Cross-disciplinary scholarship lets him meld his passions in tech and business

When he completes his double degree at Nanyang Technological University, final-year student Dhruval Kothari hopes to leverage his skills “to create meaningful and beneficial outcomes for others”. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

The NTU Renaissance Engineering Programme scholar has also gained invaluable exposure through a year-long exchange at UC Berkeley


Sourcing for his own lodging and learning how to live abroad by himself while coding to build a dashboard for a client in Michigan. Using artificial intelligence (AI) to counter bicycle theft. These are just some of the adventures Mr Dhruval Kothari has had.

The 24-year-old is a final-year Renaissance Engineering Programme (REP) scholar at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), pursuing a bachelor’s offered by the College of Engineering and a master’s offered by Nanyang Business School.

“The double degree allowed me to seamlessly blend my passion for engineering with the pursuit of a master’s degree,” shares Mr Kothari. Students in the REP obtain both degrees within four and a half years.

One of the programme’s biggest draws is a year-long exchange with an overseas partner university. As a scholar, his living expenses in the United States were fully covered.

He picked the University of California (UC), Berkeley which is known for its computer science programmes. There, he attended classes in computer security, AI deep learning and neural networks.

“The professors in UC Berkeley are very established and well published,” says Mr Kothari.

The REP scholar also benefited from the melting pot of nationalities and cultures at the university.

“I met people from Japan, Indonesia, Canada and the US,” he recalls. “It was interesting to learn about how things work in different countries.”

During his marketing module at UC Berkeley, he worked with other students to pitch a business idea almost every week.

“We did not just learn the theory of technology but also its application in the business world,” he adds.

While in the US, he also interned at Danlaw, a global leader in connected vehicle and automotive solutions. The company designs and develops technology for smarter vehicles, safer roads and more efficient cities. Danlaw collects vehicle, sensor and behavioural data to provide valuable insights into driver safety, efficient transportation, insurance and vehicle diagnostics.

“With my team, I built a dashboard showing useful statistics about each car and pitched the dashboard to the management team,” says Mr Kothari.

Because the firm was based in Michigan and required face-time with clients, Mr Kothari had to source for his own accommodation during his 10-week internship, learning to cook his own meals and do his own laundry.

“It really helped me learn how to be more independent,” he adds.


Campus life at NTU

He had his first real taste of independence when he entered university in 2020. The REP is a fully residential course where students are guaranteed a place in an NTU student dormitory.

“Hall life in NTU was a great space for me to spend time and interact with my friends, use shared facilities and participate in various hall celebrations,” he adds.

As a member of REACH, which is part of REP’s university student club REClub, Mr Kothari has used his coding skills for social good. Together with other REP students, he worked on an application called KeepFit which gamified the process for primary school students to cultivate good habits like exercising and eating fruits.


“We did not just learn the theory of technology but also its application in the business world.”

– Mr Dhruval Kothari, recipient of the NTU Renaissance Engineering Programme Scholarship


“It was really fulfilling to witness the positive impact our project had,” he says. “This endeavour was completely in line with my goals and aspirations – to leverage my skills in technology to create meaningful and beneficial outcomes for others.”

During a hackathon organised by the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX), Mr Kothari tapped AI and computer vision to build a bicycle recognition database. Cyclists can upload photos of their stolen bicycles and the program would automatically note the bicycle’s model and make as well as any scratches and colour differences.

When matched against surveillance data, this would help the police narrow down their search radius and locate the stolen bicycles.


Expanding his knowledge

Since young, Mr Kothari has been interested in computers and technology. His father, who plans data centres in Asia-Pacific (APAC) for software giant Microsoft, often discusses the latest developments in the field with him. The father and son duo would watch YouTube videos on product demonstrations together.

“My father never sent me for coding classes, but because of our shared interest, I picked up coding on my own,” he says.

His engineering speciality at the REP is computer science, but he is also required to take compulsory modules in other engineering disciplines such as electrical, mechanical and biochemical engineering. This cross-domain approach has given him a solid foundation and understanding of the other engineering specialisations.

There is also a wide variety of non-engineering subjects. In addition to marketing and entrepreneurship classes to nurture his interest in business, Mr Kothari also enrolled in courses in literature, ethics and law.

“For example, we learnt about the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) in Singapore,” he says.

“This is useful when you work for a tech company and need to adhere to the PDPA regulations. It is also important that businesses not merely chase profits but also make ethical decisions.”

Source: The Straits Times | Scholars' Choice © SPH Media Limited. Permission required for reproduction.