SINGAPORE – A year ago, Mr Muhammad Rilwan Mohamed Haniffa would not have dared to dream that he would receive a scholarship to pursue Information Systems at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

But on Friday (July 26), he was one of 138 recipients of this year’s Singapore-Industry Scholarship (SgIS) with a Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) full-term award.

Established in 2012, the SgIS is offered by key industry enterprises in Singapore in collaboration with the government. It is a multi-industry undergraduate scholarship which aims to groom future leaders in sectors the government deems critical for Singapore’s growth. They include aviation, natural resources, social services, electronics and the arts, among others.

This year saw the largest cohort of scholars for the SgIS and the presentation ceremony was held at the University Cultural Centre of NUS, with Second Minister for Education, Ms Indranee Rajah, as guest of honour.

“I wasn’t an IT or tech-savvy kind of guy,” said Mr Rilwan, a sports-loving, kompang-playing national serviceman who used to think that sitting in front of a screen, learning about software systems and typing codes was mundane work.

But he noticed that computing was increasingly popular with his friends and decided to check it out further. He began reading up online, and taught himself the coding language, Python. When the code he programmed from scratch ran successfully, he relished the moment.

Mr Rilwan used to be a “situational leader”. He was troop leader of his Scouts group and a member of the student council in Gan Eng Seng School. While in Nanyang Junior College, he headed projects in his service learning club and was logistics in-charge of his Malay Cultural Society.

“I prefer to just be a team player. But a lot of times, the role was forced on me. No one else would do it, so I did,” he laughed. “But along the way, I learnt to step up and lead more voluntarily.”

He decided to apply for the SgIS because of the “real work experience in the industry” it would provide. “I look forward to the mentorship too. I think a mentor to guide you when you’re starting out in the industry is very important. Through this scholarship, it provides you a better scope into what this industry has to offer,” he shared.

As part of the SgIS Scholars’ Development and Engagement Programme, sponsoring organisations provide internships and mentorships for the scholars to gain industry knowledge. They also get to join forums involving various leaders from the public and private sector, exposing them to the broad issues facing key industries in Singapore.

Mr Rilwan will begin studying at NUS next year in August. Upon graduation, he will work at SPH as a software engineer.

Another recipient, Mr Lim Zhi Feng, 26, received a full-term SgIS award with SP Group and will begin studying Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) this August.

“It’s a dream come true. I never thought I would be given a chance because of my age, and I had messed up at all the interviews. My language is poor. So my answers were in broken bits and pieces,” he told The Straits Times. “But maybe they gave it to me because they saw I was hard-working and had persevered. I had to work part time as an auxiliary police officer to pay for my polytechnic fees. Not everyone can do that.”

Mr Lim often worked overtime to earn extra money. During school term, he juggled studies with work on weekends and some weekday nights.

The path to university has been a long and tough one for Mr Lim.

“When I was young, I was not very motivated. Always sleeping in class,” he said.

Thankfully for him, Mr Lim met “patient and encouraging” lecturers in the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) as well as Singapore Polytechnic (SP). They inspired him to study hard, and his SP lecturers pushed him to try for the SgIS. He persevered and jumped at the opportunity of a scholarship so he could further his studies.

“I can continue to work part time, but I really want to focus on my studies. So that’s why I applied for this scholarship. I’m really thankful that SP Group gave me this opportunity.”