Saturday, October 22, 2011

lean, fast and seamless

"$15 please," the front desk told me at the Registration and Records Office. I am about to get 3 copies of my transcript for my MS. A week before, I have just taken my last exam to conclude my last semester in NC State. The following week will be my graduation. The day after graduation, I will be heading back home to the Philippines. "When will I get a copy of my transcript?," as I handed my ID card to her. Our student ID is actually our ATM/debit card also. She replied, "In 5 minutes, please wait." She went to the rear portion of the office on what looked like a computer terminal with laser printer. As I wait for my document, I can't help but wonder how this office with less than 10 staff can handle records of more than 30,000 undergrads and around 5,000 graduate students.

After a while, she returned with the documents. She apologized for the 10 minutes delay. She handed me the document and explain that our transcript is on a security paper and fresh signatures are not included (like the SECPA of NSO). She further explain that if I photocopy my transcript, a message "This is a Photocopy - NC State" will appear on the photocopy (you cannot see this message on the original. Only on your photocopy. Cool!)


My adviser handed me my personal access code to enter the Registration and Records enrolment portal. I was only given the codes if we agreed on the subjects I will be enrolling in that particular semester. So I went to the computer laboratory and logged in to the school website. I browse the recommended subjects my adviser told me. Some classes are already full. It shows  real time accounting of students who have registered on a particular class. I learned that it will automatically closed upon reaching a certain threshold and only the teacher concerned can opened it back. But what I am impressed with is the systems' capacity to detect CONFLICT of schedules. You cannot proceed with the enrollment process if the system can detect overlaps.

The payment procedure? I only receive a bill a week later with the schedule of payment for every academic program spread throughout the semester.  Not all will be flocking the R&R to pay tuition fees (whew you could imagine 30k+ students if they are on the same sked!). Or for convenience, we were advised to go to a bank or pay through credit card online.


Is it about hardware resources or software skills?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

dissolve the blocks

Every semester we seem to have these recurring problems in USM: (1) long lines during enrolment, (2) students enrolling late, (3) late start of classes, (4) weeks before a teaching load and schedule is finalized, (5) some teachers are overloaded, (6) some classes have more than 50 students others have less than 15 even on the same course, (7) room "shortage" eventhough other claimed that rooms are not occupied some time of the day.

A probable solution might lie somewhere. I read the discussion forums in facebook (e.g. usmian ka kung; usm-mit-alumni; and other usm fan pages and groups, oh boy there is a lot of them!) and look at the opinions and perceptions. You have to read between the lines, some thoughts are absurd and others out of this world. But somehow you need to look at it and translate the behavioral tendencies of students. I made a model of our problem and its causality (another atik-atik) to come up with few solutions for so many problems.

One solution that came out is dissolving the block sectioning approach in scheduling classes. This means that a subject is offered regardless of a students' academic program and section. The English department can offer English courses from 7-8, 8-9, 9-10, and so forth, then it is up for the students to select which class time, he would like to enroll in.

Here are some advantages:

Minimize late enrolment. A class time will be up for bid on a first come, first serve basis. Those who will enroll late will not get the most optimal time schedule or even closed out and have to wait for the next semester. 

Teach students time management. Students will be forced to learn how to manage their own personal time. Students will be responsible for his own schedule and possible conflicts. Let students think what is best for them.

Enhance collaboration among students from diverse disciplines. At this early, students should learn how to collaborate with other students from other disciplines. In a psychology class, engineering, agriculture, vetmed can come together. The class will be colorful when you have classmates behaving differently. A student can enrol in a class simply because her crush is in that class (for inspiration!).  In the real work out there, it is multidisciplinary and students have to learn teamwork this early.

On the part of the teacher, it will force him to standardize his teaching material. He cannot discriminate a section because they come from a "lowly course". It will enhance his creativity knowing that a "challenge student" can be in any class.

Can deploy teachers as early as possible. When the number of classes are fixed, a department chair can easily assign teachers way before enrolment. So a teacher can be a factor in the choice of a student. If a student thinks that he can learn more from a certain professor, then he has a choice to select this professor. Let us remember that learning is a function of knowledge and the teacher (message and the messenger). Of course, the downside is the possible flocking of students to a "friendly" and "all-forgiving" teacher. But of course, a teacher can set a cap of the number of students that can enrol in his class. If he likes to accomodate more, it is his fault. 

