Before I joined National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2012, I was in a student affairs role at a private education institution for two years and supported international students with diverse needs – from pastoral support to wellness and student development. I enjoyed and appreciated how these experiences have shaped my perspectives about student life and hence started to look out for opportunities to deepen my knowledge and exposure in student affairs. So when the residential life (student affairs) opening came up, I did not hesitate to put in my application. And the rest is history.
It was in May 2020, during COVID-19 when there were strict safe management measures in place including border controls. One of our international students became very ill and was on life support. His father flew into Singapore, hoping to bring him home for continued treatment. With closed borders, mandatory isolation, and strict medical protocols in place, it was extremely challenging for the family and my team of resident staff to work against bureaucracy, including arranging for the student’s medical repatriation, coordinating the family’s early departure from Singapore while on mandatory isolation, and connecting them with the faculty on the student’s academic and student support plan. It was a stressful five days, but we were able to facilitate the student’s medical repatriation and reunite him with other family members in his home country. The appreciation from the family and my bosses made my day. The incident also reaffirmed my commitment towards residential life and student support and how I can help make a difference in the lives of our students and their families.
My greatest challenge has been dealing with unplanned circumstances such as supporting students with self-harm tendencies and managing student conduct issues in campus housing. No matter how well you are trained and how detailed the protocols are, every student and every incident is different. This calls for quick thinking, and a sound decision has to be made while protecting the interests of the student and the university.
It’s my 24/7 crisis phone which has all the phone contacts that I need, WhatsApp chat groups with resident staff and residential life offices, and ready access to my emails.
I would approve the budget to build more campus housing that will allow all 45,000 NUS students the opportunity to stay on campus for at least one year and experience the vibrant residential life on campus.
NUS is probably one of the few universities in Asia where one is exposed to different residential and student life opportunities within the same campus. With four housing models (halls of residence, houses, residences, and residential colleges), students are offered a lifetime opportunity to live among peers from different social and cultural backgrounds and academic disciplines. And with more than 200 student groups and organizations on campus, most of our students will have a holistic “NUS Experience” when they live on campus.
At the top of my list is the annual Freshman Orientation in July. The orientation brings the student community together, from the program planning and recruitment of student facilitators to the welcoming of first-year students to university and residential life. A lot of strong friendships are also forged during the orientation, and this strengthens the bond and peer support within the residential community.
The COVID-19 pandemic only made the residential community stronger, and with campus life returning to normalcy in 2023, we appreciate the value of real-life human interaction and the need to advocate for stronger peer support and mental wellness on campus.
The ability to experience and learn something new or different every day just keeps me going.
The ability to stay alert and active on the job with minimal sleep, without it affecting my personal and mental well-being.
Ann Tan is the senior associate director of residential life and hostel admissions at the National University of Singapore. Have a colleague you think others should get to know? Please share with us at email@example.com and you may see them in a future issue of the magazine.