Growing up, Ms Clara Lim, 19, was always interested in things that could move on their own, such as planes and cars.
This led her to join the robotics club at Dunman High School, which offers the six-year Integrated Programme up to the A levels.
"It was only after joining the club that I realised I had a keen interest and passion in robotics," said Ms Lim, who made flying machines, remote-controlled planes and unpowered gliders as a member of the club.
This, in turn, spurred her interest in engineering and, next month, Ms Lim, one of four recipients of the President's Scholarship yesterday, will be off to University College London to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering.
She is the first President's Scholar to opt for engineering in nine years, amid a declining interest in engineering and science subjects.
"If I wanted to do something for four years and beyond, I want it to be something I have a genuine interest and passion in," said Ms Lim.
The scholarship is the most prestigious of all undergraduate awards given out by the Public Service Commission. Most scholarship holders major in subjects such as law, economics and political science.
The other President's Scholars this year are former Hwa Chong Institution students Etsuko Lim, 19, and Russell Ewe, 20, and former Raffles Institution student Tan Kuan Hian, 19.
Ms Lim will study law at Cambridge University. Mr Ewe, also a recipient of the Singapore Armed Forces Scholarship, will study politics and philosophy at the London School of Economics. Mr Tan, who also received the Singapore Police Force Scholarship, will study liberal arts at the Johns Hopkins University in the United States.
The four received their awards at the Istana yesterday from President Tony Tan Keng Yam, who told them to "seize every opportunity to do good, especially towards those who are less privileged".
"In a more diverse Singapore society, you will need a discerning mind to think critically through the issues and challenges confronting Singapore and our people, and to formulate policies which will serve the interests of Singaporeans," he said.
Ms Lim, who attended Tampines Primary, said her parents were surprised to hear the good news.
"They stared at me for three seconds and kept asking me, 'Are you sure?'" said Ms Lim, who has two younger brothers. Her mother is a housewife while her father works in the manufacturing and operations department at an IT firm.
But once they got over the surprise, Ms Lim's father said: "Yin shui si yuan", a Chinese idiom which means "to remember one's roots". It was a reminder that "the scholarship comes with responsibilities", she said. However, she has already been giving back to the community.
Since last year, she has been volunteering once a week at Boys' Town - a charity institution that runs a youth shelter - where she tutors the residents in mathematics, physics and chemistry.
She also takes the time to chat with them during the tuition sessions. "It works to break down the barriers. Ultimately, the relationship is built on trust," she said. "I'm not above them or higher than them in any way. I just want to reach out to them as their equal," she added.
This article was first published on Aug 15, 2015.
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