Efficient use of rooms and teaching units. In block sectioning, the administration is obliged to deploy a particular section a teacher and a room regardless whether the expected class size is economically not viable. There is an inherent right accrued to a particular section since it was offered during enrolment. This is really controversial particularly on the part of teachers. There are teachers who can claim "overload fees" even with lesser students because the computation is based on sections handled. While there are teachers who cannot claim these "overload fees" even though his class size is up to roof simply because he has fewer sections.

A skilled department chair can project appropriate number of sections needed in a semester. For example in CENCOM, advanced algebra is offered to six sections. We all know that only a third of the students pass this subject. That means, DESAM will only offer two classes for calculus in the second semester. In block sectioning, you cannot do that. A department knows his resources well (rooms and teachers) and so he can use this resources efficiently. He can easily justify and quantify his need for more rooms and additional teaching staff.

Decentralized scheduling. A department can schedule their classes with minimal intervention from the Instruction Office. A department can make specialized rooms for a particular subject and can develop that room to suit for a particular subject like graphing boards and the like. A department can control his rooms to suit it capacity. Say a computer room can only accomodate 30 students, so limit enrolment to 30. Currently, 60 students can jampack a computer room because of their inherent right as member of that section.

Minimize rescheduling of classes. Sometimes I found it annoying when a certain class reschedules (sometimes for teachers' convenience). If one is an "international student", he will be bolted out from the class who decided by "majority" to resked. Poor student! He has to shop for other schedules. And sometimes his grade got lost, if he is not lucky enough, he got poor grades. Sometimes he got two grades, one 5.00 the other is 1.00. But in an "international class", rescheduling is impossible.

Working student friendly. A growing number of USM students now are working. In a liberal type of schedule, he can schedule his class to fit with his working schedule.

Shutting down the class, not the academic program.  This will minimize the shutting down of worthy academic programs simply because we cannot offer their minor subjects. For example, in block sectioning, BS Chemistry is no longer viable because of the cost of the Gen Ed courses. But in a liberal scheduling, chemistry students can enroll Ged Ed courses with less cost on the part of the university. Meaning, the Gen Ed classes intended for that chemistry section can be dissolved but not the whole academic program.   

On the last note, the current limiting factor in scheduling is the shortage of rooms. So we can solve it by offering courses based on  rooms available and on the anticipated demand of a particular subject not by the academic program. During our time, the limitation is number of sections that can accommodate all of our subject needs, so block sectioning is the best way to go to assure that we can get the right subject on time even though we are few. But currently reality is different and call for a different approach. This is just a suggestion. Of course there are disadvantages of this proposal, and you may write it on the comment section.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Tip To Top

(first of the board exam article series)

Maraming nagtatanong: Ano ang mga paraan para mag-top sa board?

Simple lang ang sagot: basketball

Ang paghahanda para sa board exam ay parang larong basketball. Meron ka ring "ring" at ang pakay mo ay ma-ibuslo ang bola mo sa ring na yun. Ngunit sa laro nating ito, ikaw lang ang naglalaro kalaban ang limang players. Paano ka manalo sa larong ito? Ito ang mga basic tips:

Know where is your ring. Marami sa mga mag-aaral ang hindi alam ang kanilang "ring". Sa dami ng distraction sa buhay estudyante, maraming hindi alam kung ano ang tunay na ring para sa kanila. Naglalaro kayo at nang makita mo ang ring sa kabilang court na walang nagbabantay ay tumakbo ka doon at doon mo shi-noot ang bola.

Ito yung mga estudyanteng gusto lang ang marangyang buhay. Ayaw magpursige. Gusto lahat madali. Inom dito, inom doon. Tsiks dito, tsiks doon. Ayaw magpawis. Mangongopya lang ng assignment, magkodigo lang. Kung ano lang ang lecture, yun lang din ang alam. Di nag-iisip. Walang initiative na matuto. Pagmahirap na ang subject, nawala na ng gana. Kaya nang nakita na ang limang guwardiya, tumalikod at pumunta sa kabilang ring.   

The points is determined by the ring not by the court. Meron namang ang gusto lang ay maglaro lang sa bola. Heto at nagpupursige makipag-dribble, ikot-ikot sa court, lahat ng exhibition gawin. Masaya ang mga fans at cheerleaders. Ang galing mong maghandle ng bola bro! Sarap pakinggan di ba? Pero wala ka pang points hangga't hindi mo tinapon ang bola sa ring.

