Being able to study at the University of the Philippines was the best dream I could ever have. “There’s no other way but UP” according to Penshoppe. But not being able to do so turned out to be better, at least for me.
Back in 2004, I took all the exams in the top universities in Metro Manila just to be assured of a college. Graduating from Philippine Science High School gives you about a 99.9% assurance that you can get into your dream school. Coming from PSHS forces you to acquire a mindset of considering UP Diliman to be your sister school after noticing that everyone seems to be going to UP from PSHS. It didn’t work for me. I didn’t get into UP Diliman. I passed UP Los Baños though, but still, it’s a big daunt on my ego. Boys do cry and at that time, I had a valid reason.
After making a research of UP’s criteria on admissions, computing the chances of someone not getting into Diliman and painstakingly convincing myself that there was a flaw in the system, I had no other choice but to go to De La Salle University which was the next best option. BS Electronics and Communications Engineering with a financial grant, I hoped my parents wouldn’t have a hard time sending me to college. DLSU saw my worthy-of-a-scholarship label tagged to my name thanks to PSHS.
After 3 years of having a not-so-easy time studying how cellphones work and how 1s and 0s make your computers run, we were down to a handful of regular students. Not failing in any subject in this rigorous engineering program gave me the chance of being in the roster of ECE students that will help in building the first Philippine Solar Powered Car. Yes it’s a car that runs on solar energy and it will compete in the Panasonic World Solar Challenge in October 2007. Considering that it’ll be the 20th anniversary of the race, (are we really behind by two decades? maybe more) at least, if ever we don’t get another chance in the future, we can still say that we had our first time.
Imagine how on earth can a number of mechanical and electronics and communications engineering students build a car inside the campus? Plus the fact that you have to design it in such a way that it runs on solar energy and not with gasoline. With the help of professors and big names in the industry, yes it was possible. Tips? Simple. Just block-off all your free time. Prepare not to play basketball for 9 months. Cancel all your dates for the following year. Argue every night with the school guards that you are making a project for the country so they should let you in. Get a permit from the Department of Justice that you be allowed in the DLSU campus to work on the car on the first four Sundays of September with the bar examinees taking their exams upstairs. Simply put, it’s just like enrolling another 54 units for three terms.
By September, I had no choice but not to enroll any academic units to concentrate on the development of the car. Being the most pessimistic member of the team, I would normally doubt finishing the car on time for the race on October. We were still waiting for equipment and components purchased outside the country, designs of electrical and mechanical layouts were still to be finalized and from our assessment, the actual time needed to complete the car wouldn’t fit in the remaining days that we still had before the race (now I’m wondering why we were able to race in Australia).
The deadline was crawling towards us faster than our car can run. We still had to do tests in Subic Raceway and in Star Toll, Batangas. We started to turn down interviews by newspapers and TV stations to concentrate more on the car’s construction but my own personal reason was not to further heighten the expectations of those who know that we were building a solar car and possibly in the end be unable to attain our goal.
Thanks to our sponsors, two weeks before the flight to Australia we were able to overcome major problems which we thought would end the project. It was amazing how these people can really move things this fast. We were set to leave for Australia in no time and we had the car leave ahead of us.
We thought we only needed to do minor adjustments when we got to Australia. It turned out that problems we faced in Darwin were enough to stop us from joining the race. But still, thanks to the help of other countries, and of course the team’s own effort, the car was able to race from October 21 to October 27 from Darwin to Adelaide. A lot of things happened in the desert but that would be another story.
The World Solar Challenge was not like other typical competitions. Besides being able to race in the desert using a solar car which was very unique in itself, unlike competitions where you would want other competitors to lose, it was a competition where everyone wanted everybody to finish. Teams would normally visit each other’s pits just to have a chat, specially two Canadian Universities, the University of Calgary and University of Western Ontario which both had their own Filipino team members. Most of them would even offer some help if they can and we would also give help in one way or another. I remember that I mistakenly offered too much help to Venezuela in terms of brake fluid that we almost braved the Australian desert without an extra bottle.
Aside from going to Australia at no cost, being able to experience how to live for seven days with only two baths, meeting students from top universities around the world and representing our country, crossing the Australian desert from Darwin to Adelaide in 7 days was an experience even a typical Australian would be envious of (at least according to the locals whom I talked to).
The whole project was very tiring but indeed very rewarding. If I only knew 4 years ago that this would be a project of DLSU by my junior year, then I wouldn’t have acted unmanly after seeing my name beside “Los Baños”. In the end, not being able to get into UP Diliman, my dream school 4 years ago was not bad. Not bad at all.