by Chia Min Shen and Kristoffer Videl Wijono
"Yam… Seng!" was all that could be heard in the Comm Hall—a triumphant melody, of sorts. Rafflesians, their faces aglow with the warmth of accomplishment, filled the night with infectious laughter and joy. It was a celebration unlike any other—a testament to the marvellous execution of the Raffles Hall Music Production (RHMP) 2023. Scrumptious desserts, RHockerfellas' charming rendition of Fireflies, and, of course, the overwhelming atmosphere of sheer jubilation ensured that the RHMP Closing Ceremony was something none of us would soon forget.
Amidst all the hubbub, one person stood out. Whether it was her radiant pride in their success, her role as the production overseer, or even being the generous provider of desserts—treats for the members who made the musical production possible—, Master Stella's influence was unmistakable. Our fascination with the driving force behind this remarkable woman intensified. What fueled her unwavering dedication? How did she navigate the pinnacle of success whilst maintaining her commitment—be it in the realm of RHMP or beyond? The question lingered: Why does she steadfastly resist complacency? As such, even after all the chaos of RHMP settled, she still had one final task for the night: indulge the Phoenix Press team in our curiosities on her leadership philosophy—on how she perceives power.
This is an interview with our very own WondeRH Woman: Master Stella.
Master Stella giving a speech during the AY23/24 AGM and 65th JCRC Investiture
(Photo credit: Haris)
Who is Master Stella? An Origin Story
Associate Professor Stella Tan Wei Ling's past is quite the tour de force. As a student, she pursued both law and forensic science, back in the early days of such multidisciplinary ventures. "I was lucky because I came in at a time when people didn't appreciate multidisciplinary," she solemnly reflects. Now, she's one of interdisciplinary education's biggest supporters, bringing that vibe to how she handles hall matters—seeking synergy between different viewpoints and skill sets. Together, "we are stronger than the sum of our parts," she muses.
Back in her NUS days, her 'office' was in a very different place: Sheares Hall. Picture this: our Master, fully immersed in the hall spirit, spending all her waking hours jiving with camaraderie, and, of course, indulging in some late-night supper shenanigans. Just like all of us (or at least all of us should), she mastered balancing between hitting the books and hall, a skill that eventually landed her the coveted Hall Master role.
Fast forward, and now Master Stella's more than just some academic hotshot. She's been Deputy Senior State Counsel, a crime-busting extraordinaire in Singapore, merging scientific know-how with legal wizardry. She weaves systematic thinking into her professional life, creating a tapestry of knowledge from various fields. At present, her roster of titles reads like a blockbuster film—Director of NUS’s Forensic Science programs, Assistant Dean of the NUS Faculty of Science, and, drumroll please, the Hall Master extraordinaire. In her own words,, "the hat that I am most proud of and most happy [with] is the hat that I'm wearing now as the Hall Master." Despite it being “the one that takes up the most of my bandwidth, […] I really do enjoy it,” she admits. She even goes so far as to say: “If you want to take away all my jobs, take away [them] all, but don’t take the Hall Master job.”
So how exactly did she end up in this role? The answer lies in something every Rafflesian is all too familiar with. "I was very keen on musical production," she shares—something everyone involved in RHMP could no doubt attest to. Thus, the former Hall Master, Prof. Ho Chee Kong brought her in as a Resident Fellow in charge of RHMP and culture (fun fact: he also invited her to teach musical production at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music). "I live RHMP. I breathe RHMP!” she states with glee. When the offer came, she ran for Hall Master. "I was shocked! It was such a long list of people and my competitors were awesome!" she recalled, laughing. Still, we all know the outcome: "When the news came out, I was the Master designate. I was so happy!" she said, with a glimmer in her eye. She then spent a year shadowing Prof. Ho learning the ropes and acquiring problem-solving hacks that she now considers indispensable through all her Hall escapades.
Master Stella with the Previous Hall Master, Prof. Ho Chee Kong (2nd from the right)
(Photo Credit: Master Stella)
Through it all, her motto remained unchanged. "Just do your best and don’t worry about the rest!" she proudly states. She leans in and tells us how she can't stand people doubting themselves. She encourages everyone to try everything, even the extremely unordinary like "representing Singapore for a beauty pageant"—immediately laughing afterwards. Nowadays, it's a life painted with broad strokes of passion and laughter—well, maybe with just a hint of "How did I get conned into this job!?" musings on top.
So where exactly does all this past glory fit into her role as the main in charge of Raffles Hall?
The Power that Shaped Her
Master Stella considers herself owing a lot to others, and she proudly expresses her gratitude, saying, "I feel blessed because I can do the things that I wanted to do." It's a sentiment rooted in her upbringing, where nurturing parents and kind-hearted individuals surrounded her. Her career, on the other hand, took off when Professor Tan Eng Chye, the Dean of the NUS Science Faculty, envisioned a multidisciplinary forensic science course, he turned to her by virtue of her dual expertise in law and biological science. At the end of a path that can only be described as being full of opportunities and passion, she continues to shape the landscape of NUS Forensic Science.