Ito yung mga mag-aaral na busy sa mga extra-curricular activities. Ito yung mga estudyanteng walang takot humarap sa mga challenges ng buhay. Student leaders. Sa student government man, sa sports, etc. Maganda ngang pakinggan kung marami kang kaibigan, pumalakpak sayo. Ika nga kung "balance" ang buhay mo. It adds spice to your life. Life is so boring daw without it. Ngunit ang hindi mo napagtanto ay kung lagpak ka sa board, lahat na ito ay mawawala. Manliliit ka sa sarili mo. At marami ang makakalimot sa lahat ng ginawa mo.

Hindi ko sinabing huwag kang mag-extra-kuri-kuri. Kasi kailangan mo ring magdribble. Pero dapat alam mo kung kailangan mong i-shoot ang bola. Kung magtatagal ka sa pagdi-dribble, merong tinatawag na 3 seconds, 10 seconds at 24 seconds violation. Huwag nang magpasikat! Shoot that ball!    

Review early, feel the board exam early. Sabi ko maraming mga violations kung magtatagal ka sa court kaya dapat agahan ang desisyong i-shoot ang ball. Dapat mo ring malaman na habang papalapit ka sa hoop, palaki ng palaki din ang guwardiya. At lalong kang mahihirapang i-shoot ang ball. Kaya kung kaya mong i-shoot ang ball sa 3-point line, gawin mo na. Maraming nagsasabi ng mas madali ang lay-up kesa long range shot, pero sa laro nating ito, ikaw lang mag-isa. At sa court na ito kalaban mo ay lima.

May limang guwardiya yan. Limang taon din ang pag-aaral mo (kung engineering ka). Dapat alam mo ang bawat galaw ng mga kalaban mo. Hindi dahil nalampasan mo ang mga guards ay kalimutan mo na sila at sa center ka na mag-concentrate. Pwede pa ring nasa likod mo ang mga bulilit na gwardiya na pwedeng agawin ang bola mula sa iyo. Ito yung sitwasyong bumagsak ka dahil nalimutan mo ang algebra. Kaya dapat alam mo ang galaw at estilo ng bawat guwardiya. Malay mo ang consti at engineering laws and standards lang pala ang makatulong sayo pagdating sa board. 

Habang maaga, paghandaan mo ang laro mo. Pag-aralan ang liksi, bilis, at estilo ng mga guwardiya bago pa kayo maglaro. Huwag mong hintayin na sa review ka na mag-aral kung saan malapit na sa ring. Kasi sa pagkakataong ito, sisiguruhin ko sa iyo na sampung palad ang susupalpal sa lay-up mo.

Always aim higher than the ring. Basic law ng physics yan. Sa projectile motion. Kung gusto mong swak ang shot, ang angle of release mo ay dapat mas mataas kesa hoop. So kung gusto mong pumasa, dapat top 10 ang aim mo. Kung gusto mong mag-top, dapat "perfect the board" ang aim mo. Well, kung ang aim mo lang ay makapasa, huwag ka nang umasa.

A Latin proverb some it all: Amat Victoria Curam (Victory loves preparation)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

student orgs, may pakinabang nga ba?

Ano ang naitulong ng isang student society sa iyo?

Officer: Marami! na-enhance ko ang aking leadership skills, natuto akong makisalamuha sa kapwa.

Common member: Ewan ko po. Mukhang meron man din. Maganda yung T-shirt namin at mayroon akong mailagay sa yearbook
Naging kaugalian na ng pamantasan na sa bawat kurso ay magtayo ng samahan para sa kanila-kanilang kurso. At lahat ng mga mag-aaral ay automatic na miyembro. Ibig sabihin pagpasok mo pa lang sa unang araw ng klase ay miyembro ka na kahit di mo pa alam.

Kung susuriing mabuti ang mga adhikain ng mga student orgs na ito, mababasa mo malimit ang mga katagang "camarederie" at "prepare students to be become future ___". So ibig sabihin "enhance social life" at "academics". Sa akin marami talaga ang maitutulong ng isang organisasyon kung maayos ang pamamalakad at kung magaling ang paghalo ng mga activities para "academics" at "socialization". Kaso hindi ganun ang nangyayari. Ang mga student orgs ngayon ay may mga katangiang hindi akma sa layunin ng isang academic society.

Officer-centric at elitista - ang ibig sabihin ng officer-centric ay ang student development ay nakapalibot lamang sa mga officers. Shy officers. Shy taga-attend ng seminar, shy emcee, shy decorator, shy make-up artist. Siya ang lahat. Halos lahat ng mga gawain ay officer lang ang gumagawa. Ang camarederie ay nasa level ng officers. Di kasali ang common na member. Di kasali ang pinakamababang miyembro. Di ko pa naririnig na ang mga pinadala sa Baguio ay nag-reecho sa mga natutunan nila dun. Di ko pa naririnig na nagkaroon ng mga leadership seminars para sa mga kasapi matapos sumali sa Malyete. So pagkatapos ng isang taon ang na-develop ay mga officers lang. Walang diffusion of information.

