Engineering the Curriculum: Preparing the Student for Life
Contributed for the UPAE Ingenium 2007
Since its establishment on June 13, 1910 the U.P. College of Engineering has regularly reviewed the curricula of the various courses and has made changes where appropriate. But it was during the long deanship of Dr. Vidal A. Tan, the first Filipino Dean of the College of Engineering from 1940 to 1949, when the groundwork for including social science and humanities subjects in the engineering curriculum was initiated. In an article titled “Engineering Education” published in the Philippine Collegian graduation issue of 1941, Dean Vidal Tan explained it quite clearly:
“Under a fast changing world there is only one safe way of preparing the student for life: Teach him how to think. And let his thinking be built around an inner structure consisting of unchanging fundamental principles and sound methods of thought. This kind of training affords the student a better chance to survive in an ever shifting environment.
“Side by side with emphasis on fundamentals, the proposed curriculum will have more humanities. It must be recognized that the engineer cannot get along with only his technical training. It is clear that he is a part of the community and as such should know that community. The engineer lives in a world of human beings, works for men and under men; lives with men and depends on men for his success and happiness. His preparation would be one-sided and inadequate if he only learns how to deal with nature.”
Dean Vidal A. Tan was well qualified to lead the curricular reviews. Quite apart from being a competent engineer with degrees from U.P. (Liberal Arts) and Cornell University (Civil Engineering), he was also a writer, poet and playwright. He later became the 7th U.P. president from 1951 to1956. He capped his career with a stint as an elected councilor of Quezon City under the banner of the Good Government coalition. He died in 1978 at the age of 85.
A great leap for the College was made in 1953 when it implemented the new engineering curriculum that required five years of study instead of four. The additional year accommodated the inclusion of several social science and humanities subjects and the legislated requirement of twelve units of Spanish. The advance of technology at that time required the addition of new subjects and laboratory courses.
Engineering freshmen had to spend their first two years in what was called the University College based at the Arts and Sciences building, now Palma Hall. The General Education Program implemented was the brainchild of Vicente Sinco, U.P. president from 1958 to1962; this was recently replaced by the “Revitalized General Education Program” of Francisco Nemenzo, U.P. president from 1999 to 2005. We do not know yet the impact of the “revitalized” version, but I could say we were fortunate to have enrolled at U.P. in 1961 during the establishment of the University College where all incoming U.P. students were required to go through the two years of general education before entering the professional colleges.
How did the new engineering curriculum impact on us? I enrolled in Electrical Engineering thinking that all I had to study were science and engineering subjects that would prepare me to design and install electrical systems of buildings and facilities. Imagine my surprise when my class cards said I had to study Eastern Thought, Western Thought, Sociology, Humanities, Speech, Rizal, History, and similar subjects.
Fortunately we had very competent and engaging teachers. For example, in Rizal we had the nationalist journalist Hernando Abaya who would discuss issues which would appear in his column in The Chronicle later. In Humanities we had the poet and artist Ricaredo Demetillo, who discussed paintings and classical music– things that did not interest most of us before we entered college. We discovered later that there was more to studying in a university and get employed afterwards than mastering science and engineering subjects – it was as if a whole new world opened up for us to explore and enjoy.
Studying history, social science and humanities subjects made me feel that we have a world to help shape, build and enjoy. I retained that outlook even when I was already applying my engineering skills to earn my keep. I hope that a similar outlook, borne of the times, is acquired by today’s engineering students.
My other hope is that, aside from full government support, more scholarship grants are made available to deserving students by generous donors; because in our experience such scholarship grants eased the burden off our minds and allowed us to focus on our studies. Under these better circumstances, budding scientists and engineers, especially those coming from the countryside, are provided the opportunity to hone their abilities to the fullest and better serve the country. After all, our country cannot move forward, have modern agriculture, and achieve genuine national industrialization without uplifting their lot, because they comprise a big portion of our population. I look forward to the day when education would be accessible to all in order for everyone to wholeheartedly help build a great Asian country that we would be very proud of.