On Finding One’s Place

There was a lecture I attended before at the Mabuhay Temple about finding your place in the world. I remember shifu reminding us the importance of knowing one’s value to help determine where you will place yourself in this complex world. Seven years later, I still struggle with finding my place.

Others will find it surprising that I am writing about this topic. Many people know about my advocacy and how passionate I am about it. But now that HEED is growing, the question of where to place myself and the group becomes even more pressing.

Do I place myself in engineering? Here I am expected to do technical research. Publish papers. Attend scientific conferences. Teach engineering. I learned to do these things in undergrad and grad school. I did well. My mentors expected me to thrive. But there was always something missing. There was always that tug in my heart from the creative side.

Do I place myself in the world of design? I love creating. I was the type of kid who would make my own toys from scrap materials when my parents refused to buy me something I like from the toy store. I was the type of student with high regard to aesthetics. The lay-out of a report, the font, the graphics, everything must be beautiful. I used to spend hours a day designing my blog and, eventually, my personal website, HEED’s website, and DMMME’s website (all works in progress, lol). I’ve created several mini-books I give to friends just because I love writing and graphic design. I love Lego and building various things with it — syringe pump, automated dog-feeder, robots, etc. Doing creative work always gives me a high.

IMG_1665
Creative work always gives me a high. When everything else fails, my heart comes home to making something (photo from UP FABLAB, my #happyplace!).

I tried integrating my love for design with my academic work as a materials engineer. I advocated strongly for product design in our department and, eventually, in our college. It seems to be working, but I do get frowned upon sometimes because there is still that impression that product design is not “technical” enough. But I think the real issue is why design and engineering are separate in the first place (at least in the Philippines)?

I experienced this disparity recently when I accepted two high school interns in FDI — the design group I started in DMMME. At first everything seemed okay. Our visiting professor even commented during the HEED design sprint, “I’m impressed with the high school students. This is such a great experience for them!” But as our interns were presenting in the culminating ceremony yesterday, it hit me so hard how separate design still is from the so-called “technical” world. It’s like our interns did the right activity in the wrong venue. It’s confusing. I was so proud that in 10 days our interns were able to model several objects in Fusion 360 and SketchUp, do 3D printing, participate in a 2-day design sprint (where they worked in a very interdisciplinary team from other colleges, i.e. COE, CFA, and BA), attend a humanitarian engineering symposium, identify their own design problem and prototype a solution. But reality hits hard. Even though my students were the only interns with a tangible output, they did not do “scientific” work like other students. Even though I saw how amazing our interns did design-wise, the reaction I received left me feeling like I did something very wrong. Very, very wrong.

Do I place myself in community development? I strongly believe that meaningful work comes from doing something to better the lives of people. That’s why HEED was born. It integrates engineering with my inherent love for community development and design (I’m sorry if it sounds selfish T_T). But as HEED executive director, I have to be in neutral ground. I cannot wear my “engineering hat” when talking with other colleges. But without my “engineering hat” and with HEED not (yet) formally recognized by the university, where does that place me? Where exactly do I stand in the university?

IMG_3640

More opportunities are opening up for HEED and for that I am truly grateful. But I guess growing pains are expected to be part of the picture. It’s like I’m in a crash course on leadership. I deal with people who are both younger and older than me. I write grant proposals for HEED on top of the grant proposals for FDI to “satisfy” what is expected of me in engineering. I design the course syllabus for the HEED elective on top of managing the MatE curricular revision. People expect more from the group now that we are branching out to other universities. More community project opportunities are coming in, but I am still expected to do “technical research” on top of all this because HEED is “just extension work.”

“You need an enterprise model for sustainability. Hire more people to do work for you.” I need to get a grip of that model immediately.

It can be very overwhelming and confusing. I feel like a little bit of everything. A little bit of an engineer. A little bit of a designer. A little bit of a social worker. But maybe that’s not really bad? Optimum ignorance, as my mentor said. Maybe I just feel weird because this is not yet the norm in the environment I’m in? Titles are still important in this environment. Engineer. Scientist. PhD. But today’s society is already ditching titles, right?

37033783_392872344568521_7801705602379415552_o
This image will always be special to me because in it are people from engineering, design, business, and community development who are having fun while working together for a common goal. <3

Don’t get me wrong. HEED will always be my passion. I guess we’re just in that phase where uncertainty is still very high. Where we’re still learning to effectively manage long-term interdisciplinary relationships. Where we’re still finding our place in the larger scheme of things. It’s very challenging, but my heart is hopeful and overflowing with gratefulness for all the support. Please be patient. We’re learning. :)

Advertisements

On Overwhelm

So we’re at that point again when you don’t know how to fit everything in 24 hours. Step by step. Take it one at a time. Prioritize. We’ll get the hang of this. The heart is still full. You’re okay. :)

A Stroll Through My Garden

A Stroll Through My Garden
by Ofelia Y. Manapat
May 1996

Light is brightening my room, and so I get up, pray and have breakfast as fast as I can because I want to be in the garden. I pass through the kitchen, the Sampaloc and Caimito trees mingle with their branches with vines, orchids, and ferns hanging. As I enter the greenhouse the fish meet me. They know that I have a meal for them. Begonias and ferns give a cool and restive feeling.

