One of SMU's missions (then) was to nurture leaders that have a heart and to have the ability to give back to society. And so how do we do this? So we wanted (them) to give back to society, to look beyond the school and to serve the community. So we came up with community service (CS). And we asked, How long should we do it (CS)? We didn't want it to make it compulsory in the sense that oh the students drag their feet. They stand at the street corner selling flags, raising money and they do it grudgingly. So then, we engaged the community that needed help and asked What could we do, with you, for you? And can we adopt projects that are meaningful both to you and to our students? Then, of course, we had to convince the students: Yes, it was important for you and your personal development to be able to look beyond your own needs, to see the needs of others, to be able to empathize, and to give back to community and to do good, not perfunctorily, but to do so with a heart and to really know what it is to serve.
So it's all about service. We don't want them to (treat it as) a kind of a tour, where they think, Oh this is the poor old folk. We feed them a little. (Then bid them) Goodbye. God bless you. And off they go. I told my staff if we want to do a project, we take it on, we sustain it. (In) sustaining it, we hoped the students will continue to go back after they have completed the 80 hours. And many of our students do. You know our students do even a thousand over hours. They continue. And with this, we think it will set them apart even when they go to work, (they can) talk about your community service.
So one of the highlights when they go for a job interview (is that the interviewer says), Oh I see you have done community service. Tell me a little about that. And that is when they can talks (share their experience).And that (showcases) the soul of that student, where they can share. And you see the glimmer in their eyes, their smile, and the satisfaction when they talk about it. And you know, the passion comes out. Don't do something that you are forced to do, choose a community service that actually gels with you and resonates with you and can we support you. And if you don't know what to do, where to go, we work with the VWOs (the Voluntary Welfare Organizations), the Grassroots, the NGOs (the non-governmental organization) and then we tell you their needs. You then decide if this is something that you want to do. Once you signed up, please commit to do it and do a good job. If you don't do a good job and there's a complaint, we will take this seriously and we will talk to you about it, not from the perspective of trying to discipline you, but to change you and develop you. (We would sit and find out): What went wrong? How could you learn from this? And what remediation you could do to make it right? (We intervene) because that's a value that they carry with them when they go to work. So that's how community service started. It's everybody, hip, hip, hurray (moment), I have to do 80 hours of community service. We had to tell them the whys, we had to convince them, we had to encourage them and we had to excite them. And yes it sets SMU apart, this Community service is compulsory and it is about giving back.