Ang sintomas ng sakit na ito ay makikita sa mga common members na walang magawa at nag-iingay at nagrereklamo na lang sa tabi. Hindi ito leadership kundi isang uri ng elitismo. Students above the rest kumbaga. Magkakaroon ng mga leaders na gustong i-dominate ang mga kasaping "walang alam". "Bakit kasi ayaw nilang maging officer din?", sabi ng isang officer. Oo nga! Naimagine mo na ba kung isang daan ang presidente? Ang punto ay ang mga officers ay andyan para akayin, turuan, at tulungan ang mga "walang alam". Para lahat ng miyembro ay aangat din katulad ng mga officers.

Control freak - ang mga society ay naging kasangkapan para kontrolin ang mga kapwa estudyante. Ang kasanayang pangongolekta ng membership fee kahit bago mag-eenrol at pagpataw ng fines ay sintomas nito. Gusto magpakita ng pwersa sa ingay ng cheers. Paramihan sa parade, sa gym. Nahihiya kapag kukunti lang ang attendance.

Non-academic - ang mga academic societies ay hindi na academic. Ilang annual report na ba ang aking nabasa na ang laman ay panalo sa intrams, sa beauty contest, gasto sa acquaintance party dito, kickout doon. Paminsan-minsan Pasiklaban na lang ang agenda sa buong taon. Paminsan, mag-attend sa convention. Pag-uwi ang maremember lang ay ang chocolate hills o bulaklak sa Baguio o beach sa Dakak.

Ang mga pangarap ko sa mga organisasyong ito ay maging inclusive, academic, open and optional.

Inclusive - gusto kong makita na kung ano ang alam ng officers ay gayon din ang alam ng mga members. Patas na paglago sa kaisipan. Isang pangkat ng officers na madalas nakikipagsalamuha sa mga abang miyembro. Inaalam ang problema at pinaparating sa kina-uukulan. Interactive kumbaga.

Academic - tunay na academic. Gusto kong makita ang isang org na ang mga activities ay ukol sa propesyon. Pinag-uusapan ang mga career trends at  opportunities. Gumagawa ng mga activities na mapalinang pa lalo ang mga kakayahan (skills training) hindi hazing lang ang inatupag. Mga exhibition at symposium ng mga designs at research outputs. Pagpapa-igting ng mga tutorial classes. Di problema ang socialization pero gawin ito sa academic context. Pwede namang magtayo na lang ng Engineering Pasiklaban Club (ePC) kung Pasiklaban lang ang hanap (I'm not kidding, mind you) .

Optional - gusto ko ring makita na ang mga organisasyon ay maging optional ang membership. Bigyan ng karapatan ang mga mag-aaral na pumili ng kanyang lalahukang organisasyon. Hindi automatic. Kung sa tingin ng isang estudyante ay wala siyang mapapala sa isang org ay may karapatan siyang huwag sasali. Akin ring minumungkahi na hayaang bumuo ng mga sariling organisasyon ang mga mag-aaral at bahala silang mamili sa mga ito. Kagaya ng ACES at PICE na nag-uunahan sa pagkuha ng mga miyembro sa UPD civil engg students, kagaya ng SAGES at PSAE sa USeP at MSU. Kung ano ang org na may pinakamaraming miyembro ay nangahulugang maganda ang kanilang serbisyo.

Open - Maari ding sumali ang mga AE sa CSS at vice versa. pwedeng maging miyembro ang isang CE sa ACCESS at vice versa. Sa paraang ito maaring makakuha ng skills training ang isang AE ukol sa electronics kung makisali siya sa JIECEP. Mga ECE students na sumali sa PBG society or di kaya sa Nursing Society para may alam sila sa biomedical engineering o bioinformatics. Di naman kailangan maging full member. Kahit associate membership lang. Sa paraan ding ito ay matutunan din ng isang mag-aaral ang teamwork na siyang uso sa buhay labas sa pamantasan.

Ano ang naitulong ng isang student society sa iyo?

Officer: Marami! na-enhance ko ang aking leadership skills, natuto akong makisalamuha sa kapwa, at higit sa lahat naging bihasa ako sa aking propesyon.

Common member: Ako rin.

