Distinguished Arts and Social Sciences Alumni Award 2016

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Professor Edwin Thumboo
Mr Ngiam Tong Dow
Ms Lena Cheng U Wen
Mr Gopinath Pillai
Mr Chong Fah Cheong
Mr Zainul Abidin bin Mohamed Rasheed
Ms Claire Chiang




Edwin Thumboo

Professor Edwin Thumboo

Professor Edwin Nadason Thumboo graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in English from the University of Malaya in 1957, and PhD from the University of Singapore in 1970.  He is currently Emeritus Professor and Professorial Fellow at the National University of Singapore.

Professor Thumboo served as the Head of Department of English for sixteen years, during which time he set up the English Language Proficiency Unit, now known as NUS – Centre for English Language Communication.  He was the first (and NUS’ longest serving) Dean of Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.  During his tenure as Dean, he introduced Psychology, Mass Communications and Theatre Studies as majors to the Faculty.  He also initiated the Centre for Advanced Studies and founded the Centre for the Arts in the National University of Singapore. 

Outside of the National University of Singapore, Professor Thumboo also held various prestigious visiting appointments with universities in the United States from 1979 to 2008.  These include the Fulbright-Hayes Visiting Professorship at Pennsylvania State University, the Ida Beam Professorship at University of Iowa, as well as the Visiting Professorship at the Centre for Advanced Studies at University of Illinois. 

Professor Thumboo’s contribution towards the Singapore arts scene is immense, especially through literature.  He initiated the establishment of the Singapore National Poetry Festival, has six collections of poems, edited four anthologies of poetry, and was the General Editor of the Anthology of ASEAN Literatures, The Poetry of Singapore in 1985 and The Fiction of Singapore in 1990.  A Fellow of the International Writing Programme at the University of Iowa in 1977, he gave readings to various universities, international literary festivals and book fairs.  In 2015, he gave the PEN Philippines Rizal memorial lecture.

For his tireless effort and important contribution to the advancement of arts and humanities, Professor Thumboo was recognised with numerous awards both at the national and regional levels.  He was the first Singaporean to be conferred the SEA Write Award in 1979, and the Cultural Medallion for Literature in 1980 respectively.  His other awards include the National Book Award for Poetry in English (1978, 1980, 1994) and the ASEAN Cultural and Communication Award in Literature (1987).  He also received the Public Service Star (Bar) in 1991, and the Meritorious Service Medal in 2006.

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Ngiam Tong Dow

Mr Ngiam Tong Dow

Mr Ngiam Tong Dow graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Economics from the University of Malaya in 1959.  He is a former civil servant of Singapore who, working with the founding generation of political leaders, contributed to Singapore’s economic development over four decades.

Upon graduation, Mr Ngiam joined the Singapore Administrative Service and was posted to the new Economic Development Division of the Ministry of Finance.  The Division was then led by his two mentors: Minister Dr Goh Keng Swee, and Permanent Secretary Mr Hon Sui Sen.

Appointed as Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Finance at the age of 35, Mr Ngiam went on to take up various positions in the civil service, including Permanent Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Communications, and the Ministry of National Development.  He was one of the founding members of the National Wage Council, and Chairman of the Central Provident Fund Board, the Development Bank of Singapore, the Economic Development Board and the Housing and Development Board.  In addition, he also served on the boards of Singapore Airlines, Singapore Press Holdings, Temasek Holdings and United Overseas Bank.  Mr Ngiam currently sits on the boards of Fullerton Hotel, Raffles Medical Insurance and Yeo Hiap Seng Ltd.

In recognition for his significant contributions to the Public Service, Mr Ngiam received various national public service awards, including the Public Administration Medal (Gold) in 1971, the Meritorious Service Medal in 1978, and the Distinguished Service Order in 1999. 

