Foong Yee Leong
This month Foong Yee Leong shares with us how she has successfully forged a career that combines two passions – education and sales - and reminds us that you should always follow your dreams.
Q: Have you always had an interest in education?
My career started in education, teaching economics at a pre-university college in Singapore. The interesting thing about teaching is you find yourself inadvertently doing a lot of ‘selling’ to your students and those skills are easily transferable. I eventually moved out of the academic world and into sales, a big leap but one that has led me to where I am today. Education has always been a passion and moving into the education technology industry made sense, so I’ve been able to combine two skill sets I dearly love.
Q: How did you land on technology?
When I was teaching at the pre-university college, eLearning didn’t exist, in fact it was as I was leaving that Learning Management Systems were introduced but generally were only used as content repositories. In the few years following, I saw how institutions were starting to use technology to better support their learners, and the role of the teacher had started to become remarkably different from when I was lecturing. Many a time did I have a student who was unable to attend class due to an illness or injury and now I could clearly see how technology could provide that support for these students outside the physical classroom. For me, teaming up education and technology was the perfect marriage and allowed me to stay in an industry that I was passionate about.
Q: What are your thoughts on the next transformation in the technology space and how might this be applied to the higher education sector?
We are currently living through an interesting time in the education sector with COVID-19, and it’s been heartening to see the number of institutions who have now embraced eLearning, where in the past they may not have been fully on board or engaged. The new learning landscape has encouraged institutions to consider eLearning as a viable alternative to face-to-face instruction, and these institutions have risen to the challenge. Although it required an unfortunate situation to get us here, it's a positive outcome in the sense that those who had their own reservations about education technology, for whatever reasons, are now more open minded and are having good experiences. I think the shift in mindsets around the delivery of quality education is a transformation in itself.
Q: What motivates you?
It’s the satisfaction knowing I can still contribute to education even though I’m not standing in front of a classroom or working directly with students. I now support institutions as a technology partner, instead of being a faculty member and success for me is when I see students, teachers and instructors benefiting from what I do, which is bringing technology into their daily lives.
Q: Do you have any advice for young girls looking to pursue a career in STEM?
Pursue your dream. It’s as simple as that, whether it is in education, medicine, law, or STEM, nothing should stop you from doing what you love. Be that next woman to make the changes from within to make that bigger difference in our world and remember to pave the way for other women.
Q: What’s the best piece of professional advice you have received?
Something I’ve heard often and subscribe to wholeheartedly is that ‘we must always do right by our clients’. Hopefully most companies would hold this value true but as a company operating in the education industry, I see it as our role not to lose sight of the purpose and motivation of what we do. I believe when our clients are successful, we will naturally be able to ride alongside them in that success.
Q: Is there a book that you’ve found inspiring and would recommend other women read?
I’m currently reading Michelle Obama's “Becoming” and whilst only part-way through, there is one paragraph within this book that particularly resonates with me - “If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s the power of using your voice. I tried my best to speak the truth and shed light on the stories of people who are often brushed aside.” This quote is very relevant when thinking about women in STEM and what we’re doing for accessibility at Blackboard, which is to make sure everyone has access to education and content. Michelle also writes about finding the balance between doing meaningful work and staying true to our values. I believe you don't have to be a person in power like the first lady or even a woman to leverage the power of your voice. We can all do our part to grasp the depth of its reach and to help someone else reach their goals.
Q: Are there any family, colleagues, friends or people in the industry you particularly look up to or are inspired by?
This question allows me to talk about a person whom I love, and I've been inspired by my entire life and that would be my grandfather. My grandfather left China for Singapore alone by boat with one tiny wooden suitcase at the age of 16. He was seeking new opportunities, a new life and at such a young age took on uncertainty with a large dose of determination. In hearing his story, I grew up believing that anything was possible so long as we put our heart and soul into it. If you consider the resources we have today that my grandfather lacked back in those days, there's just no reason why we shouldn't pursue our dreams and goals. That little suitcase now sits in my living room as a reminder that anything is possible.