The Bromeliads, Fireballs, Ojo Rojo, Crotons, red Santans and Purple Clover with lavender flowers make a perfect blend with the emerald lawn and hanging Bird’s Nest ferns, Spanish Moss or Buhok ni Esther, Buntot Pusa, Stag Horns, and yellow Oncidiums and the gorgeous Doña Aurora.

Towards the forest are the Anthuriums with different shapes and shades of red, pink and white. Nelson grew them from seed. He used to watch them and wondered why they grew so fast. Maybe it was our love that made them happy. He is still there to watch and care for the plants and me.

Palms, cycads, ferns, soft hued orchids, cymbidiums, fruit trees, and bamboo groves make a Paradise.

An old swing is still there. Our children, their cousins and their children shouted “Quiapo! Quiapo! Cubao! Cubao!” and swang and sang to their heart’s content and feasted on mulberries, banana, galo, duhat, santol and whatever fruits they picked.

An old bathtub was turned into a pond with lotus and fish. I like to pray here, meditate, and say the rosary, and think of the beauty that God made.

Our theme song was “Let’s Build a Stairway to the Sky.” We have more than one hundred fifty steps going up the hill, lined with green Bromeliads that turn red, ground orchids, a collection of Bougainvilleas of different colors.

I like to listen to the humming of birds. They make the sweetest tunes. I admire their colors. I saw one with a rich green, blue, and red like a parrot, some have yellow. Once Nelson and I watched a mother bird come back and forth to feed her baby.

Behind the house are modest African Violets of different colors. There are Spathiphyllums, Aglaonema, Dieffenbachia and ferns and Shefflera.

While I mingle with the plants I cut dry stems and leaves, sweep fallen leaves, move the plants here and there, watch for bugs and pests, add soil and pour some water over thirsty plants and then I realize that it is already past twelve.

A whole day is not enough in the garden. There is always something to do and so many to admire. I take another glance at the giant Amaryllis and the Dutch Man’s Pipe and enter the house before dark filled with jubilation. I wish Mama and Nelson and Louie were here.

~ the above text is taken from my late grandmother’s journal. Today would have been her 96th birthday. :) Happy birthday, Uwa! I love you everyday! :)

Another birthday post here (from 2013).

On Determination

So the Universe is testing me again. Push and Pull.

Just when you think you know the way to go, something shiny and tempting is placed right in front of you before you make a turn.

Crossroads. One road with all the prestige academia demands from a faculty in engineering: a big project, international collaboration, a living legend in the scientific community as mentor, publications. I’m sure there will be lots of it if I choose to commit to this person. All planned out. Secure. Just say yes. “ASAP.”

The other road demands I let go much of the “power” I have now to make more time for what I believe matters to me. This road is not yet constructed. I’m still figuring out how to manage it. Sometimes I fail and stumble, but I’ve spent six years on this road already– as a side project. I’ve been considering flipping the picture this year, i.e. make this unsure path my priority and the established road the side project.

The heart already knows what it wants, but it’s terrifying nonetheless. I let go of a shiny thing last year around this time, too. I did not regret it. HEED was born because I chose to stay on this road.

Yes, I will let this shiny thing go… again. It will be alright. It will be alright.

On Fiction

Non-fiction books have dominated my shelf for a couple of years now. Biographies, self-help books, books on productivity, psychology, and the like. I would often read them during my free-time as a form of rest and relaxation (R&R). But last month I (finally) realized that it’s still more of studying I was doing rather than resting.

Fortunately, it so happened that I bought fiction books from a local indie bookstore over the holiday break (as always, the cover attracted me; I tend to judge a book by its cover!). I’m on my fourth book now since Christmas. It is very refreshing to read fiction! It effectively allows me to detach from reality for a while, which I think is the point of a real R&R. I can literally feel the tension in my brain muscles slowly loosening and I almost forgot just how entertaining a well-written novel can be! Books on fantasy and adventure also seem to encourage creativity as it allows you to imagine more.

Have you been too busy lately? When was the last time you read a good fiction book? Maybe it’s time to grab one from your shelf again?

Happy reading!

On Responsibilities

“More is asked of us than most people, therefore we must strive to be better than most if we are to prove ourselves worthy of that responsibility…” – Nasuada, from the book Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

2017 was about beginnings. 2018 will be about growth.

I am still not used to introducing myself as an executive director, but it is one I need to learn to embrace and live out together with all the responsibilities attached to the title. I will commit new mistakes along the way that will teach me new lessons about leadership, public relations, and life in general, among others. It is daunting, but also exciting.

First meeting of the year was successful and productive. May we face our responsibilities throughout the year with as much vigor as when we started.

Cheers to 2018! :)