“Most students from NUS Law are believers in justice; they volunteer at the courts, participate in legal clinics and support pro bono efforts. I believe that making a contribution to give someone an education is one of the many ways to make society a fairer, better place,” says Ms Mak Shin Yi (Law ’14), who gave back to her alma mater, the National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Law, right after graduation.
Called to the Singapore Bar in 2015, Ms Mak started her legal career in one of the Big Four law firms in Singapore and practised as a lawyer in the field of commercial litigation and international arbitration for two years. In 2017, she joined the United Nations through the Young Professionals Programme and is now working as an associate legal officer in the Office of Legal Affairs.
Hailing from a humble background – her father was a taxi-driver and her mother a housewife – the former recipient of the Kwa Geok Choo Bursary is the first lawyer in her family. As a full-time student at NUS Law, she also took on part-time jobs by giving tuition and working at cafés to earn some income and pay school fees. While she found the first two academic years to be particularly challenging, she was thankful that there was a culture of sharing notes and helping each other out amongst her classmates, which helped her to adjust to the intensity of law school.
Financial aid made it possible for her to take part in the NUS Student Exchange Programme, which allowed her to study in Madrid in her third year, exploring her interest in international law. She also spent two summers in Geneva, pursuing internships related to the United Nations. The experiences she gained in studying and working overseas became invaluable to her career.
Asked why she decided to donate to NUS, Ms Mak says, “I think it would be best summed up by the Chinese idiom, 饮水思源, which captures the spirit of gratitude for past acts of kindness that have led us to where we are today. When I received my first paycheck, I decided to give back to NUS in the hope that it will help deserving students who might share similar backgrounds and aspirations with me, just as others before me had done. It was a small sum, but I believe that every contribution, no matter how small, can go a long way towards helping someone else.”
Ms Mak believes that young alumni are, in their own way, best placed to give back to NUS. “We don’t make the most money, but as we embark on new careers, most of us are wondering: how can we do something meaningful? The good news is that we don’t have to look far to do good. Start giving back early, and that’s something we can carry on later into our lives,” she shares.