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A chance encounter over breakfast with the President of Antipolo Institute of Technology (AITECH), Linda Pefianco, led to an incredible visit of the first HEI (Higher Education Institution) to offer a Bachelor of Science in Construction Engineering in the Philippines, more specifically in the City of Antipolo. Linda was one of the visionaries behind the dream of the AiTECH program. She was attending the World Open Space at SEAMEO INNOTECH with three other members of their faculty team.

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That first morning as we talked, I was transported by their vision which, in two short years, led to the construction and operation of this amazing educational facility which 101 engineering students now attend

I guess my enthusiasm and our meeting of the minds on the strategy that led to this dream had an impact. Before I knew it, a trip was being organized for me to spend the day where I would meet students and faculty. I was thrilled beyond words. Never could I have guessed how memorable this day would be.

I was transported in a “Field of Dreams” reminiscent of “Build it and They Shall Come”.  Indeed many heeded the call: a community, a faculty, students and family. I imagine this wonderful school leading the way one day — promoting excellence and mastery in construction, building and more. That truly is the shared dream of everyone associated with this school most especially the students.

As the car driving me to Antipolo climbed the short hill off the main road, I caught my  first glimpse of the beautiful, newly constructed 2-story white buildings with inviting front porches.  Students were huddled on the porch bubbling with smiles, chatting together as classes were about to start.  I could feel their curiosity and warm welcome.

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The Dean and the President are already imagining many construction and upgrading projects where the students will have the opportunity to apply their new skills. For example in the future laying new tile on the cement floors. Much of their learning will happen in construction projects happening in the community.
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The beautifully landscaped trees were newly transplanted from areas where the highway was being widened. Surprisingly in spite  of their size they survived. A positive omen to this Engineering Construction School.

My first stop was in one of the faculty rooms though indeed with their open door policy, it felt more like a community room with no hierarchy or titles. Their pride mixed with a disarming humility captured my heart. No pompousness, just a genuine interest in promoting and advancing their trailblazing programs.

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All smiles for the camera and I felt so privileged to share part of this “field of dreams” story.
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A Birthday Celebration with specialty home cooked Filipino food is just the way they do things at AiTECH.  Lunch as a family is what they do together.

In my earlier conversations, I had learned how the Mayor and other elected officials had supported this great dream to construct a Community College in their municipality that would offer the first Bachelor of Science in Construction Engineering. Students, all of them from Antipolo, everyone high performing would be sponsored – no tuition.

The program would be quite unique — offering highly engaged, hands-on learning that combined theory and applied on the job learning. Partnerships with industry were established early on.  Both the Dean, Mr.  Rachel B. Gabuya and President Mrs Linda Pefianco, were experienced educators who were also closely connected to industry and community. To have accomplished as much in such a short time (the school is already in its second year) and to build such an institution from scratch is no small feat.  And the construction continues with plans for a high school, elementary and even pre-elementary school on the same premises though these will be operating independently.  The vision is of a campus that will offer lifelong and lifetime learning – by making their facilities available beyond school age.

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New Elementary School under construction – many probably future engineers in construction as they study near the older students.

All smiles with lots of pride. State of the art computers, CAD equipment – much of it to be used by students during the day and others who will be part of the life long learning programs in the evening. This school is part of the fabric of their community.

To see the future through their eyes and to also experience the enthusiasm of students and faculty totally immersed in their own experimenting and learning was so inspiring. As I walked into classroom after classroom, the initial shyness of the students was replaced with an exuberance in describing what their new educational institution was all about. A construction program that would extend beyond the borders of their city to inspire quality and mastery in construction and building that could extend to a country.  Their desire to develop mastery combined with a hunger to learn were palpable.

What struck me most was to hear the same vision that Linda, their president had described to me, being then described by the students in their own words. Together they are building something bigger than themselves, clear on their mission which is to be the best that they can be.  In a field that is typically male dominated, it was refreshing to see that there were as many girls as boys. Everyone fearless and determined.

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About a thousand books offering the rigorous theory of engineering and also the practical of work in the construction industry including the basic principles of safety.

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Many of the students are from families with little education and small financial means. As a result, the staff and faculty keep a close eye as issues at home may sometimes keep the students away. They will quickly reach out if they notice someone absent for a few days. We are family they say and indeed they care deeply about each other.

From the very beginning, they placed a focus on values and living the Itech Way — education goes beyond learning skills and technologies; it’s  also about leading from the  heart. Their curriculum places great emphasis on knowing yourself and on general studies that go beyond engineering and construction.  It invites a learning by doing and by talking together.

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One of the classes I visited was from the 11th grade.  Recruiting starts early with opportunities to learn shoulder to shoulder with registered students.  There is no mistaking the pride and support students have towards each other. Collaboration over competition is what they described to me. This school is not about cliques.

The one thing I will never forget from this visit was the light that I saw shining in all the pairs of eyes of these young students as they proudly and shyly engaged with me.  I love how they giggled as one brave student after another stood up to describe in English what they loved about their school and how much they had learned in the previous weeks, being out in the field doing actual construction work.

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Enjoyed watching the kids during their lunch hour. On the school premises,  a local policeman who has a knack for cooking many favorite foods.

Then seeing them wave goodbye as I left truly brought tears to my eyes.  I truly hope to go back one day imagining the pride of a community, of family, faculty and students as they graduate ready for the work world armed with a baggage of knowledge and experience. I have to laugh also because now my Facebook friend list grew a whole bunch after my visit to AiTECH.

A final farewell from their heart to my heart!

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A special treat visiting the neighboring sites before heading back to Manila

Thank you AiTECH for making the last day of my stay in the Philipppes so memorable!