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rlantican 2Photo courtesy of UPLBAA

Continuing Engagement of Alumni in University Activities*
Ricardo M. Lantican, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus of UP Los Baños

On behalf of the UPLB Graduates to which I proudly belong, let me extend our warmest greetings and felicitations to the UP Alumni Association (UPAA) and to all our participants in this morning’s Alumni Council Meeting. It is my privilege to be among the Panelists to UP President Alfredo E. Pascual’s message and to share with you UPLB’s experience in continuously engaging our alumni in University activities.

I wish to congratulate President Alfredo E. Pascual for taking on the challenge of leading the University towards its second century. Your administration’s response to the challenges that UP tackles is commendable. Indeed, much has been done and the best that we can do now is to build on them. It is also necessary to look at new opportunities for growth and development. In this very dynamic global landscape that we are in, we should also watch out for new challenges that may come our way.

The University of the Philippines is the premier university in the country but it has yet to achieve more to be in the league of the world’s best. The reasons are obvious – with a fragile economy, UP’s share of the national budget is too miniscule to fully carry out its mandate. But do not get too disheartened. UP may not rank highly by world’s standards but in other measures, it has done very well. UP has excelled in many endeavors, creating an impact on the socio-cultural and economic development of the country and, to some extent, other countries in the Asian Region.

There are achievements showing that UP is certainly a topnotch university. Allow me to present some of them. In 1970, when the US maize crop was devastated by a deadly blight disease that caused billions of dollars in losses, US scientists were frantic for solutions that can immediately rehabilitate the industry. They turned to and sought advice from UPLB scientists whom they knew could provide the answers to their problem. The UPLB scientists obliged and gave the assistance, enabling the US to save its corn industry in time. UP has also made great contributions to farmers across Asia through the outstanding crop varieties developed at the Institute of Plant Breeding in UPLB.

The University has long come of age as a major force not only in higher education but in many fields of human endeavor. UPLB in particular, distinctively excels in the fields of agriculture, forestry, biotechnology, and engineering. Without doubt, the University of the Philippines, given its strengthened charter and the support of all constituents, can be at par with the best universities in the Asian Region.

A tribute to our alumni

The UP alumni are the lifeblood who continually brings honor and prestige to the university. Their abiding loyalty is invariably matched by a big-hearted sense of giving. This is much in evidence in the vibrant activities that permeate this Bahay ng Alumni Hall year-round.

Our alumni counterpart in UPLB can do no less in enthusiastic involvement. They have helped immensely in upgrading facilities for instruction and research. They have revived a number of historical land marks that dot the campus. At present, they are putting up the UPLB Alumni Plaza which will include an edifying structure to be called the Hall of Fame for UPLB Alumni.

Continuing engagement of alumni service to university

To maintain and further strengthen the intellectual environment at UP, a conscious effort must be made to widen the involvement of alumni who can be given special appointment as adjunct professors or lecturers. These include: 1) the retired professors who could be tapped for continuous service; 2) alumni who are leaders in business and industries, and 3) UP alumni with faculty appointments in foreign universities who can forge collaborative links with the academic programs of UP. This outside involvement of alumni is important in maintaining faculty strength, and alleviating UP’s loss of faculty by attrition due to retirement or transfers to more lucrative jobs elsewhere. Our alumni in business as adjunct lecturers can inject a lot of wisdom in entrepreneurship and how research and development in universities can hasten linkage with industries.

There is an advantage in keeping retired professors in harness. They have the experience, maturity, and historical perspectives that can provide for depth, balance and continuity in the exercise of functions in an academic setting where young faculty members come and go. In the case of our visiting faculty alumni, their association will certainly create a diversity of ideas and perspectives and mutual benefits with their senior faculty counterparts and students.

Our alumni engaged in UPLB affairs in many ways.

In 2008, UPLB celebrated its centennial year. To give substance to the celebrations, the UPLB leadership under Chancellor Velasco decided on an introspective review of UPLB’s past and current performance. First, an independent External Review Panel was commissioned to make a forward-looking assessment of the University’s instruction, research and extension programs and propose a framework for strategic planning as the campus looks to where it should be going in the 21st century as it seeks to contribute to economic development, environmental sustainability and improvement of education in the Philippines.

The UPLB Professors Emeriti and some key alumni came into the picture when the administration created a Study Committee to flesh out in specific terms the recommendations of the external report. I believe that the retired professors and the alumni have contributed much in the charting of UPLB’s future through their report stressing the need of reuniting and integrating disciplines to fully mobilize and harness human resources. Such transdisciplinary approaches can be employed to improve curricula, management and administration and address complicated issues like globalization, climate change, the environment, food security, alternative energy, and other “burning” issues of the time.