Mr Ngiam is also actively engaged with the National University of Singapore.  He has served as Pro-Chancellor of NUS since 2000 and was the Chairman of the NUS Centennial Campaign Advisory Board in 2003.  He has also spoken at various alumni events at the University and Faculty.  Over and above his service to the university community, Mr Ngiam has also donated generously to NUS.  In 2006, Mr Ngiam and his family across two generations established the Mr and Mrs Ngiam Fook Quee Memorial Scholarship in honour of their parents and grandparents who had migrated to Singapore from China in the last century with nothing but the determination to work hard and succeed.

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Lena Cheng

Ms Lena Cheng

Ms Lena Cheng graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in History from the University of Malaya in 1960.  She went on to work with books for the next forty-four years; initially as a university librarian at the University of Malaya, then as an independent bookseller and publisher of an academic bookshop, called Select Books.

While Select was located in Singapore, it had a regional South East Asian focus and a global reach.  To Ms Cheng, books were not just merchandise with a price—they were the creative and intellectual output of South East Asian writers.  She found special meaning in promoting these books, especially given the invisible international business barriers and Eurocentric mindsets that made it difficult for books by South East Asian authors and publishers to reach bookshops and readers abroad.  Her objective was to put South East Asian works on international bookshelves.

Professionally, Ms Cheng was active in the Singapore Library Association and the Singapore Publishers Association, and served on their executive committees at different times.  Her interest in gender issues sharpened with the formation of AWARE (Association of Women for Action and Research) in 1985.  She was the first president of AWARE and a volunteer with the association for more than twelve years.  AWARE widened her horizon and introduced her to many vibrant women whose views and friendship she values and treasures.

Ms Cheng retired in 2004 and found time to return to studying Chinese and Taiqi, both of which she finds mentally and physically stimulating.  She has also been mentoring NUS students, and supporting local theatre, dance performances and art exhibitions.

Ms Cheng is married to renowned architect Professor William Lim Siew Wai.  They have two children, Chiwen and Weiwen, and four grandchildren.

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Gopinath Pillai

Mr Gopinath Pillai

Mr Gopinath Pillai graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in in Economics and History at the University of Malaya in 1961.  He is currently Chairman of the Management Board of the Institute of South Asian Studies, Ambassador-at-Large in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since August 2008, and Singapore’s Special Envoy to Andhra Pradesh.  He was recently appointed as Chairman of the Indian Heritage Centre.

Mr Pillai has had an interesting career as journalist, teacher, economist, entrepreneur, corporate leader, and diplomat.  As an accomplished businessman, he has varied business interests, including education, logistics, and information technology.  He is a Director of AEC Education PLC, listed on AIM in London, UK. 

Beyond the corporate world, Mr Pillai has contributed much to Singapore.  He is the founding Governing Board Chairman of the Institute of South Asian Studies, one of the most influential think-tanks on South Asia.  He is also a distinguished diplomat with over 25 years’ experience and was Singapore’s longest serving Non-Resident Ambassador to Iran between 1989 and 2008, and also served as Singapore’s High Commissioner to Pakistan.

Mr Pillai’s involvement in a number of organisations has influenced the social development of Singapore.  Apart from being the current Deputy Chairman of Ang Mo Kio-Thye Hua Kwan Hospital Limited, he was also the Founding Chairman of the NTUC FairPrice Co-operative Limited, Chairman of the Hindu Advisory Board, Chairman of its Concept and Content Sub-committee, and President of the National University of Singapore Society.

Mr Pillai has received several awards, including the Friend of Labour and Meritorious Award from NTUC in 1987 and 1990, respectively; Friend of MCD from the Ministry of Community Development in 1998; Friend of IT from Singapore Computer Society in 2001, and Outstanding Service Award from the National University of Singapore in 2015. 


For his manifold contributions to public service, the Singapore government has awarded him the Public Service Star Award (BBM) in 1999, BBM (Bar) in 2009 and The Meritorious Service Medal in 2015.  For his instrumental efforts in bridging and advancing Singapore-India relations, the Indian government conferred him with the Padma Shri Award at the 2012 Republic Day.

