From Engineer to Lecturer: Celebrating our Teachers

By Engine Room Posted 8mth(s) ago Reading Time: A few minutes

If you have been following our Engine Room for a while now, you’ll know that we love writing about the people we meet. From lead test architects to process engineers and operations technicians, each individual we speak to never fail to have a myriad different stories to share about their work and its impact in the world of engineering. But if there’s one thing these friendly folks have in common, it’s that they have all had a mentor at one point in their journey, shaping and sharpening them to become the movers and makers that they are today.

As we celebrate Teachers’ Day this 4th of September, we wanted to take a moment to recognise the ones responsible for building generations after generations of critical and creative engineers. One such individual is Wong Chee Chein, a lecturer at Nanyang Polytechnic’s (NYP) School of Engineering, with an illustrious 11-year career in teaching.

Specialising in embedded systems and microcontrollers, Chee Chein was once upon a time a Field Application Engineer, skilled with providing on and off-site support for local and international clients. Trading in his work boots for a pen and pointer, the 37-year-old heeded his true calling by applying for a teaching position at NYP over a decade ago, and has never looked back. We had a chat with the avid educator and marathon runner to learn more about his chosen career and what keeps him going every day. 

Meet Chee Chein, a field application engineer-turned-NYP lecturer with 11 years of teaching experience under his belt 

Q: What inspired you to teach rather than build a career as an engineer?

A: I was inspired by the potential impact that I could make in the world as an educator. Yes, being an engineer would enable me to develop solutions to solve problems, but being a lecturer multiplies that effect, because I’m able to empower more future engineers to create solutions to countless challenges that the nation can benefit from. That prospect of knowledge sharing and paying-it-forward was what ultimately pushed me to pursue teaching.

Q: What does a typical work day look like for you?

A: During the semester, I spend the bulk of my day delivering lessons, which, ahead of that, involves the preparation of course materials such as the syllabus, assignments, and handouts or reference materials for students. I also spend a good amount of time in consultation with students – this could be to go over project developments or simply answering any questions that they might have on coursework. During the school break, I like to go over my modules, examining them to see how I can improve content based on feedback that I receive or my own observations during the teaching term. I also use this time to attend industry conferences to keep myself up-to-date with developments in engineering to make sure I continue to stay relevant.

Q: What would you say is your teaching style?

A: I advocate for active learning in the classroom. Regardless of the platform, whether offline or online, I encourage my students to participate as much as they can as I believe there’s no better way to learn than by having open discussions, asking questions, sharing points of view. Even if it’s not 100% accurate, there’s more learning in participation than in silence. To spur this process, I also use tools like Peardeck and Socrative, which are online presentation and assessment platforms, to make learning more engaging. These also help me to gauge responses, which, in turn, allows me to tailor lesson plans according to the pace of learning.

Chee Chein in action during an outreach programme, conducted to interest secondary school students in engineering as a course of study

Q: What is the greatest challenge of being an engineering lecturer?

A: The greatest challenge of being an engineering lecturer is breaking down the many difficult concepts and teaching them in a way that students find interesting and meaningful. As you know, concepts in engineering are oftentimes technical and tedious, which does little to excite students. So what I try to do to navigate around this is to create bite-sized content to explain heavy theories, and also supplement this with analogies so students understand better. I’ve also found that it helps to split my lectures into two segments, with the first focusing on theory and the second on practical. The latter hands-on session is an opportunity for students to see the concept that they have just learnt come to life, which does wonders to reinforce the lesson.

Q: Conversely, what is the biggest reward of being an engineering lecturer

A: The biggest reward is when my students finally grasp difficult concepts and are able to adeptly apply them not just in the classroom, but beyond it as well.

Q: Tell us about a moment you felt exceptionally proud to be in the teaching profession?

A: I remember coaching a team of three students back in 2011 for the Tan Kah Kee Young Inventors Award competition. This is a very prestigious annual event that aims to stimulate creativity and innovation in our Singapore youth, and the team I mentored invented what we called “Blissy” - a novel and efficient Blisssymbols entry method for computing systems. For those unfamiliar, Blisssymbols is a semantic graphical language developed to help individuals with speech disorders, where communication in spoken language is near impossible. While adopted by a good number of countries, there are still very limited means of entering Blissymbols into a computing system efficiently, and my team's invention was essentially a method to speed up this process by up to 10 times. The team took home the Silver award, which was such a deserving testament to not just their efforts but their innovative spirit. Today, they continue to chip away at making a true impact on society, and working with them was truly an honour and an experience that reminded me of how meaningful teaching as a profession is.

Q: Any words of encouragement for engineering students, especially if they might be second guessing a career in the industry?

A: Whenever you have doubts, ask yourself what you can do for the world, rather than what the world can do for you. Being an engineer is one of the rare professions today that empowers you to do far more than you can imagine at building a brighter tomorrow. 

From all of us at Engine Room, we raise a (virtual) glass to Chee Chein and to all the incredibly inspiring educators in our lives! Thank you for your endless wealth of wisdom, generosity of spirit, depth of patience and hearts of gold. Happy Teachers’ Day! 

Recommended articles