By John Don Opina
Serendipitous. That is how I describe, in one word, the most impactful lessons I acquired during the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers (PICE)- Extended Visual Internship of Students by Mentorship or Apprenticeship (EVISMA) Program. I could also use that word to describe the experience altogether, but that would undermine the great efforts of PICE and my mentor, Engineer Alden Cayaga.
Since I took Civil Engineering at University of the Philippines Los Baños, I have always looked forward to an in-person on-the-job training (OJT). Present circumstances, however, have not been kind to my past “future plans.” COVID-19 has overstayed, and the threat of the Delta variant and its Greek-lettered siblings are still lurking around the corner, making the OJT impossible. Thankfully, however, in response to the current situation, the PICE established the EVISMA program. This was an online OJT. What was once considered as outside-the-classroom learning experiences essential for a Civil Engineering student was now delivered in the same livestream-like medium as “classroom experiences” – much to my disappointment.
A disappointment that was short-lived, surprisingly. The program was nothing like a regular online class. Lectures were few and far between and the majority of a week was typically spent working on an internship activity – most of which were actual tasks given to junior engineers. Although I won’t go into specifics on these tasks, I can say that I had to delve deep into the application of civil engineering calculations to actual practice as well as understanding and using the National Structural Code of the Philippines.
The most important lessons that I got from the whole experience are these: there are a lot I do not know and that it’s okay that I do not know. But where is the “Serendipity” in all these you ask? Well in the first lesson, it was by “accidentally” doing an assignment wrong that I realized my knowledge of CE is lacking. To elaborate, I am the type of person who learns a lot faster through making mistakes. Although I learned how to make design criteria reports, I did not produce it at a level I desired. I submitted and resubmitted it with incorrect and missing calculations. It was through these iterations and the subsequent class discussion that I learned what my output lacked and how to do it properly next time.
This bleeds into the next lesson. Since I mostly learn from mistakes and I had little applicable skills to do practical engineering work, the process of making internship activities were very confusing to me. I had to ask a lot of questions during and after the lecture meetings just so I can wrap my head around what to actually do. I can only thank my mentor’s patience in answering all my queries – as repetitive as they were. It was my carelessness in asking too many questions and the mentor’s willingness to fill his inbox that made me realize that it was alright for me to not know what to do and that there is nothing shameful in asking for help.
I hold those two lessons dearly. Lessons I learned from accidents and mistakes throughout the experience. Lessons that would not have been possible without the PICE VISMA program and the slice of Civil Engineering reality that it showed us. Lessons that would not have been had it not been for my mentor, Engineer Cayaga.