Of T-Shirts and T-Squares: Tales of The Reluctant Surveyor

  by Helen Mary S. Labao

Back when I was in third year college, I took Geodetic Engineering I (GE I) as a science subject. Maybe because I am not exactly fond of memorizing uber technical concepts, I passed the subject by a hairline. In fact, I was so happy then to be exempted from the finals. Given that near-death experience, just imagine how startled I was when I learned that one of my officemates was ranked 2nd in the 2010 Geodetic Engineer Licensure Examination.  

This is quite unsurprising, since she lists mathematics as one of her main passions in life, along with writing, reading, and relationships. And though she has since “responded to the call of public service,” she remains a close friend of this blog. In fact, I consider her my mentor on this field. So my online buddies, I am honoured to share with you a guest post from a lady who proclaims that writing is her “oxygen.” – MM

Ms Helen Mary Labao - 2nd placer in the 2010 Geodetic Engineer Licensure Examination!

* One time during a Mass, I was wearing this UP Geodetic Engineering t-shirt that I bought before I graduated from college. It was a little eye-catching to some people, as proven by the insanely curious guy beside me who tapped my shoulder to ask: “Excuse me, Miss, ano ang ibig sabihin ng geodetic engineering?” I shushed the guy because I believe that the impending transubstantiation of my religious belief is far important than addressing this query, but after that incident, I asked myself why I even got into this “boyish” course.  I do challenge the notion that it’s male-dominated because I have seen so many beautiful women who take up engineering, especially in the department of Industrial Engineering.  I have seen competent female surveyors who are assets to their endeavours, too.

I had almost 8 years of study to answer the WHAT question. But I wish I had a more serendipitous answer to the WHY question. I hardly answer this question completely, as I usually tell people that I wanted the adventure of field work to avoid further discussion on the topic. The truth of the matter is, I had taken exams in four different universities (UP, DLSU, ADMU, and UST) and had different courses in each of them. I had a distinct preference to study in ADMU but my Dad disliked that school’s sky high tuition fee. I tried enrolling in the Journalism department of UP. But by the time I called UP, there were no more slots left. And so I had to choose among the remaining courses. I gave myself two days to think it over.

Having no parents at the time to consult it with, I decided to read the Bible after feverishly praying. Yes, the Bible. I asked for a SIGN to help me in my confusion. Somehow, my fingers ran through the Old Testament and I encountered the word LAND so many times in different chapters. The word was just popping out of the pages like daisies, or at least in my imagination it seemed that way to me. I took it as the answer and signed myself up for UP’s 5-year geodetic engineering course. I turned down a full scholarship in DLSU (Computer Science), a pre-med course in UST (Pharmacy), and the much-coveted course in ADMU. I can’t say I had no regrets; I had lots during the time I was studying because it was so hard. But when I managed to get through it, I realized that sticking to GE was not a bad decision at all.

For almost my entire college life, I was just so confused and reckless and completely impulsive. Never have I imagined then that I would eventually take the board examination and even become the second highest in our batch. I almost hit MRR (maximum residency rule or overstaying) in my department!  I only learned that I was officially an engineer when my orgmates feverishly refreshed the board exam results websites a day after we took the exam, which was incidentally my 25th birthday. They called me up and I was screaming up and down in front of my birthday cake at home with my family and other co-board exam takers who were also top notchers. Neighbors thought there was a riot going on in our house because of the noise. I eventually got the formal congratulatory letter two weeks after my birthday, and I attended the oath taking ceremony shortly after. I wore a nice blue dress, and the rest is history, or at least, in my blog already.

I only had one thing to say about my course: it was not love at first sight. I tried shifting to European Languages when I fell in love with the French language and still tried to shift to Journalism somewhere in my fourth year. But something kept me from leaving the College of Engineering for good, abysmally hard as the subjects were. I had those moments where I wanted to give up. There are few people who get to become cum laude in our college; they are considered total geeks. Even those who graduate on time or earlier are considered beyond normal.

But there were those happy moments like digging for old 1904 mojon markers using one’s hands, falling off a creek in the university while getting topographic data, and basically exploring the terrain of the university grounds. I found making maps in the GIS (Geographic Information System) lab as a real welcome treat; the free air conditioning somehow balanced the intense field activities that they had us do in our core field work subjects.

There was this notion that it is much easier to get a laude in other colleges that did not have a lot of Math in them. Although I am happy to survive a lot of Math, Physics, and Engineering subjects and acknowledge that I shed blood, sweat, and tears for my diploma, I did not subscribe to the idea that engineering is superior over other courses offered in my school. I did not buy those “So What Kung Uno Ka?” shirts because I believe that each course has its own level of difficulty. In fact, I cannot withstand people who think this way up to this day.

"So what kung uno ka? Eng'g ka ba?" (courtesy of UP Engineering Student Council Yahoo Group)

I do know by experience that superiority complex is prevalent not just in engineering. I have met people from all walks of life who think that their field is better than everyone else’s, whether it’s English studies, political science, or finance, whether they admit it or not. I believe it is part of human nature that everyone wants to be the bida. It is not something that is exclusively owned by engineering students or graduates.  In the case of those engineering t-shirts, one form of arrogance merely came with a tangible item and the others came with something else that did not have any “physical evidence.”

Having openly expressed my views on the matter, I am open to the idea of professionally exploring other fields which are equally deserving of praise and effort. From a reluctant surveyor, I am in the process of becoming an open-minded and willing young professional who makes the most of everything in all the fields she has the privilege of being exposed to.

Please visit her review of the movie “There Be Dragons” here – http://www.helenmarylabao.com/?quote=there-be-dragons

About Author



Mark Pere Madrona

The Filipino Scribe (TFS) is managed by Mark Pere Madrona, a multi-awarded writer and licensed professional teacher from the Philippines. Mr. Madrona earned his master’s degree in history from the University of the Philippines-Diliman last 2020. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in journalism cum laude from the same university back in 2010. His area of interests includes Philippine journalism, history, and politics as well as social media. Know more about him here: https://www.filipinoscribe.com/about/.

7 thoughts on “Of T-Shirts and T-Squares: Tales of The Reluctant Surveyor

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