Wednesday, October 5, 2011

My mission is to return

(This article was written sometime in 2003 when I was still in the US for my MS. This was published in the college newsletter, Reveille. You can read also the sequel article, BatMan Returns)

For a while, I have been asking myself what am I doing here? Is it the fulfillment of a personal ambition? For some, I am lucky. It is rare for a simple guy like me to go to US to attend a reputable engineering graduate school and, on top of that, on a Fulbright Scholarship - known to be competitive and only a few have the opportunity. But my eyes opened to the reality that schooling goes beyond the usual professional development

Three months ago, I could still remember how my wife shed tears while cuddling our one-year old son as I board the bus that would carry me to Davao, to Manila, and to the US. For two years, I will be not on their side. I could not witness the first words of little Jones and the birth of our second child. But I comforted myself; this is for their own good. And two years is not that long…

Within this short period of time, I have observed enough why there is a certain type of “greatness” in US universities. They are focused on research. It is a little bit contrary to our system where we focused so much on coursework and often question the legitimacy of research in engineering. Here, an academic program won’t exist without research and extension activities. Their philosophy is that students will be exposed on practical aspects of their profession if they do research. They would discover things independently. Students would view a new world of reality that is outside from what is written in a textbook. So the saying goes, learning by doing.

Funding may be a standing block to conduct research. But research does not necessarily mean big programs that entail millions of pesos. Research can be term papers, laboratory reports, and case studies. The only thing we miss is we sometimes (if not always) failed to document what we have done on a day. It would be lucky enough if we could see term papers done by students in 1970s. There is academic progression where a current student can see what their predecessor have done and have succeeded (or failed). In this way, they can look on the loopholes and try to work on it and to come with new ideas to suppress whatever failure may have been. So as the time goes on, we are evolving a relatively perfect science.

Meanwhile, I notice the multidisciplinary approach to academic programs here. For example, my concentration is environmental engineering. However, my world is not confined in the biological and agricultural engineering department. Hopefully, I will be working on waste management of recirculating aquaculture systems. In this case, my adviser would readily admit that his expertise is in waste management and not in aquaculture, hence, we employed an aquaculture expert in the committee. Is it possible for USM to set aside its departmentalism and do the multidisciplinary approach?

An example would be: a student may try to develop a computerized stream gauging device with sensors. It can be a group project comprising students from computer, civil and agricultural engineering. The merit of this kind of approach, students will learn to deal with persons from diverse backgrounds. This will enhance camaraderie among students and would eliminate bitterness of students towards another group of students. Students who would concentrate in crop processing may deal with horticulture and food technology students to conduct a team research. If a student would like to study the soundness and functionality of a certain piggery house may collaborate with a civil engineering and an animal science student.  Will certain machinery be economically viable for our farms? Then a student may pair with an AgEcon stude.

I even look forward for an Inter-university collaboration like that in Europe and here in NC. I can enroll subjects in Duke University and University of North Carolina. I can borrow books from other libraries in the US.  Perhaps, this is still long way for us, but it is not impossible. A MSAE program perhaps between USEP, MSU, and USM?

Perhaps, these are the things that I have observed so far here in my short stint. My work here is a mission. At any rate, I now realized that the government has spent millions for my stay here. I should look further at US educational system and would try to model but not necessarily copy.

But there is one thing I have discovered which we may be proud of. Our students are far more intellectually gifted than their counterparts here. We need only to drive our students to achieve their highest potentials. Students, likewise, should readily accept this challenge. 

            My trip here is not enjoyment. It is a mission. Leaving my family behind is great pain for me. It is sacrifice. Snowland is not paradise. The Philippines is (sans the gun battles of course!). I SHALL RETURN!

(Do you think this article is still relevant this time around? Share this to other USM constituents!)

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