neglect the plans that we have come up with and ensure that we stick by it,” he said.

Another recurring challenge Yat Bun identified is the ever-changing pandemic regulations which will require constant monitoring in order for NUSSU to adapt quickly and carry out preemptive measures.

“Having drawer plans for different levels of restrictions would be key in ensuring that we are able to prevent events from being cancelled and that we can maximise the experience of the participants.”

But Yat Bun will not be alone.

“Being relatively new to the Union, I am very grateful that the more experienced members have been open to my different perspectives and have been helping me get up to speed,” he enthused.

“I am extremely grateful for having such a capable, motivated and hardworking team and am very confident in our ability to perform throughout this Academic Year.”