Many people dream of pursuing a fresh start in a new field, but not everyone will take steps to make that dream come true.

Adrian Heng Hwa Onn, a Year Two student in BEng Data Science and Big Data Technology with Contemporary Entrepreneurialism, shares with us his story – why he decided to pursue an additional degree in China, and what his learning experience at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University Entrepreneur College (Taicang) has been like so far.

Adrian Heng Hwa Onn at the Great Wall

From maths to big data

Onn is from Selangor, Malaysia. He received his first degree, BSc Mathematics, at the University of Edinburgh. Despite the beautiful Scottish scenery, he found it difficult to adjust to a new country and culture.

“I realised I’m more comfortable living in Asia – the education, the teaching style, and the food – and I’m more interested in futuristic programmes, such as big data.”

After graduation, he decided to pursue another degree, this time coming to China to focus on data science.

“China is emerging as an economic and technological superpower, and the big data industry has a bright future. I wanted to study a forward-looking subject in one of the most dynamic countries in the world.

“Also, I’m of Chinese descent. We share some common cultures, for example, the food here has a lot of flavours and ingredients I grew up with, and it suits my palate.”

Onn says when he was searching for big data programmes, there were very few options in China at the time. The location of XJTLU Entrepreneur College (Taicang) helped seal the deal for him.

“Suzhou is a beautiful student city. I love the streams, the canals, and the greenery. I’ve been to megacities in China, but I think it might be a bit distracting for my studies if I actually live there.”

New skills to go further

Onn joined XJTLU Entrepreneur College (Taicang) as a Year Two student in 2019. He says the curriculum has equipped him with technological knowledge, business insights, and communication skills.

“I learned programming languages, such as C++ and Java. The various introductory modules opened my eyes to different fields, including Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things.

“One module that I found particularly interesting was Futurology and Business Opportunities, offered by the Entrepreneurship & Enterprise Hub (ENT). I had the opportunity to learn future business models. The ENT courses are combined with AI and big data, and I learned how to develop business by leveraging technologies.

“The group work also helped improve my language proficiency. Before, my Chinese was very rudimentary. Now I can understand most conversations because our courses have various group projects – I worked with Chinese students, and we met and discussed on campus. I think the language skill will be very helpful if I want to work in an international company in the future.”

Valuable industry exposure

Company visit

As part of the programme, Onn participated in the winter professional development programme (PDP) in December 2021, and he visited Ecovacs, a leading Chinese robotics company famous for its house-cleaning robots.

“It was pretty eye-opening. The company visit gave me a general idea of how the industry works. I remember a data analyst describing her job, and she highlighted some of the research fields that we can focus on if we want to work in AI or robotics.”

At the end of the PDP, students were required to write a report regarding how AI, big data, or robotics technologies may work together to solve real-life problems.

Onn’s report focused on using AI to detect hate speech on social media platforms. He also designed an algorithm flowchart and offered potential solutions in detail.

“In the era of social media, online anonymity is great for encouraging conversation, but it can also bring vitriol and abuse. By using the high-level algorithm, social media posts are first identified and categorised into hate speech or normal posts. Posts that require further confirmation would be flagged for human moderation, whereas obvious hate speech posts would be deleted automatically.”

Onn thinks the PDP is a great way to get a taste of the practical aspects of a particular field. “Through these experiences, we can decide whether to pursue the career further.”

A new chapter in Taicang

Onn still recalls his first visit to XJTLU. “I was impressed with the architecture and well-equipped facilities. The campus is gorgeous. I like the library and its modern design.”

As much as he likes the campuses in SIP, he is most looking forward to the official opening of XJTLU Entrepreneur College (Taicang) this summer. “I’m more excited about studying at the campus in Taicang. I’m a big fan of its futuristic concept. I mean, who doesn’t want to see and be part of the new College?”

XJTLU Entrepreneur College (Taicang) overview rendering

At the College, seven U-shaped buildings for industry-themed schools connect to a ring-shaped structure. The magnet shapes symbolise a welcoming attitude. Landscape elements including water features and green areas make the space inside the ring both usable and attractive. The architecture design also won a bronze award in the Future Projects: Education category at the 2021 World Architecture News (WAN) awards.

Onn says: “People don’t really have many chances to be part of something new, and I think Taicang is something to be excited about.”

By Xinmin Han
Edited by Patricia Pieterse
Photos courtesy of Adrian Heng Hwa Onn

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