Reaching for the Stars

Manila Bulletin, May 15, 2012 | Go to article overview

Reaching for the Stars


MANILA, Philippines - Just when they thought dreams that reaching the outside world were far-fetched, three people were ushered into the path to a great future.

Lordnico Mendoza, Rhayan Coronel, and Frank Kelvin Martinez are the first graduates of the BS Astronomy Technology that is only being offered in Rizal Technological University (RTU).

Mendoza was already set to pursue Nursing in college but decided to take an exam in Astronomy Technology merely for experience. "When I was in high school, I indulged myself in published journals and articles on the Internet. I also had a book on Astronomy which I loved reading," Mendoza recalls.

Martinez, on the other hand, took up the course to answer questions that have long been in his mind since childhood.

"When I was still a kid, I had so many questions in mind about celestial objects especially the planets. I grew up curious and wishing to take up an astronomy course," says Martinez.

Unlike Mendoza and Martinez, whose passion for astronomy has been rooted since childhood, Coronel admitted that he learned to love the course as he went along studying and discovering its ins and outs.

"Habang tumatagal, lalo ko siyang nagustuhan. Kakaibang karanasan at kaalaman. Ang sarap ng feeling," shares Coronel.

Admittedly, they all feel that the pressure is on.

"To be the first product of this course is a big responsibility," says Martinez. "At the same time, we are apprehensive because we do not know what is in store for us. Pero sana suportahan kami ng gobyerno since kasama naman sila sa gumawa ng course namin and sigurado naman gagawin namin 'yung part namin."

Their dreams might not have materialized if not for the yearning of the some of the proponents of the Astronomy course with whom they all share the same sentiments.

How it all began

The five-year-old program was the brainchild of RTU president Dr. Jesus Rodrigo Torres and the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Space Administration (PAGASA).

Dr. Torres himself has a strong penchant for astronomy. During his time, he recalls, no course in astronomy in the Philippines was offered. When he became a professional, his undying enthusiasm drove him to buy his own telescopes and books that eventually led him to the path towards astronomy and made him one of the Filipino members of the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

The proposal for an astronomy course in the Philippines began rolling when Dr. Torres, then RTU vice president, presented his 15th volume of work about deep-sky object observations to his friend Dr. Bernardo Soriano, former chief of PAGASA's Astronomy Geophysical and Space Sciences bureau.

"Dr. Soriano said that they were offering the possibility of the course to another university but the said school did not want it. So he suggested to me if RTU could take up the proposal and be the one to offer the course," says Dr. Torres.

A committee, consisting of multi-sectoral groups like PAGASA, RTU professors, and even business people, was created to weave a curriculum flexible enough to provide adequate job opportunities to its students.

"We were concerned on the possible jobs these students in this field will have after graduating. So, we came up with a hybrid program combining technology with astronomy concerned primarily in applied science," explains Dr. Torres.

Dr. Torres says that they primarily focused on applied science because focusing on theoretical aspects alone could make the course less flexible. The curriculum includes major astronomy subjects, physics, mathematics, general education subjects, and selective engineering courses.

The master's degree program in Astronomy came in 2006, years earlier than the bachelor's degree. It has produced a graduate, a physician and astronomy enthusiast Dr. Armand Lee, who graduated last 2009, making him the first Filipino to acquire an MS in Astronomy. …

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