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Dsg Scholar Olivia Seow Faces the Odds Head On

5 min read

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a spanner in the works of some of our Dsg scholars. Some had to defer their studies, while some had to settle for virtual lessons, and some even braved all odds to continue pursuing their education overseas.

We speak with Olivia Seow, a Dsg Scholar from the 2019 batch. She is currently pursuing the Integrated Design & Management Master’s at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Despite the widespread COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, she remained in the country, and found encouragement and joy in the little things in life.

How has your Master’s programme at MIT been affected by the pandemic?

There are two sides to it. Although most in-person classes have unfortunately been cancelled, we are now better able to receive guest lectures from people around the world and we can revisit recorded lectures in our own time. I especially appreciate how quickly my school transitioned to virtual classes. It was fascinating to see how some professors made the most of the new medium.

In one of my classes, my teachers set up a green screen with harnesses so they could “fly” in the slides! More recently, we have been able to go back to work in the labs with strict rules regarding mask-wearing and capacity limits. The photo above shows me working on a flexible touchpad design to be fabricated in conductive silver ink. I am hopeful I can do more and that things will continue to open up safely as more people get vaccinated (about 50 per cent of US adults have been vaccinated at this point).

Why did you decide to remain in the US despite the outbreak? How is the situation like over there and how has life changed for you?

I wanted to continue studying and when the pandemic broke out, there was uncertainty about whether or not my student status would be affected. I was also advised against travelling since I could be an additional vector in the spread of the disease. Self-isolating in my dorm felt very safe and I did not want to take the risk for myself and the people around me. Over the last year, my school has set up rigorous measures to prevent further spread, such as getting tested twice a week, offering virtual classes, and ensuring everyone is socially distanced and wearing face masks. One good thing about staying indoors is that I have been cooking more and have become much better at it. Check out my lemon duckie cookies! 😜🐤

How has Dsg supported you during the past year, as you were navigating the challenges/uncertainties that arose?

I am grateful for the virtual sessions set up by Dsg so that we can support each other as a scholar community. We are all facing our own challenges, and it is great to check in with one another, which helps us to feel less isolated in our difficulties. Without Dsg, I would not be at MIT and I always keep in mind that amidst the uncertainties, I have been given an incredible opportunity that I will strive to make the most of.

How would you encourage scholarship applicants who are still sitting on the fence about applying due to the pandemic?

All our lives have been changed since the pandemic – it has exposed so many issues, and not just those in the healthcare system. I think innovators and designers have a critical role to play in this period of transition, to shape a better world for everyone. It may be challenging to be abroad at this time, but we can always tackle problems creatively. And if you choose this path, I know the scholar network will be there to support you the whole way!


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Singapore’s highest honour for designers and designs across all disciplines
One of Asia’s premier design festivals that champions design thought leadership
National Design Centre