The Many Hats of the Enterprising Engineer

Written by Kavya Aggarwal
Photography by Alfredo Ryelcius

Shi Zhou sits down with U-Insight to talk about his environmental start-up, Hazy Waste, as well as his other passion projects. Videography by Zheng Hao and Ding Yijie. Video edited by Yap Ying Qian.

Self-starter, keen sustainability advocate, prospective engineer and a licensed private investigator with the Singapore Police Force.

A man of many hats. Although a fine art of balancing, second-year Materials Science & Engineering student Shi Zhou Tan does it all with great finesse.

During our exchange, I distinctly remember asking him about his long-term goals. Without skipping a beat, he replied that he wanted to work with various stakeholders and the school management to create a greener campus for everyone.

To many, this may seem like a lofty pipe dream. However, for Shi Zhou, this is just another opportunity. Simply put, if he feels strongly about the cause, Shi Zhou is unfazed and will devote time to effect change.

Shi Zhou has felt strongly about the environment and social welfare since his time at Temasek Polytechnic. He stumbled upon a documentary on deforestation that first sparked his interest in environmentalism. After that, he joined the Temasek Polytechnic Green Interest Group as the club president to advocate for environmental and biodiversity conservation.

On top of receiving certifications in resource efficiency, Shi Zhou has also brought together a group of like-minded NTU and NUS students to set up Hazy Waste, a startup addressing the issue of transboundary haze and inefficient management of oil tin waste. With Hazy Waste, his team aims to recycle the metallic oil tins used by hawkers and used cooking oil that will be reprocessed into biofuel. Additionally, his diploma in Chemical Engineering has also exposed him to water treatment technologies and waste management systems.

Shi Zhou with a team of like-minded environment advocates. Photo credit: Shi Zhou Tan

A lot of behind-the-scenes work goes into starting a business – ideation, prototyping, finance management and product development. When asked about his own entrepreneurial experience, Shi Zhou described himself as a beginner who is still learning about value creation and business operations. Having worked on Hazy Waste with friends who are similarly passionate about the environment, he stressed that team dynamics are very crucial to the success of any startup.  

He elaborated: “With a powerful, impactful team, you have kind of won half the battle. Find a team in which every member has the same goals as you.” 

It seems like “busy” is an understatement when it comes to Shi Zhou. Yet, when asked how he manages to cope, he remarks that his academic schedule has not slowed down his community outreach pursuits. In fact, he credits the university for giving him a platform and access to resources that allow him to amplify his outreach and work more efficiently.

“Two aspects in which NTU has helped me are finances and opportunities. The bursaries awarded to me have helped me offset some of the financial strain of university education as I focus on environmentalism. At the same time, NTU has also provided me with a lot of opportunities in terms of leadership and exposure.”

Having heard about Earthlink – the largest student-led environment club at NTU, Shi Zhou had thought about joining it even before his undergraduate journey started. To him, getting elected to serve as the 28th President of the club only a year after joining not only brings him great pride, it also simultaneously puts him in a position of immense responsibility. Ever since his investiture, he has already overseen over 20 projects ranging from biodiversity conservation, resources management and community engagement and represented our university at the Inter-University Environmental Group Coalition (IUEC).

Shi Zhou featured with his fellow Earthlink members at NTU. Photo credit: Shi Zhou Tan

Aside from that, Shi Zhou also feels strongly about animal rights and welfare. Currently involved with the university Cat Management Network as the Vice President, he uses his experience with cats and first-aid training to ensure that our furry friends don’t go unrepresented where their say (read paws) matters. When asked whether he is a cat person or dog person, he laughingly declared it to be the hardest question (later confiding that he is fonder of dogs). 

Beyond all things academic and entrepreneurial, Shi Zhou can also be trusted to perform some reliable sleuthing! As a licensed private investigator with the Singapore Police Force, he has both credibility and credentials. It was his keen interest in detection and forensics that first got him interested in investigation as a hobby. Nowadays, he keeps his grey cells functioning by participating in case challenges and contests.

Considering his numerous roles and responsibilities, you may wonder how he manages to multi-task! Well, he finds it quite straightforward. Passion and ambition drive him. He constantly faces setbacks and must make certain sacrifices, but he never lets anything stop him. Shi Zhou is keen to continue exploring better environmental practices and engineering with a cause. He also hopes to pursue postgraduate studies in Renewable Energy and Green Materials to assist him in his future endeavours.

I feel that if you are truly passionate about a particular topic, subject or course, when you work towards fighting for those causes, it will not feel like work to you. It will be more of something you enjoy the most… Just explore what you like and then the journey will be really easy.

Shi Zhou has been featured as part of our Humans of NTU series, where we spotlight NTU undergraduates and their passion projects. From environmental startups to dating services, these individuals truly bring out the diversity and innovation of the NTU spirit. Check the rest of them out on our website!