(This article was written for the USM Newsletter, October 1, 2005. You can also read the prequel article - My mission is to return)
I could still recall the moment I received a call from the Philippine-American Educational Foundation informing me that I was among the candidates for interview for the Fulbright-Philippine Agriculture Scholarship Program. At that time, being considered for interview was already an honor on my part. I could not imagine the joy I felt when more than a year from that momentous call, I heard the words from a stern looking immigration official saying “Welcome to the United States” after stamping “Admitted Los Angeles” on my passport. From a distance, custom officials yelling “Do you have bah-gow-ong, mangoes, etc…?” I said to myself, “Hey Willie, meet Uncle Sam”.
I pursued Master of Science major in Biological and Agricultural Engineering at the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. Specifically, I concentrated on Environmental Engineering and took Civil Engineering as my minor. I started August 2003 and graduated on May 2005. I was able to finish my program in less than two years. The time spent for academic completion is shorter than the usual BAE graduate student length of stay in the department. Even with this shorter duration, I was elected to the Gamma Sigma Delta – The Honor Society for Agriculture for my scholastic and research performance.
The Biological and Agricultural Engineering (BAE) Program at NC State University is ranked number sixth in the US. Being such an excellent program, the department expected the best from us in both coursework and research.
My stay at NCSU was under the constant guidance of three prominent environmental engineering professors in the university: Dr. Thomas Losordo (Co-chair), Dr. Philip Westerman (Co-chair), and Dr. Francis de los Reyes III (Member).
With support from the US Department of Agriculture – Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (USDA-CSREES), I conducted my thesis entitled “Denitrification of Aquaculture Wastewater using Agricultural by-products as Biofilter Media.” This research posed significant potential application in the Philippine agriculture and fisheries. I was able to show that we could use naturally-occurring organic substances to facilitate nutrient removal from a high-nitrate wastewater. This is alternative to expensive plastic beads commercially available for current industry practice.
Instead of using wheat straw and wood chips as used in my study, my research can be extended with the use of rice straw, grasses, coconut coir, corn cobs, etc. The Philippines is endowed with these rich agricultural biomasses that can be tapped to enhance environmental quality. As much as possible, I do not want to be a “hostage of technology” when going back to my country. I believe with minimal support, I would be able to replicate my study in a Philippine setting.
Cultural Experience and Professional enhancement
Miami. The Gateway orientation at the Florida International University gave me a glimpse of the culture of both US and other countries around the globe. We made a number of acquaintances. It was also a good opportunity to look at the famous Miami and South Sea beaches. The bond of Pinoy Fulbrighters was further strengthened there.
Washington, DC. Twice I have gone to DC – a personal and a business one. The latter visit was when I attended the Fulbright Enhancement Seminar on February 11-15, 2004. It was good to meet new friends from different countries. Our theme was thought-provoking and highly political. We discussed about the role of information technology in democracy.
Trips to the North Carolina Beaches, to the Blue Ridge Mountains. One of my advisors also toured me to Fort Macon - a major fortification during the Civil War as well as during the World War II. I have learned the degree of sympathy of the Southerners towards their Confederate ancestors.
Before the Atlantic Beach, we were able to visit Kure Beach at Wilmington, NC the place where the series Dawson’s Creek was shot. The area is also a major confederate town and so relics of the Civil War were also well-preserved. In fact, until now a lot of houses in the area have big Confederate Flags hanging. We were able to learn more of the American heritage by knowing Lincoln’s Union and Davis’s Confederate soldiers’ war time stories and struggle. It help me understand why Americans are so patriotic.
North Carolina is not only known for its beaches, it has also the mountain ranges to boast of. I am lucky to have gone one of them and witnessed the colored foliage during the Fall of 2004. It was such a pleasant experience! It made me craved to climb Mt. Apo. The mountains were also witness to the Trail of Tears of the American Indians – a tale of the brutalities of war between American soldiers and the Indians.
The Wolfpack experience. My stay at the NC State University is nothing if I haven’t experience the Wolfpack craze. I have witnessed how Americans loved football in a most fascinating way. We are not just lucky to be ranked in national football rankings. But our basketball team was just great being on the Sweet 16. We are quick to admit that the best collegiate basketball teams are from the Tobacco Road. My Wolfpack experience allowed me to appreciate sports. That’s one of the reasons I made good in the recent faculty and staff meet pep talk, kidding aside.
I am going back to USM