On Learning How to Fly

“Sometimes you just have to take the leap and build your wings on the way down.”
― Kobi Yamada

It’s actually happening. When the first speaker pubmat was published this evening, when I read the answers of the people who registered for the event, when I looked at the HEED Facebook page and saw that the posts are reaching thousands of people now. I didn’t know how to feel. I stared at my computer screen for a long time. I couldn’t believe it. It was real. Suddenly, I found myself in tears. I cried because I was so grateful and happy and scared and excited all at the same time. 6 years. There is overflowing gratefulness in my soul right now.

I am grateful to the Universe for giving this opportunity. For giving me patience and stubbornness, because without these I would have given up on this advocacy a long time ago. When I was laughed at in front of 120 people for pitching my social enterprise. When some people close to me thought I was crazy for prioritizing community service over the more “prestigious” side of engineering. The Universe granted me stubbornness when I couldn’t find anyone (yet) with the same passion to support my idea of establishing a humanitarian engineering program in our beloved university.

I am grateful to UP students. They were the first ones who listened and took notice of my advocacy. It was my students who showed genuine passion for the idea of service-learning and humanitarian engineering. They showed their passion through fearless action. For every project they showcased to either a public high-school student or another college or the public, I saw how they went the extra mile by doing things beyond what was required of them. They owned each event. They owned each project. Even if the challenge was huge and it was their first time doing it, they faced it. And seeing that fearless passion kept me going. They gave me hope that HEED had a chance of becoming a reality.

Now, the tide has finally turned. The University heeded the call by granting us money for HEED 2017. A college (hopefully two colleges by next week!) heeded the call by endorsing the event. And of course, two student organizations also heeded the call, showing that signature Iskolar ng Bayan passion in making this event a reality.

My adventures for the past 6 years flashed back as my tears fell this evening. The long boat ride to Culion and its neighboring islands that opened my eyes to a harsh reality. The long bus ride to Penn State, the long train ride to D-Lab, the first GHTC conference I attended in Seattle, every interview I had with anyone who has done or is doing humanitarian engineering work to get whatever knowledge I can from their experiences. Every letter I wrote, every proposal crafted, every email sent. I remember how I used to do technically everything on my own for HEED, to protect my idea from being laughed at again. To prevent people from telling me to forget about HEED because it was too idealistic. But now, as I looked at each pub that comes out, each message in our HEED FB group, I tell myself, “It’s okay. You no longer have to do this on your own. You can share HEED with others now. There’s a big chance people won’t laugh anymore because circumstances have changed. Trust that they will listen this time.”

I know that we are just starting and there is still a lot of work ahead of us after the Symposium. It actually scares me a lot, what happens after the symposium. But seeing how HEED learned to fly when it took a leap 6 years ago, and with the people supporting it now, I am confident that it will continue learning to fly higher and farther as more people join the movement with fearless passion for action. :’)



Silent Sounding Board

It feels weird sometimes. I’ve been in engineering for a little more than a decade now, eleven years to be exact, but from time to time the question still pops out: What am I doing here?

Before entering college, I remember my father asking me what course I wanted to take. “I want to be a scientist to help people,” I responded vaguely. He asked what type of scientist I wanted to become and how I intended to help others. I didn’t know (hey, I was just in high school! I feel quite sorry for the youth who are in K-12 now; they have to decide early on which track they are going to take!). Anyway, I ended up in engineering. There were times when I felt that it was perfect for me, especially last year when I worked in a chemistry lab. Oh boy did I really tell myself that I was meant for engineering! I was the one making contraptions or 3D-printed set-ups for some of my polymer chemist lab mates and I absolutely enjoyed doing it. I would sketch out ideas, do some basic 3D modeling, disassemble stuff, assemble stuff, etc. That has always been my general idea of an engineer: someone who designs and builds stuff that people can use to make life better or easier. But society would constantly dictate things from time to time that would really influence the way we think. In academia, for example, there’s this idea of prestige.

I was fortunate to be able to publish papers during my one year stay in the US last year. Over there, paper is prestige and papers come out quickly. My adviser gave me the impression that being able to publish as first author in a high-impact journal was a big accomplishment (maybe it is, but it took some time for that to sink-in). When I came home, I realized that I almost had the same number of publications as some of our returning PhDs. “Holy crap,” I told myself, “so it is an accomplishment.” By April another one of our papers was accepted for publication, and I’m finishing another one, which should be submitted by June. “I’ll have more papers than some of our PhDs if all of this come out this year. This is insane.”

Ego started kicking in. There were two arguments in my mind. On one hand, my mind is saying, “Go apply for a PhD immediately. If you can publish at least three papers in one year, imagine how many papers you’ll have after four to five years of PhD training!” But the other side of my brain is saying, “What’s the PhD for? You’ve proven that you can publish papers of equal number, if not more, without the degree. Why spend five years in a lab if you can spend that time doing projects for your advocacy?”