(kung sa tingin mo kaisa ka sa adhikaing ito, ipalaganap mo)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Stories like these make me proud as a USMian

We can measure how USM has touched lives by stories of encounters in places you won't expect USM has influence. These are just simple stories. But somehow it made me happy as a USMian.


I paid a courtesy visit to the Center Chief of the Cagayan Valley Integrated Agricultural Research Center (CVIARC) in Ilagan, Isabela. I handed in my introductory letter to the clerk and after few minutes, I was let in inside the Chief's Office. The Chief was reading my letter when I came in. All of the sudden, he spoke in a familiar language of Maguindanaon! Wait a minute! How did he knew this language? We are on the extreme north in the land of Ilocanos and Ybanags and perhaps only Maranaos have gone this place. I recheck his name. He name is not Maguindanaon. But I admit, he speaks Maguindanaon very well. Sensing that I don't have a clue of what he is saying, he backtracked a bit and said, "You don't know Maguindanaon?". "I am sorry sir, I don't", I said. "I am Orly Lorenzana, like you, I am an alumnus of USM. Welcome to Isabela".


Far north in Cagayan (I mean Cagayan in Luzon not Cagayan de Oro), I did my fieldwork for my thesis. I am about to interview a group of farmers. The usual pleasantries, introduction from where I come from. I mentioned I came from USM. "USM as in University of Southern Mindanao in Kabacan, Cotabato?" One NGO worker asked. "Yes, I am," I said trying to discern how did he know about USM. Then, he asked, "Do you know Sir Boy Cena?". Then they went on explaining that Dr. Romulo Cena and Dr.  Naomi Tangonan were their consultants in their cacao production projects. As part of their agroforestry project under the Success Alliance and World Cocoa Project, that village pretty much know USM and our expertise in Cacao.

In Brgy Cabbo, Penablanca, Cagayan


Meanwhile my fellow Dutch researchers knows of USM because of our crocodile research project. For some time, there was debate whether their a wild population of Crocodylus mindorensis in Liguasan Marsh. Dr. Ketch Pomares, Prof. John Aries Tabora and Dr. Jonald Pimentel were the familiar names  Dutch researchers knew when talking about the Philippine Crocodile in the South.


We were dining in an eatery in a remote area in Ilagan, Isabela, when two ladies approached me and asked. "Sir, are you from USM?". They introduced themselves and said that they are alumna of BSND at USM. They are currently conducting survey of the nutrition status of kids in far-flung, "red" areas for the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) in Diliman. They claimed that their "training" in USM makes working in conflict-affected areas a piece of cake. They can go to places, other nutritionist are wary of going to. Talk of how tough our graduates are!

"with the tough nutritionists"


In one of my sessions with Isabela farmers, someone asked what rubber looks like. The conversation went fine that some farmers suggested to go to USM! Their wish was granted when two of them visited USM last June. They were so impressed with USM's landscape. "Nalawa! Napintas!". We visited the Vermicomposting Center, PCC, USMARC, and PPSM. They were impressed with "basket of technologies" available in USM. But what impressed them most is the way scientists in USM explain their respective technologies. "Ang galing ng mga professors ninyo. Hindi namimilit sa mga technolohiya at binibigay ang advantage at disadvantage ng bawat teknolohiya. Kumbaga, kami ang bahala kung saan ang gusto naming gamitin. Sa paraang yun, mas malinaw at kumbinsido kami. Bakit kaya hindi ganyan sa amin?"

"Sino nga yung cowgirl na professora sir?"

"Ito pala ang cacao!"

"Paano kaya naging gulong ito?"



Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Making USM environment-friendly

(This article was published in 2005 for my column, Envirowatch, in the college newsletter, Citadel. This was written upon return from my US graduate studies. Some of the ideas may still be or no longer relevant)
For the past two years, we have witnessed a stark increase of our population from merely around five hundred to over a thousand students. Our college has grown so fast that we need to keep up with our instructional facilities and equipment. An increase in population can be seen as a development for our college but can be a headache in environmental management.

This column is devoted to current issues and trends pertaining to environmental sciences and engineering. On the next few articles, I will be writing some topics ranging from Kyoto Protocol to our own Clean Water Act. We will also cite some worthwhile endeavors by our LGUs in their pursuit for clean and green environment.

But let us set aside first concerns in the global and national arena. Why don’t we look first at our own backyard? My first day of work in USM after two years of hibernation is full of “green questions”. I cannot help but notice the enormous problems that we have in our campus environment. I cannot help but say, “Are we environment-friendly?”