Yet, there is another ‘invisible power’ behind her that keeps her motivated, and that is her role as the Hall Master. When describing her role here, her eyes light up as she brightly says, "It makes me feel like I'm 21 again!". Like us all, she is immersed in the contagious energy and youthful enthusiasm that hall life brings. Grinning, she confesses that despite the heap of responsibilities on her plate, stress is an alien concept; in fact, she's ready to try out even more things because she genuinely enjoys every bit of what she's doing. We can truly feel the full force of her youthful vigour and unwavering positivity as she enthusiastically adds, "After the instructional weeks, we can go to play!"
Master Stella tutoring in the lab
The Power in Her
From a young age, she has been a beacon of bravery, always ready to stand up for others. Back in her school years, she would always fight for justice and stand up for friends who faced bullying. As a forensic scientist, she harnesses her expertise to give a voice to those who have passed on, championing justice through the lens of forensic science. That’s not just it—donning the hat of an associate professor at NUS, she aspires to be the catalyst that sparks the passion in her students. She claims that she’s always ready to aid in connecting her students to a world full of possibilities through her vast network.
Moreover, despite the perceived strictness that might come with the title of Hall Master, she wants to treat every RHesident like family—like a band of brothers and sisters. Why? Because she wants Raffles to be more than just ‘a place to crash’: she wants it to be a home, a sanctuary of belonging. Picture her, furrowing her brow, spending countless hours into the dark of night pondering over the challenges faced by RHesidents, brainstorming ways to be their problem-solving ally. With unwavering conviction, she declares her willingness to assist with any challenges, whether financial or mental. After all, “I am in a position to do more for my students,” she claims—she, undoubtedly, possesses the capability to fulfill this commitment.
To her, Raffles is the Hall of Opportunities, where uniqueness reigns supreme. She passionately declares that inclusivity is the anthem, offering opportunities that align with each individual's aspirations. There's a glimmer of hope in her eyes as she envisions the positive transformations within the Hall of Opportunities. She shares about how she’s been trying to improve inclusivity, such as by roping in seasoned composer Dr. Kenneth Lyen into RHMP. In her own words, "You don’t need to come in as the number 1 in sports or number 1 in music to do it right. Just try and we will try to be inclusive." The warmth behind her words here belie her sincerity—a testament to her unwavering commitment to creating a community where everyone belongs.
Champagne Popping during AY23/24 RHMP Closing Ceremony
(Photo Credit: Hui Wen)
A discussion of power would never be complete without the notion of superheroes, so we then asked about her experiences in fighting for the greater good. “Professor Ho Teck Hua (the fifth and current president of NTU),” she mirthfully recalls, “told me that I remind him of Wonder Woman! Especially when I held the flag of Raffles Hall!” She most definitely chuckled to herself at the comment while playfully acknowledging the comparison, but to a third party, this is a true testament to the superhero spirit that pulses through her.
Wanting to squeeze out every juicy bit of trivia, we kept up the offensive: “Do you have any traits that are similar to Wonder Woman?” She ponders for a bit, before exclaiming, “Now I'm blushing!” and laughter erupts through the room. “I'm very single-minded in terms of protecting Raffles Hall,” she says. She often manages crises by herself to allow the rest to continue with “life as per normal—happily ever after!” This trait was on full display throughout RHMP, such as when she mobilised alumni to support by attending, but most especially when the UCC staff potentially would be late in opening the venue doors—and she threatened to sue! That said, just like any other superhero, “with great power comes great responsibility”, so the use of force was put on the back burner by instead first appealing to the staff’s empathy by describing the intense efforts put in by the students. She believes that the ability to exercise careful judgement on when to use her power is also part of her ‘superhero’ identity, and an equally important one.
Afterwards, however, when asked about what superhero(ine) she would like to be if given the choice, a huge twist awaited us: “I like Loki!” she says.
…that was a joke. She does, however, describe herself cosplaying as Ms Marvel in Disneyland after exclaiming, “I believe in having fun!”
Master Stella cosplaying as Ms. Marvel
(Photo Credit: Master Stella)
A Hall’s and Its Master’s Legacy
Given the backdrop of the successful RHMP this year, it is natural that there would be some dedicated RHesidents who fear that, through the generations, the various great accomplishments of and events involving Rafflesians would inevitably be forgotten. Regarding this, she shares about an “awakening moment” where returning seniors said, “I’m the constant. Everyone changed, but I’m still there.” Indeed, she is the common link between all the threads that each generation under her had weaved. As such, it is—in a way—up to her and the other Hall Masters to carry on the torch. “The Hall Master’s tour of duty is actually rather long. Then we’ll be able to continue some of these legacies.”
Equally long, however, has this talk been, yet take it in stride she did—thanking us, even, saying, “I really enjoyed myself too. You have enriched my life.” As she joyfully shouts out “Panggang liao!” to us on the way back to her residence, it is obvious to us how much of her heart and soul she devotes into Raffles Hall—that she would still happily indulge us regardless of the tiring circumstances to support RHesidents’ every endeavour.
It should therefore be evident that, if any Rafflesian is in woe of any kind, they should feel free to approach our resident WondeRH Woman. In her own words, “I see a lot of people falling in my life, and I see that if we just extend our hands to help them, then they will continue to stand up—rather than just leave them alone.” Rest assured, the protector of Raffles Hall is always on your side, people.
The WondeRH Woman RHagging with Her Comrades
(Photo Credit: Master Stella)
Special credits to:
Kang and Xavier for additional assistance in writing this article
Yi-an, the Raffles Hall media director, for liaising with Master, and
Master Stella for gracing us with her presence during the interview