Young Singaporean, Damien Koh, stands out with passion for boxing and robotics

Damien Koh, an 18-year old with a passion for boxing and electronics managed to secure early acceptance to on the US’ top ranked university, Northwestern, having stood out in his application essay that highlighted his commitment to boxing, an unusual sport in Singapore.

Having spent much of his life on the move, relocating homes seven or eight times, Damien, who is a Crimson Education alumnus, was able to find constancy by pursuing his passion for boxing, no matter where he found himself in the world. It was this dedication to the sport that will see the Singaporean student begin his next adventure in the US with the help of Crimson Education.

His passion for boxing didn’t dwarf his love for robotic, though. In school, Damien mentored young children of less privileged backgrounds in basic robotics and programming by starting his own robotics service. While RISEducation (Robotics Introductory Service) taught more than 150 students, he says it was challenging at times to educate students on how it all works.

I caught up with Damien to ask about his passions and the new journey he is on with Northwestern.

What is it about boxing that you enjoy?

Wow, there’s so much about boxing as a sport that I really enjoy and appreciate outside of it being entertaining to watch.

Firstly, it embraces the individuality of each athlete. Boxing has enough freedom and flexibility that boxers are able to capitalise on whatever physical traits and strengths they have and develop a successful style around it if they train hard enough; for example, the relatively short boxer Mike Tyson and less athletically gifted Tony Bellew. This embracing of individualism resonates with me outside of the ring as well, taking what unique interests and skills we have and applying it to do things that may be considered more unusual and unique.

Secondly when you remove the arrogance and trash talk (which is mostly exaggerated to hype up an upcoming fight) that is focused on by the media, I feel that boxers are respectable and worthy athletes in sports. Many of them come from less than fortunate beginnings – like drugs, family abuse and poverty – and only through their work ethic, spirit, and dedication to their craft are they able to rise to the top and provide for themselves and their loved ones.

What course will you be studying at Northwestern?

Well, I knew since watching Marvel’s 2008 Iron Man movie that I wanted to do engineering or anything technology and science related. But there are so many fields of study that I’m interested in that it’s extremely difficult for me to decide on which to study; these include electrical engineering, computer science, mechanical engineering, and so many more. I have also recently gotten interested in courses focused on design, so that only leaves more options for me to look into.

It’s options like these that make me glad for Northwestern’s following of the traditional US system where I will have increased flexibility in trying out and changing to different courses. Regardless of the course that I end up studying in, I know that with its innovative “Whole Brain Engineering” and Engineering First Program – as well as so many other alternatives – that I will have an awesome time studying at Northwestern.

Can you tell me a little bit more about the robotics service you started to teach children about basic robotics and programming?

I started Robotics Unbound, a service initiative that introduces robotics to less-privileged kids, to address the lack of technology awareness and proficiency among younger students from less privileged backgrounds. I also wanted to try integrating my interest in robotics and computer programming with community service (something very prevalent in my school, SJII); and I wanted to do something that I could really call my own.

I reached out to LEGO, who was generous enough to lend us WeDo2.0 kits – containing motors, sensors, and “brains” that could be programmed with basic instructions. After recruiting 15 of my peers, I led workshops for groups of students aged seven to ten. My team and I tailored our instructions to ensure the education and enjoyment of the students – like basing our first class on the functions of Wall-E.

We constantly adapted our workshops according to the community’s needs. For example, a local tutoring center treated our workshop as a field trip, so we had to rework our lesson plans into a single three hour session for almost 40 students. Since then, the service has and is continuing to evolve as time passes and new developments unfold.

Serving National Service has greatly reduced the time I can dedicate to the service and forced me to step down as an active leader of Robotics Unbound , but I try to make use of my free time to advise the new leaders to ensure that things are going smoothly and standards are being met.

Eager to get started

Damien just started serving NS with about a year and a half to go before starting a new chapter at Northwestern. He is excited for his training but is also eager to explore the myriad of options available to him in the field of engineering in hope of expanding and evolving Robotics Unbound further.