U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Kevin Wheeler is working toward a dual master’s degree in operations research and engineering at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS). But unlike many of the overachievers who seek dual degrees at the university, Wheeler is one of a few students selected to take advantage of a rare opportunity to study abroad.
Wheeler, and a handful of his fellow U.S. and Singaporean students, recently returned from six months studying at the National University of Singapore (NUS) through a partnership between NPS and the Temasek Defence Systems Institute (TDSI) and its Master of Defence Technology and Systems (MDTS) program.
“I think the most interesting part of why I applied for the program was because of the opportunity to build relationships with the international community and its students,” said Wheeler.
The MDTS program has students attending classes on the NUS campus for six months, along with one academic year at NPS. Students earn degrees from both universities.
“The goal of the program is to give students the bird’s eye view of current defense technology issues both in Singapore and the United States accompanied by a specialization in their field of studies,” said Associate Professor and NPS-NUS program director Dr. Fotis Papoulias. “The program incorporates two institutions from across the globe with common goals and interests.”
Papoulias said that students participate in projects with faculty from both institutions, covering a range of subjects and topics. From the U.S. student perspective, the opportunity to hear about Singapore’s defense program was enlightening.
“The schoolwork and classwork that we did in Singapore was focused on defense systems,” said Wheeler. “A lot of the curriculum was based on classroom instruction, but we had a lot of guest lectures from industry, and on Singapore technologies.”
“The NUS TDSI program offered me the opportunity to learn from experts and practitioners on a wide span of defense-related subject matters,” said Kung Hao Tan, a Singaporean participant of the program now studying at NPS.
“Equally important was the opportunity to forge professional networks across communities and countries,” he added. “It’s a privilege to learn alongside international and American counterparts and to exchange ideas and glean insights ... And I think it’s also important on a person to person level to build friendships to bring back to Singapore.”
Leaders from both institutions say this is a key component to the program ... In addition to improving the education of its participants, the NPS-NUS program alo helps solidify international relationships.
“We have this program in hopes that students from the defense community in Singapore can work hand in hand with counterparts in the U.S. and the friendship will go a long way, forging a collaboration between the two countries,” said TDSI Director Loon Ching Tan during a visit to NPS. “The U.S. and Singapore have long been strategic partners for many ages. Educating the defense communities in Singapore is a long-term goal. Given that NPS is one of the top schools in defense, we felt that we couldn’t do without such a collaboration.”
“For the U.S., Singapore is one of the most significant geo-political allies in Southeast Asia and the Pacific,” added Papoulias “For NPS, the National University of Singapore is a natural partner. Academically, it’s one of the top institutions in the world.”
As the program continues to evolve, both program directors work together to keep the NPS-NUS partnership program current and relevant to today’s constantly changing times.
“The program is alive,” said Papoulias. “Every year, it goes through a review process where we work in conjunction with faculty members at the National University of Singapore, looking at existing programs, what’s new at NPS, and what’s required or in demand at NUS. There are new elements added every year.”
“What I got back from Singapore, and what I hope to bring back to the Marine Corps, is not only a strengthened relationship with the Singaporeans and an understanding of how their government, culture and people works, but the technical skills that comes from going to a school like TDSI,” added Wheeler. “I have a sharpened understanding of what systems engineering is, and a better understanding of how my equipment works.”