Multiple rejections did not deter Cassandra Fong from realising her degree aspirations. The dogged learner is now a proud graduate about to blaze a new trail in her career.
Any young learner who needs help bouncing back from a stumble would benefit from a pep talk from Cassandra Fong Jia Wei. The 27-year-old SIT graduate from the Çlass of 2023 knows a thing or two about rejection — it took her three tries to get into the Food Technology degree programme jointly offered by SIT and Massey University.
In 2016, Cassandra did not harbour any high hopes for her first application, fresh off completing her Diploma in Applied Food Science and Nutrition at Temasek Polytechnic. “My results weren’t good, so I decided to work to gain experience before trying again.” However, being rejected a second time the following year was a huge blow as she thought she had enough to secure a place. “I felt defeated. I thought, why is it happening again?” recalled Cassandra, who had spent the year studying for an Advanced Diploma in Applied Food Science at Singapore Polytechnic. At the same time, she also gained work experience as a food technologist at Tate & Lyle, a global leader in ingredient solutions.
Cassandra worked as a food technologist at Tate & Lyle while pursuing her Food Technology degree programme via the SkillsFuture Work-Study Degree (WSDeg) pathway. (Photo: Tate & Lyle)
Determined to get answers, she emailed the programme leader, who encouraged her to re-apply the following year and to continue chalking up relevant work experience — it was a highly competitive programme with an annual intake of about 50 to 60 students.
Summoning up all her faith, Cassandra sent in her application a third time via the SkillsFuture Work-Study Degree (WSDeg) route. Finally, she was accepted into the Food Technology degree programme at SIT.
Strong Will to Learn and Apply Knowledge
There was never a doubt in Cassandra’s mind that she wanted to pursue higher education in food technology. “As I was working, I felt I needed to gain more technical knowledge and widen my expertise to other types of food and beverage. I can acquire that exposure within the degree programme, without needing to apply for another job to learn from another company.”
What also impressed her was the comprehensive curriculum covered within the Food Technology programme — from product formulation and development to food preservation, prototyping, costing, packaging and regulatory knowledge. “Much of what was learnt is to prepare us to be work-ready, because we have to communicate with colleagues in different functions to get the information we need,” shared Cassandra, who worked on sugar reduction projects at Tate & Lyle’s beverage department at the start of her career.
There were also eureka moments at work when she could draw from technical learnings from the classroom during training sessions, giving her the confidence to deal with new equipment suppliers. Conducting product research and trials at work also became smoother, thanks to the foundational knowledge gleaned from her professors. One thing she particularly enjoyed was the opportunity to work with industry partners throughout her studies. In her three-month elective, she worked with a hawker client to produce and package shelf-stable mutton soup that would be fit for sale in supermarkets.
At SIT, Cassandra (left) assisted in the production process for a client at FoodPlant, Singapore’s first shared facility for small-batch food production. (Photo: FoodPlant)
In her final-year Innovative Food Design & Development module, Cassandra and her team created a spicy herb plant-based mayonnaise in partnership with social enterprise Fortitude Culina. The team’s project won second prize among their cohort’s creations.
“Our team received positive feedback from industry folks who tasted our mayonnaise prototype,” she smiled with pride.
No Walk in the Park
Even though Cassandra had the fondest memories of the last four years with SIT, she conceded it had been a steep slope to climb at the beginning.
The first trimester, during which she took on a full-time academic load, had engineering modules which were not her cup of tea. “I found engineering calculations and process engineering a bit tough. However, having peers to study with helped to build camaraderie and remind us that we are in it together,” she said.
Her challenge came in the form of time management. The work-study programme meant she was splitting her time between the office (three days a week) and university (for the two remaining days).
“I’m very grateful that my company supported my decision to pursue this degree programme and work part-time. Also, my classmates were accommodating in holding virtual project meetings at night to suit my work schedule.”
Finding Purpose in Food Science
With sustainability and healthy ingredients gaining increasing prominence in food and beverage formulations, Cassandra finds herself increasingly drawn to her field. “I find it meaningful to create healthier options for customers because it really impacts people’s lives.” Following her graduation, she has been offered a formulator role at dsm-firmenich, a global leader in health, nutrition, and beauty. Cassandra will be working on developing nutritional premixes for companies to fortify various products like infant formula and nutritional drinks.
Cassandra with her family members at the SIT graduation ceremony held at the Mediacorp Theatre on 11 October. (Photo: Cassandra Fong)
“I’m not sure where I’ll be 10 to 15 years down the road, but now I’m happy to focus on creating products that can have a positive impact. Perhaps in future, I might explore sensory science. It’s something that piqued my interest during my studies!”
With drive and optimism lining her path at the moment, Cassandra’s disappointment from years ago is firmly in the rear-view mirror. “Back then, I was upset that I wasn’t in university at the same time as my poly peers. In hindsight, I realise it doesn’t matter when we resume our educational pursuits. What’s important is we go through the journey and complete it.”
“Cassandra used her expertise to help a FoodPlant client develop shelf-stable mutton soup. This demonstrates not only her innovative thinking and technical prowess but also her dedication to helping local businesses thrive in the competitive food market,” said FoodPlant CEO, Associate Professor Lim Bee Gim.