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Cong Fah Cheong

Mr Chong Fah Cheong

Mr Chong Fah Cheong graduated with a Bachelor of Social Sciences in Political Science and Philosophy from the University of Singapore in 1971.  Through the years, he has taken on various roles as teacher, artist and sculptor.  Mr Chong is an acclaimed sculptor despite a lack of formal training.  His artistic path was not a straight or clear one, though art has figured in his life through all its varied stages. Armed with a Diploma in Curriculum Studies in Art and Design from the Birmingham Polytechnic, UK, in 1973, he began his career as an art educator.  

Mr Chong was one of the founding art lecturers in LaSalle College of Art and Design formed in 1984.  He moved to British Columbia, Canada in 1989, where he joined Nicola Valley Institute of Technology as a visiting lecturer.  In 1991, the National Museum of Singapore (now known as Singapore Art Museum) invited him to display his works in an exhibition.  Today, the museum has a wide collection of his sculptures.  Education and sculpture are inseparable for him. In 1996, he participated in the Art Institute at Capilano College, North Vancouver.

He has also contributed greatly towards NUS, beautifying the landscapes with his works, including the eleven sculptures created under his guidance by alumni, faculty and students in commemoration of the NUS Arts and Social Sciences, Dentistry and Science Faculties’ eightieth anniversary in 2009.  In 2012, , Mr and Mrs Chong, together  with her brothers, set up the Chew Teck Neo Bursary for FASS students in honour of his wife’s mother.  In 2013, he held an exhibition Textures, Tones & Timbres at the NUS Museum.  Outside of the university, Mr Chong has also made his mark upon Singapore’s physical landscape, with public sculptures in the Botanic Gardens, Orchard Road and along the Singapore River. 

Mr Chong's talent was recognised when, as an emerging artist, he received the Merit Awards at the IBM Art Award Exhibition for Ayob’s Table (1990) and Third Auntie’s Birthday (1988), a Certificate of Participation at the National Museum Centenary Art Exhibition (1987), the Special Award at the National Day Art Exhibition for Dragon Waves (1982), and the First Prize for Sculpture at the Singapore Innovations in Art Exhibition for Triad (1981).

For a lifetime of dedication to the practice of sculpture and contribution to Singapore’s artistic heritage, he was awarded the Cultural Medallion in 2014.  Art is a path that Mr Chong continues to explore, always creatively responding to the challenges it presents.

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Zainul Abidin bin Mohamed Rasheed

Mr Zainul Abidin bin Mohamed Rasheed

Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Economics and Malay Studies from the University of Singapore in 1971.  After 25 years in the media world and community service, he entered politics and joined the Government, culminating as the Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.  Currently he is Singapore’s Non-Resident Ambassador to Kuwait and Foreign Minister’s Special Envoy to the Middle East. 

Upon graduation, Mr Zainul Abidin embarked on an illustrious career in journalism where he started as the Research Editor and Manager of Asia Research Bulletin from 1971 to 1976.  He subsequently moved up the ranks as the Editor of Singapore Business, Berita Harian, Berita Minggu, The Sunday Times, as well as the Associate Editor of The Straits Times from the 1970s through to the 1990s.

During his 14 years in government, he held appointments such as the Senior Minister of State (2006-2011), Minister of State (2001-2006) and Senior Parliamentary Secretary (1998 - 2001) in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as Mayor of North East Community Development Council (2001-2009).

He has also served on various boards of numerous government agencies, councils, civic organisations and the private sector, including positions such as the President of the Singapore Islamic Religious Council (MUIS),  Chairman of the Malay Heritage Foundation, CEO of the Council for the Development of the Singapore Muslim Community (MENDAKI),  Corporate Adviser to Temasek International, Chairman of SPH UnionWorks radio stations and Consultant for the book publishing arm of the SPH, The Straits Times Press, and Director for Temasek Cares Foundation. 

Mr Zainul is a passionate alumnus who participates in many alumni events such as Homecoming, reunions and sporting activities.  This carries on a pattern set in his active campus days from 1968 to 1971, when he served in various capacities in the Students’ Union: he was active on the External Relations Committee, and the Undergrad Editorial Board; he was also Editor of the Economic Society Journal and Newsletter.  Beyond that, he was also active in the Malay and Muslim Societies.   