On this particular episode of my column, I will devote every byte of my thoughts to our current solid waste management as well as our current state of air quality.

Solid Waste Management in USM

The growing number of our students is equated to a considerable volume of waste generated. Our college serves as one of the service buildings of the university academic complex. As such, we also serve as a “disposal facility” for wastes generated by our faculty and students both from CENCOM and other transient occupiers. Needless to say, they turned our classrooms, lobbies, and hallways as virtual “dumpsites”.  Of course our janitorial services tried everything to cope up with the cleaning demand but still end up with a little “Payatas” right beside our Teakwood Park. 

This scenario is not confined in CENCOM. Other service college buildings followed the same fate as ours. We should not be complacent regarding this issue. Solid Waste Management is becoming a serious business in the Philippines. Did you know that a dozen mayors is facing possible fine and prison terms for not following the provisions of RA 9003 otherwise known as Ecological Solid Waste Management Act? What are the main reasons for their prosecution? They simply did not close their open dumpsites. What are open dumpsites, by the way? We will not go far. Our garbage pits near Babu’s canteen, is by technical definition, an open dumpsite. And RA 9003 says this type of dumpsite should be closed by now and should be converted to a controlled dumpsite. By February 2006, all these type of disposal facilities should be converted to landfills.  We even violate RA 9003 as well as the Clean Air Act by burning these wastes!

We simply need an Integrated Solid Waste Management in USM. We can implement two strategies - waste diversion and source reduction – to reduce our stockpile of solid waste. 
Though not thoroughly characterized, we can say that a large proportion of solid wastes are paper products. This should give us a happy thought since paper can be collected and sold to recycling plants. Other wastes are biodegradable in nature (e.g. leaves, yard trimmings). We can create a compost pile for these resources (I’d like to call them resources than waste). If we can implement this diversion tactics, we can significantly reduce our need for a disposal space.

Source reduction, as the name implies, is trying to reduce waste by not creating them. Some examples are:
a)   Imposing double-sided printing for our reports and documents.
b)   Encouraging students not to use cover sheets and folders for their term papers, etc.
c)   Use of single spacing for final reports.
d)   Why not submit draft theses in disk? In this way, an adviser will just edit the work and give it back to the concerned for final printing. It would save paper which would certainly end up nowhere.
e)   Encourage the use of reusable workbooks. Why not buy and sell used workbooks?
f)   Consider littering as cheating (?)

Worsening Air Quality in USM

You have to spend the first 15 minutes of lecture listening to the sound of… (music? Ha ha). The rush hour is simply a nightmare. Daig pa natin ang mga urban campuses sa ingay at usok.

Of course, we can certainly translate that to technical terms. An overloaded motorcycle can emit more particulates. Two-stroke engines are less efficient, thus, would only emit more burnt fuel into the air in every work they impart. In other words, only few drops of gasoline are being used to carry our butts around the campus, we inhale the rest. There is smog around the campus.

I must say that it takes political will and careful thought to address this problem. We have to consider livelihood. We can certainly not ask tricycle operators to stop servicing our university. But we can do a little to ease the problem:
a)  Encourage students to walk from their boarding houses to school. That means start walking at around 6:30 am or 12:30 pm. Sometimes, it will also take you 30 minutes riding a tricycle to CENCOM via IASA, ULS Science, CHEFS, and Annex
b)  Perhaps re-schedule some classes in a way that not all would start at 7 am or 1 pm. Some will start 15 or 30 minutes late. In this way, the polluted air can be diluted and dispersed.
c)   Why not implement a shuttle bus (multicab) system? Kung pwede sana electric jeeps!
d)  Use bicycles! Sa mahal ng pamasahe, bicycles are worth investing. Student governments may opt to implement a bicycle loan for students.

(A sequel will be written shortly comparing USM then and now, in terms of environmental consciousness)

Agent 007, Mission: Target 10

(This article was written in 2006 for my column, Envirowatch in the Citadel)
James Bond is not part of this story. This is about those who are actively working on achieving the Millennium Development Goal on Environmental Sustainability or often abbreviated as MDG#7.

The MDGs by the way, are the result of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. Target 10 of MDG # 7 stated to reduce by at least half the number of the people without access to safe drinking water and sanitation by 2015. This means world leaders need to intensify its efforts to serve 1.1 billion people who still do not have access to safe drinking water and around 2.4 billion who lack access to improved sanitation.

Here in our region, it is evident that in far-flung areas, family members still have to walk 3 kilometers or so just to fetch a container or two from springs and wells. Often, these water sources are not adequately treated before use. We happen to visit some communities in Upper Roxas last October and personally witnessed the hard plight of residents there. 