In the same vein, a number of our retired professors are instrumental in augmenting instructional and research capabilities. They continue to teach, supervise graduate students, and engage in R & D during slack periods when many of our young staff are away pursuing graduate work abroad.

A number of our retired professors are likewise, involved in community-based work. They are engaged in projects that aim to improve science and math teaching in surrounding elementary schools. Others teach improved management techniques in the disposal of municipal solid wastes in the immediate towns in Laguna while others are involved in Pahinungod Projects with the youth and farmer groups.

Our alumni are also active in providing technical assistance to small countryside businesses or assisting local government and entrepreneurs in setting up plants for the commercial production of microbial inoculants that enhance nutrient uptake by plants and rapid decomposition of biomass for fertilizer production.

In the area of extension work, the efforts of Dr. Romulo Davide, a retired professor, deserves special mention. He conceptualized the Farmer-Scientist approach to extension work which he then pioneered in two economically depressed areas in Cebu. Through Dr. Davide’s personal commitment and hard work, the project has proven to be a success and had a ripple effect to other upland communities in Cebu. What started out as a one-man crusade has now morphed into a national program which involves other scientists in other regional campuses in Visayas and Mindanao.

Engagement of expatriate alumni in UP Affairs

An increasing number of our alumni who are based in universities and research organizations abroad are interested in establishing formal ties with UP. This interest, I suppose, stems from an altruistic desire on their part to go back to their roots and serve the University and the country. Our expatriate alumni carry on with their commitments based on institutional arrangements and assistance from the Balik Scientists program of DOST as well as personal accord.

At this point, let me mention a few names of personalities who have done exemplary service and commitment to UP.

1. Dr. Baldomero M. Olivera , a Ph.D. in biochemistry from California Institute of Technology and Professor of Biology in University of Utah. Dr. Olivera has undertaken a long-term collaborative research project with his counterparts in Marine Science Institute in isolating and characterizing Conus peptides from Philippine snails, for use as specific drugs to relieve pain and effects of epilepsy and other disorders of the nervous system.

2. Dr. Eduardo A. Padlan, a Ph.D. in biophysics from John Hopkins University is a retired professor from the National Institute of Health in Maryland, USA. His field of specialization is in the elucidation of the 3-D structure of hemoglobin and antibodies in relation to their evolution and function. He is full-time affiliated with UP Marine Science Institute, sharing knowledge and delivering lectures in UP Campuses, and supervising graduate students.

3. Dr. Jose B. Cruz, a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois and affiliated with the Department of Electrical Engineering of the University of Ohio. His work in electrical engineering is at the cutting-edge level involving the development of methods for the sensitivity analysis of dynamic electrical systems with respect to parameter variations. He is affiliated with the College of Engineering in UP and mentors staff and students.

4. Dr. Francis L. de los Reyes, a Ph. D. in environmental engineering from the University of Illinois. He is Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at North Carolina State University. His specialization lies at the interface of microbial ecology and environmental engineering. As adjunct professor at UPLB, he shares his expertise with his colleagues at the College of Engineering and Agro-industrial Technology as well as at the College of Arts and Sciences in UPLB.

The personalities that I have mentioned are just a few of the many expatriate alumni who have gotten involved in the academic affairs of UP. More tie-ups can be expected as they can now be facilitated through the effort of the Philippine-American Academy of Science and Engineering (PAASE) which is very active in the Philippines. This organization, initially composed of scientists and engineers of Philippine decent was founded in 1980 in Indiana USA. The membership has now expanded to 240 regular and associate members that include those who are based in the US, Philippines, and other countries. The PAASE is very active in promoting science and technology in the Philippines through its various scientific outreach projects in various universities and in pronouncing advocacies.

We have seen concrete examples of partnerships between the university and alumni, whether as individuals or in groups. I think that the commitment of our alumni to university programs and activities is no longer a question. The challenge to continuously engage their services and harness their strengths is now more on the enabling environment for them to get involved in the affairs of the University. The alumni should be told what the University needs. Giving donations to the University should be donor-friendly. The alumni would also appreciate it if they are informed about the programs and activities of the University so that they could identify possible areas of collaboration. And yes, alumni recognition is a big motivation for them to be involved, especially among alumni who are at the dawn of their careers and those who are in their twilight years.

We do believe “Kailangan talagang harapin ang bagong hamon.” We, the UPLB alumni, are one with the University in facing the challenge. Kaagapay ninyo kami. Kung tulong-tulong, kaya natin ito!

*Presented during the UP Alumni Council meeting on June 24, 2011

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