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"It's cool to be good.": 27 years at UWCSEA

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"It's cool to be good.": 27 years at UWCSEA

At a farewell lunch for Dave Shepherd in late May, Chris Edwards said, “People who have worked for one organisation for a long time are often called ‘loyal servants’. Now while Dave has indeed been that, the term is somewhat patronising for a colleague who has reinvented himself more times than Madonna.” And indeed it’s true. In his 27 years at UWCSEA, Dave has held a variety of roles, including Physical Education (PE) teacher, Head of Faculty (PE), Theory of Knowledge (ToK) teacher, Director of Admissions and his current role, Director of Advancement. In conversation with Dunia, Dave looks back at his journey in parallel to the College’s.

David Watson, then Head of UWCSEA, interviewed Dave for the job of PE teacher, at the UWC International offices in Tavistock Place, London, on a blustery Sunday afternoon in January 1992. Dave had seen the job advertised in Times Education supplement (back when one looked for a job in the newspaper classifieds) and was looking to make a change after three years as a PE teacher in Norwich. Dave says, “Being a PE teacher on the Norfolk coast was a bit wearing. It is freezing in the winter—the winds cut straight through you. And to be honest, I was disillusioned with the mediocrity around me even though I was working at a really good, large school. I saw many kids wouldn’t push themselves hard enough to become excellent. And it wasn’t considered ‘cool’ for staff to take on extra activities or responsibilities. I didn’t know it at the time, but I realise now that I was looking to be in an environment with higher expectations, and UWCSEA fit the bill perfectly.”

After accepting the job, Dave and his wife Sue, set off to Singapore from rural Lincolnshire, taking the train to Heathrow, with just two suitcases to see them through the year. Back then, there was no internet or website to research UWCSEA or Singapore, so they moved to what was then known as the ‘Far East’ with a four-year UWCSEA contract in hand and a sense of adventure. At that time, UWCSEA was relatively small, with one campus and 1,200 students (Grades 7–12)—and staff still enjoyed a daily traditional afternoon tea in the boarding house.

As a PE teacher, Dave was instrumental in setting up UWCSEA’s competitive basketball and swimming teams, including regional travel for competitions. He describes the basketball team’s first trip to Malaysia to play against College Tuanku Ja'afar, “I had to ask the College’s minibus driver to stop five miles out from Ja'afar’s gates so that the boys could put on their shirts and ties—you could hardly imagine such a formal practice today.”

After two years of teaching PE, Dave was named Head of the PE Department, a post he held for 11 years. During his tenure, he rewrote the PE curriculum, introduced the Sports Awards Dinner (a tradition that continues at Dover Campus), and wrote the IB Sports Science course curriculum; he notes, “My submission was rejected twice but luckily, the third time was a charm and it finally got the nod.”

In 2003, Dave became the Director of Admissions. “I was excited to think about how I could contribute to the senior leadership of the College. It was a great time to work in Admissions because we were opening up our Primary School, and I loved the challenge of newly positioning ourselves in the market and also meeting all the families who were so enthusiastic about a UWCSEA education for their little ones.”

When Julian Whiteley joined as Head of College in 2005, he introduced the College to the world of advancement. At his previous schools Julian had seen the benefits of engaging alumni, sharing their stories and experiences and bringing in additional resources.

In 2006 Dave took on the role of Director of Advancement and in 2008 the UWCSEA Foundation was created. Dave says, “When we had decided to go ahead with setting up Advancement at the College, we recruited some amazing volunteers who joined the Foundation as trustees and they were extremely generous with their time, treasure and talent to help us get it off the ground.” A highlight for Dave was his weekly meeting with Kirtida Mekani, Chair of the Fundraising Committee; they often met in a café at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, brainstorming how to bring the UWCSEA Foundation to life over cups of tea. Founding members of the Foundation included: David Chong, Kishore Mahbubani, Kirtida Mekani, Charles Ormiston, Julian Whiteley and Dave.

Over the years, the Foundation has continued to benefit from the generosity of experts in alumni relations and fundraising, from its trustees and donors, and from numerous volunteers supporting giving at the College including the Foundation Parent Ambassadors.

As our interview draws to a close, I can’t help but ask Dave for a few parting words. “What I love about UWCSEA is that it’s cool to be good. It's a school where you’re not pigeonholed by one area of expertise; I’ve had students arrive at a basketball try out, running in late in their Macbeth costumes wiping stage makeup off with the back of their hands and hauling book bags full of IB textbooks for their upcoming Maths exam. I have total faith that the world’s problems will be solved by this incredibly inspirational, passionate and talented generation and am so grateful to have had the opportunity to live and work alongside them.”

Dave’s multi-faceted career at UWCSEA is a testament to the idea that it truly is cool to be good, and we wish him all the best as he heads back to Lincolnshire for his next adventure.

7 Jun 2019
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