      The greatest threat to these types of water sources are nutrient and pesticides contamination. The intensive agriculture might pose serious risks to our groundwater sources. Over-fertilization of nitrogen particularly nitrates may cause methemoglobinemia (blue-baby syndrome) among infants. There is no need to convince you that pesticides are not good for your health (take a sip if you are not convinced).

It is good that the government is having water supply projects. However, some of these projects are inadequately treated. Well, some of the rural folks would say, it is better than having no water at all. But the threats as I have outlined before are not to be disregarded and should form part of an integrated planning of providing ample and safe drinking water supply.

Adding complexity to the problem is the expected increase in volume of sewage once there is ample (and excessive) water supply. The more water available, the greater is your consumption and subsequently wastewater. An example in case, Kidapawan City is known for a good water supply and not-so-good Nuangan River. This suggests that along with water provision, a planner needs to consider subsequent wastewater management. This is costly, however. But the cost of neglecting this part of the picture is health care cost, drops in fish production and tourism, etc.

Greywater reuse and ecological sanitation were some of the options considered. These measures are designed to lessen wastewater discharges.


I happened to read a presentation on Water and Sanitation (WatSan) by the Cotabato Provincial Planning Office before the Provincial Development Council meeting late last year. It outlined among others several strategies planned by the province to address several water quality issues in light of the implementation of the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004 (RA 9275).  The report listed in managing wastewater specifically “Ecosan”. I am happy that the provincial government is addressing the issue of wastewater management.

What it is ecological sanitation? Ecosan proponents vouch a water conserving approach to waste under the principles of containment, treatment and reuse. An example is the double vault toilet system diverting urine and feces. The solids are separated and once stabilized can be applied as fertilizer. Another interesting design is the composting toilet were toilet waste fall into a sawdust matrix inside a composting chamber mounted in a basement beneath the toilet floor.

Japanese designers are clever enough to place some buttons to automate mixing wastes inside the composting chambers. Well, these are options for households. How about in a larger scale? I leave it for the next issue.

Of funds and fines

(Worried of the trend to fines and fund raising in the student government, I wrote this article for the college newsletter. At that time (2006), I was the Associate Dean of CENCOM. This was never published until now) 

This column is my way of expressing some thoughts as a scribe of the college. Events unfold, its inside story maybe worthwhile sharing.  I am a silent (oh really?) notetaker of events. And these are my notes…

I assumed the designation as college secretary last June 1, 2006. Barely three months from that appointment, I don’t think I have made significant stride in so far as college administration is concerned. This is my dilemma. I used to be a student leader questioning some policies of the university which we deemed not good for dudes then. Well, here I am imposing some rules on these students.

But nevertheless, I want to be as much as possible a “pro-student” though some of our present student leaders interpret some of my opinion as anti-student. Among unpopular opinion I have is opposition to excessive imposition of fines by the student government.

Student leaders may argue that imposition of fines is a good deterrent for chronic absences committed by student members. But for so many years, fines have not given enough justification for a student not to get absent on activities. In fact, even at higher fines, students still can afford to get absent.

LSGs and societies have become rich due to fines right? Am I right in saying that fines are imposed to raise funds? The simple notion of compelling students’ participation has turned out to be fund raising in disguise.

Have the student government studied why students get absent? What are the reasons behind? Have they taken steps in order to turn the situation around?

Several activities are done for students’ development. Why allow it to be paid? Why are we punishing parents for the sins committed by the students? Kung classwork ang absent, classwork din dapat ang ibayad! Kung absent sa seminar, ipaconduct nyo ng seminar, etc.

I know the student governments are very much convinced that fines is the only way to compel attendance. My challenge to the student government: Reward those students with perfect attendance from the proceeds of fines. If the LSG collected P50,000 and only 5 made it perfect on attendance, reward them with P10,000 each.

(Do you think this is still relevant? Share this to student officers you know) 

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!)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

ganyan din kami noon

"Nganong dili pa man ka mohawa sa USM nak," tanong ng aking ama. Pilit kong iniiwasan ang tanong na yaon. Hindi ako umimik. "Sa akong paminsar dili maayo ang imong kahimtang didto. Uy tuod diay giimbita ka sa imong mga classmate sa high school. Sunduon ka nila unya diri sa balay. Nindot kaayo tong Pajero sa classmate nimo ba!"