He represented the University of Singapore Muslim Society at the International Youth Conference in Libya in 1973 and was a pioneer founder member of the South East Asian Muslim Students' Association (PEMIAT).  In 1974, he was awarded the Outstanding Young Singaporean Gold Award by the Singapore Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees).  He also served on the University Council for 10 years during the challenging years of the Joint Campus of the Nanyang/Singapore University and later the NUS.  He later served on the NUS Alumni Advisory Board (2006-2014) and has recently spoken at the U@live Series.

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Claire Chiang

Ms Claire Chiang

Ms Claire Chiang graduated with a Bachelor of Social Science in Sociology at the University of Singapore in 1977.  She is the co-founder of Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts and pioneered the Group’s retail business. As Chairperson for China Business Development she focuses on acquiring new management contracts, and as an Advisor on Human Capital Development guides strategic issues in organisational and human capital capability. She also chairs Banyan Tree Global Foundation, the Group’s sustainability arm.

Ms Chiang was Chairman of Wildlife Reserves Singapore from 2008 to 2015. She is currently Chairperson of the Wildlife Reserves Singapore Conservation Fundand the National Book Development Council of Singapore. She was appointed Director of Mandai Safari Park Holdings and Denmark based ISS A/S in 2015.

Ms Chiang is a Pioneering Member for the Diversity Action Committee to build up female representation on company boards, and serves on the Tripartite Committee on Work-Life Strategy (Ministry of Manpower) and co-chairs the ACCORD Family & Community Council (Ministry of Defence). Her many affiliations also include governor of Raffles Girls’ Secondary School, Honorary Council Member of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Member of the National Arts Council, and Chairperson of the Shirin Fozdar Program at Singapore Management University. She also served as a Justice of Peace on the Ministry of Home Affairs Board of Visiting Justices & Board of Inspection.

For her advocacy in social issues, Ms Chiang has won national and international awards, including the Public Service Star BBM for her contribution to implementing work-life integration in Singapore. Ms Chiang has also received a many other awards for her contributions in various areas, some of her awards include: Dayawati Modi Stree Shakti Centenary Award 2015 (Stree Shakti – The Parallel Force, New Delhi); Long Service Award 2015 (Board of Visiting Justices & Board of Inspection, Singapore); Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2015 (Asia Corporate Excellence and Sustainability (ACES) Awards 2015, Singapore); Community Retailer Award 2015 (Hong Kong Retail Industry Trade, Hong Kong); Outstanding ASEAN Entrepreneur’s Award  2015 (ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Forum, Vietnam); Public Service Star BBM 2014 (Singapore Government); Outstanding Volunteer Award 2011 (Ministry of Community, Youth and Sports, Singapore); Leadership for the Environment Award 2010 (Singapore Tatler Leadership Award, Singapore); Leader Mentor Award 2008 (Global Leadership & Mentoring Congress, Singapore); Pingat Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Medal) 2008 (Singapore Government); Friends of MCYS Award 2006 (Ministry of Community, Youth and Sports, Singapore); PATA Gold Awards - Grand Award – Heritage (Museum Shop by Banyan Tree) 2004; PATA Gold Awards - Gold Award - Heritage (Banyan Tree & Angsana Gallery) 2003; Rotarian of the Year 2001 (Rotary Club of Suntec City, Singapore); “Women of the Year” Award 1999 (Her World, Singapore); Louis Féraud Les Honours 1996 (Singapore).

Ms Chiang is married to Group Executive Chairman, Mr Ho Kwon Ping and they have three children.

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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Dean's Office, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences National University of Singapore

  • Add: The Shaw Foundation Building, Block AS7, Level 5
  • 5 Arts Link, Singapore 117570
  • Level 5 (Undergraduate) & Level 6 (Graduate)
  • Fax: +65 6777 0751
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