My advocacy. The thing that changed my life for the better. My commitment to my advocacy was tested last April. I was offered a PhD position in the UK. The voice in my head telling me to apply for PhD was suddenly in full throttle. I came up with my own dissertation topic in about a week with the guidance of my prospective advisor. But somehow something didn’t feel right inside. The topic was absolutely new to me and not connected with my advocacy; I just tailored it in such a way that it became related to some of the projects I worked on in the department. I realized how the entire process just seemed so forced. I also didn’t feel excited. I didn’t get the same “high” I got when I visited MIT’s D-lab last year or when I conversed with Penn State professors about their HESE program. It was as if I was just applying because I didn’t want to waste the opportunity and because it was “cool” to apply for a PhD in the UK (plus it was under a prestigious scholarship, too!).

After much thought, I declined the offer. The professor was kind enough to understand. That PhD offer was probably a temptation, something to test how strong my commitment to my advocacy is. I knew a university in the US where every single thing they do seemed to be aligned with what I want. My resolve got stronger to apply to that university after declining the UK offer. So all was decided then. I’ll take the GRE. I’ll take the IELTS. I’ll apply this Septemeber.

Then Makers ShowUP happened.

Makers ShowUP is the maker fair organized by my Additive Manufacturing elective class.  By God’s grace, it was a huge success! It wasn’t perfect, but was very much successful in achieving the goal of connecting with makers within and outside UP as well as promoting the maker movement to the public. Makers ShowUP connected me back to the UP College of Fine Arts (CFA), specifically their Fab Lab and Ceramics Studio. I have always enjoyed visitng CFA. Their grounds are filled with artworks of different kinds and everyone always seems to making something interesting! This was also the first time I knew someone from the Industrial Design program. Oh and what fun they seem to have! I realized that my general definition of engineering somehow fits into what they do as well, they design and build stuff (without excessive math!)! Hence the question, “what am I doing in engineering?” I asked this question so many times now that I think I know the answer: my advocacy. Humanitarian engineering (HE) is why I am in engineering. As long as I don’t see HE institutionalized/formalized in the Philippines, then my mission as an engineer is not yet done.

So now I’m fortunately in a good place. I can be a materials engineer who has connections with the maker movement, which allows me to do what I enjoy (making stuff!), while working on my advocacy. This was really the semester when I felt that work and play actually intersected. I would come to class and have Tinker Thursdays or we would build a boat (a life-size one!) or create concrete pavers, etc. Ideas for collaboration and projects are already popping in my head, which brings me back to the question: How about PhD? If I start a long term project in this direction, I won’t be able to leave for PhD.

I guess I’ll just push through with the application in my dream school and see where I go from there. And while I’m at it, I need to constantly remind myself to watchout for the noises in my head telling me to go for prestige rather than what gives me meaning.

You know where you’re going. Stay on track.

On Overwhelm

Tears in my eyes right now. Deep breaths. Inbox filled with commitments that are not impossible to achieve, but require a tremendous amount of effort to pull through. Commitments that are self-inflicted. Commitments that were carefully chosen to align with what I truly want to do, not what other people want me to do– to provide students with extra opportunity to do funded research, to organize an event to bring the maker movement to more people, to further develop my research skills by crafting my own PhD topic, to test the waters of an administrative position, to see if I could actually find funding to fly one of my role models in Humanitarian Engineering from the other side of the world to our beloved UP Diliman, to test myself if I could design and 3D print something that people will use to further public school education in our country (even if my part of that project is just small, haha).

The first four months of the year was filled with decision-making. Which opportunities should I pursue? Which ones should I let go? Decisiveness is still a work in progress, but I’d like to believe that I am better now than when I started.

The tears are not solely because of joy or fear or stress or confusion or gratefulness or excitement or frustration. The tears represent all those emotions happening at the same time! Tears of overwhelm! :’D


Taking Chances in a Small World

My service-learning advocacy is now nearly four years old. My progress might be slow, but nevertheless I am grateful for the journey. This dream– to formally introduce service-learning in local engineering education– gave me the opportunity to meet amazing people, visit various places both locally and abroad, and do things I never imagined I am capable of.

Tomorrow will be an exciting day again! I was lucky to have scheduled an appointment with a renowned Filipino ceramic artist from the UP College of Fine Arts to ask for advice regarding a service-learning project for my ceramics laboratory class next semester. While gathering online information for the meeting, I was surprised to find that the ceramic artist and the person from which I am basing my service-learning project were both at the International Ceramics Festival in UK early this month!