Usapang mag-ama. Ganito ang aming malimit na pinag-uusapan. Mga pangarap niya para sa amin. Kumustahan sa mga apo. Ano ang dapat gawin sa mga bata. Mga possibleng negosyo. Libre nga daw mangarap.

Pilit kong binura ang mga tanong na yaon. Ngunit di ko maaalis sa aking isipan. Napailing ako at napatanaw sa bintana ng van. Papauwi na ako sa Kabacan sa van na masikip. Sa palibot ng halakhakan ng kapwa pasahero. Sa nagaurok na ale sa tabi ko. Napabuntong hininga ako. Kaganda ngang sakyan ang Pajero ng classmate ko. At marami na rin silang may mga sasakyan. "Special" guest nila ako. Of course ako kaya ang valedictorian namin. At siguro pasalamat na rin sa mga kopyahan noon.

Pero di ko pa rin naiaalis ang magmuni-muni sa aking kalagayan. Bakit nga ba ako nagtitiis sa USM? Marami na ring pagsubok ang dumaan sa akin sa USM. Noong una akong nagturo sa USM, kailangan kong pumasok pitong araw sa isang linggo para maabot ko ang pitong libo na sahod sa isang buwan sa panahong sampung libo na ang pinakababang Instructor I. Pero di naman ganoon kamalas, di nagtagal at nakakuha na rin ako ng item makalipas ang dalawang taon. Masuwerte daw ako.

Masuwerte ulit at natanggap ako sa isang scholarship papuntang Estados Unidos. Malas dahil maiiwan ko ang aking panganay at buntis na asawa sa loob ng dalawang taon. Habang nasa Amerika ako, nagpapakadalubhasa ako at nangangarap na maiangat ang aking estado sa USM pagbalik ko. Ngunit minalas ulit. Aking napag-alaman na na-promote yung naiwan na hindi nakapag-aral. At ako na nag-aral ay di muna napagbigyan kasi "nakalabas ka na naman eh, swerte mo na nga". Habang ang dati kong mga estudyante na nagtuturo na ngayon ay mas mataas na ang rangko kesa sa akin, ako ay nakapako pa rin sa Instructor. "Magtiis ka lang, darating din yan sa'yo, ganyan din kami noon". Lalong   namumutawi ang mga tanong ng aking ama sa aking isipan. Nagdadalawang isip na.. Huwag na lang kaya? sabi nga sa kanta.  

Heto ako ngayon nag-aaral ulit ng aking doctoral. Meron ng pag-aangat ng rangko (Instuctor 3). Pero aaminin ko natanong ko na rin noon kung ano ang halaga ko sa USM. Bakit hindi nasusuklian ang mga pagpupursige ko. Aaminin ko malaki ang naging epekto sa aking pagkatao na unti-unting humahablot sa hibla ng aking pagiging guro. Ang taas ng standard ng USM! Di pala sapat na board topnotcher ka at honor graduate. Sa mga pagkakataong yaon, naaninag ko ang luntiang parang sa ibayo. Bakit pa kailangang magpursige, kung parehas man lang pala?  Ipagpaumanhin ninyo po kung nagbubuhat po ako ng bangko. Sa totoo lang hindi na mahalaga ang mga parangal na yan. Tanggap ko na ang aking kinasasadlakan at aasa na lang sa biyayang akma para sa akin. Ngunit bakit nga ba hindi pa ako aalis sa USM?

Iba kasi ang pakiramdam kung makikita mong nakangiti ang mga estudyante mo dahil may nakuha silang sagot sa mga aralin. Iba kasi ang pakiramdam kapag nababasa mo ang mga pangalan ng mga dati mong estudyante na nasa dyaryo na at nakapasa sa eksamen. Iba ang pakiramdam kapag meron kang dating estudyante na ilibre ka ng pizza pie sa may Cubao. Iba ang pakiramdam pag meron kang estudyante na yayain kang magpakasal este ninong sa kasal. Iba ang pakiramdam pag nakita mo sa FB ang mga dating estudyante nakapaskil ang hitsura ng mga paslit nila sa profile pic. Masaya na akong makikita ang mga batang naglalaro sa luntiang parang na kumakaway at nagpapasalamat.  Nakakawalang pagod.

Ang samo ko na lang na darating ang panahon na masabi ko sa mga nakakabata kong guro na "Hindi na mangyayari sa inyo ang nangyari sa akin noon". At sana darating din ang panahon na masagot ko na ang aking ama na, "Masaya po ako".

Hangga't mayroon pang hibla ng pagiging guro sa aking katauhan di ako hihintong magturo.

(Kung makarelate ka nito, i-share mo!)