Why I’ll Never be the DChE Poster Girl

If the university ever prints a brochure advertising the Department of Chemical Engineering, I would be the last person you’d find there. You wouldn’t find me on the cover, smiling and maybe talking to some faculty members. Nor would you find me quoted on why a high school senior should pursue the same field of study I am pursuing now. Given my attendance to department activities, you probably wouldn’t even spot a tiny, pixelated version of my face in the photo collage at the back of the brochure. I’d never make it to a DChE publicity material, not only because my eye bags ensure that my face is never camera-friendly or because I don’t have the latest ChE polo shirt to wear to the pictorial. Neither is it because I’ve never represented the department in the annual Engineering Cup or my batch in the Battle of the Batches.  It’s not even about my less than stellar academic performance and the 3.0s which seem to punctuate every subject that begins with ChE in my true copy of grades.  The truest, most honest reason why I’ll never be the poster girl is the culmination of all the reasons I just mentioned: I don’t love my course enough to promote it. I don’t love my course, period. 

To ask why I am even here now is a valid question. There is no one reason, but it might be easiest to share the story of how I met my course. Senior year in high school featured an immature me choosing a course based on prestige and lousy pieces of advice. To be fifteen, I suppose, was to care about what people thought about me, to desire to be admired, to sincerely believe that I could be anyone I wanted to be. Everyone’s first choice was BS Business Administration and Accountancy, so mine had to be something else. I so admired my sister’s “So what kung uno ka . . .” angas shirt so I just had to get in the coolest college in UP. My math and science grades were fairly good so I thought I’d accept the challenge of taking up an engineering course. After crossing out the engineering courses without board exams, and the ones my father told me I was too feminine for, I found myself scrawling BS Chemical Engineering in my fourth and final UPCAT form, the one which I submitted a few days later. Such is the tale of how I became a ChE student, and it is one which makes me inwardly cringe. 

Freshman year came and I contemplated about shifting out. Despite the fact that I did not love my course then, I thought I’d come to love it once I started with my major subjects. It was also the fact that I really could not decide on which course to shift to that made me stay. My indecisive, stick-in-the-mud side constantly controls me so by the end of my second year, I still hadn’t decided on what field of study to pursue. I then abandoned all hopes of shifting out and made up my mind to earn a degree on BS ChE. Whatever I’ll do to that is a choice which belongs to the future, when I actually have my degree conferred upon me. Perhaps, I’ll try to get a job to better appreciate my field. Maybe my thesis and plant design will even interest me enough to take a masters degree. I can get a second degree just so I can finally know what I missed when I chose ChE. More likely, I’ll take the board exam and bum around at home for a few months, procrastinate some more, and assign the job of decision-making and praying for discernment to the more mature me.

Right up to this point, I’ve been very negative but the truth is I learned a lot in my course. I journeyed from trigonometry to transport phenomena, from balancing chemical equations to mass and energy balances in unsteady-state systems, from titrating carbonated drinks to titrating methyl acetate. I learned how to design pumps and heat exchangers, and perhaps I do them less excellently than my professors expect of me, but I did learn. I am learning how to face the frustration of striving so hard just to stay in the middle of the pack. I am becoming skilled at cheering myself up when failing exam scores begin to mount. I am getting trained to push myself to work when my target grade to pass becomes impossibly high. I unwillingly receive a tutorial on how to get over defensive feelings whenever a new topic in my major subject makes me feel so dumb the same time I receive a piece of chocolate from my ES instructor because I topped a long exam. The urge to declare in my facebook wall that my grades in my general education subjects can attest to my being a non-slacker student comes whenever I fail yet another ChE exam but I’ve never given in to it, thank God. The need to shout to the world that I am much smarter than my collection of embarrassing moments in class recitation leads others to believe almost always overwhelms me but it does eventually leave. I have had my share of unos and tres and I’ve learned that comparing them is like comparing apples and oranges- pointless and frustrating.

I’ve often wondered why I take extra effort understanding ChE principles. I am still puzzled by how math, chemistry and engineering science concepts I grasped so easily before stop making sense when taken in the ChE context but I guess it has something to do with the fact that my brain always has to get around my prejudices against my course first before I finally understand my lessons. I feel prejudiced against ChE because I’ve always felt like a square peg in a round hole in my home department. I hate that my creative juices can’t find an outlet in my course. I loathe the fact that writing, something I’ve enjoyed since grade school, is reduced to boring formal reports and journal reviews by my major subjects. It doesn’t help that I find no one among my peers who share my frustrations because my batchmates who might once have felt the same way I do have either shifted out or learned to love the discipline.

I guess one of the most important things I’ve been taught in ChE is that a square peg can  grow in a round hole. Maybe, she’ll always grow at a slower pace but with God’s help, she will survive. Perhaps, my best efforts will never quite compensate for my lack of natural affinity and interest in my course, but I’m still here, with no singko so far, by God’s grace. I will graduate, I promise myself that. Whatever I do after graduation, the things ChE taught me will never go to waste. And that’s a good thing because I learned in ChE how difficult it is to treat waste. #