Small world! Their demonstrations were even scheduled (almost) at the same time!

Here’s to taking chances once again at exploring other possible engineering service-learning projects. Wish me luck! :)

P.S. I am delighted to share that two of my fellow teachers in the department asked if they can implement a service-learning project for the course that they will be handling next semester. Of course I said YES! That project, unlike the previous ones I headed for the past three semesters, will be their very own project! They will try to implement their very own service-learning project! This is a dream come true! I wish you all the best!

P.P.S. Since we are in the process of sharing good vibes, please allow me to share another short story. :) I went to the college library this morning to borrow books for the coming semester and one of the librarians informed me that I won the “Best Borrower Award” for last semester!!! :)))) I didn’t even know that such an award existed! Thank you Engineering Library! Yay! :D

Follow Your Bliss

The past few days have been a mix of laziness and productivity for me. I have yet to finish my lectures for this week despite the two-week Christmas break. I know you might think that absurd (I do, too, sometimes), but I did not merely waste time during vacation. Christmas break, in fact the whole month of December, was a very productive time for following my bliss through networking and sharing my humanitarian engineering vision to the people around me, not only online but “in the flesh” as well.

Today, exactly a month after joining the Culion Advent Retreat where I met fellow pilgrims who gave me hope and affirmation to formally establish HEEDph, I am to meet again with two people, this time from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), to ask for advice regarding HEEDph. I am terribly nervous and excited. Please pray for a fruitful meeting this afternoon and that I may have the discipline to honor my commitments as a full-time faculty as well as a government scholar amidst the excitement for HEEDph. Thank you! :)

Below is the random Daily Bible Verse that appeared on my phone when I woke up this morning.

9And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His Will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,

10so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

11May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,

12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

Colossians 1:9-12 (ESV)

As ICTUSians always say, “Nothing without Faith, Never without Passion, All for Kuya Jess!” This is for You. :)

Dream. Love. Hope.

I wrote the poem below on my last night in Culion, Palawan. While waiting for dinner, I went out of Hotel Maya to sit on the hammock tied between two trees. Several things came rushing into my mind including my dream as an engineer as well as my best friend who is currently in the US. My heart was overflowing that I had to write my thoughts on paper. Hopefully I can blog about the advent retreat soon, but for now I will share with you this poem. Enjoy! :)


Dream. Love. Hope.

Sitting between two trees at night;
Staring at the stars so bright;
I think of dreams, of love, and hope;
While in this island I shall write this note.

The dream of introducing a new road for engineering;
Here in Culion, more ideas are coming.
I met new people and heard their stories;
My resolve got stronger to help lessen their worries.

And so I shared my engineering dream;
It was new to most people, but they were very supportive.
An opportunity immediately opened up;
I am hesitant, nervous, nevertheless I will not stop.

I think of love, I think of you;
So far away, are you still feeling blue?
I wish to hear your voice again,
But times have made that so uncertain.

Perhaps it is too much to ask,
To see you once again at last;
So while I wait for your return,
I will do my best to grow and learn.

And to you, dear friend, I hope you know
That you will never be alone;
Please do smile and laugh often
And in no time you’ll be back home again.

Now my heart is full of hope
For all the things the future holds;
I still feel fear for what will happen
But God, so dear, keeps me strengthened.

~ j.Manapat, 8 December 2013, Isla Culion

Steady Progress

It was my third time to attend a chakra-based meditation class in White Space Katipunan and tonight’s session was one of the most exciting meditation classes ever because teacher Sarah incorporated what she calls “Angel Cards” for tonight’s practice. Angel Cards look like what other people call “Tarot Cards” and if memory serves me right, this was the first time in my entire life that I was going to hold a “real” Tarot card. Exciting!

Teacher Sarah explained that everything in the world is energy (this agrees with quantum physics). Therefore, whatever message we get from the deck of Angel Cards is no coincidence. Our energy, with the guidance of Angels, God, The Force, or however you may refer to It, specifically attracts a certain card for us. So I picked a card and this was what I got (I was delighted to find the exact card in Google!):


It was quantum physics at its best! Freaking amazing! This was exactly the validation I needed for the job I am currently applying for. :)

I searched the Internet for an interpretation of the card and here’s what I found*:

The Angels wish to reassure you that you are making progress. You sometimes may harshly compare yourself to others, and feel that you should be farther ahead on your path by now. Yet look how far you’ve come, how many lessons you’ve learned, and how many people you’ve helped! Focus on your progress, instead of expecting perfection from yourself. Each day, take at least one small action step concerning a project that you are passionate about.

You’re on the right path, even if it feels that you’re moving slowly. Praise the light instead of curing the darkness. Appreciate yourself!

Thank you God. Thank you Buddha. :)