The student that the Sintang Paaralan has guided has now become its leader – and he intends to do a great job at it. As the University President, Manuel has several plans that he wishes to implement to ensure that everybody is given the same chance as he was, decades ago.
The Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) has been home to students from all walks of life, hence why it is dubbed the “Sintang Paaralan.” It was a haven for people who wished to continue learning despite obstacles and hindrances that may come their way. This is the exact environment that nurtures people into becoming something much bigger than themselves – something that Manuel Muhi has been on the receiving end of. Now that he’s back in the halls of the fabled university, the student that the Sintang Paaralan has guided has now become its leader– and he intends to do a great job at it.
Manuel Mengorio Muhi was just a seemingly ordinary student when he first entered PUP as a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering freshman. Life has been rather hard on him, as he did not come from a wealthy family. He was taught the painful and harsh realities of life early on.
“My learning journey in PUP required me to be humble to succeed, to make ends meet, to become more resourceful, and to appreciate the privilege of being a part of the university to further my education,” he shares.
Looking back, the time he spent as a student in PUP taught Manuel a life lesson in humility. “Kasi kapag PUPian ka, sanay ka sa hirap. Magtatrabaho sa gabi, mag-aaral sa araw. Minsan hindi sumasapat ang baon, pero dapat handa ka. Kaya matututo kang makibagay at magpasalamat sa mga taong makakasalamuha mo dahil sila ang tutulong sayo,” he elaborates.
Being a student at PUP has given him a chance to improve himself to unlock his highest potential, and Manuel was more than grateful for it when he received his diploma from the university in 1988.
The education that the university has provided him has given him the urge to reach for greater heights in the academe. “As a PUPian, hindi tayo tumitigil matuto dahil mataas ang pangarap natin.” Manuel says.
True to his word, he entered graduate school and earned a Master’s degree in Engineering, specializing in Transport and Road Engineering from the prestigious Technical University of Delft-International Institute for Infrastructural, Hydraulics and Environment Engineering – the Netherlands in 2000. He then chose to pursue a Doctoral degree in Technology at TUP Manila in 2008.
Armed with these huge achievements, he knew that he could look for greater opportunities elsewhere, but he chose to follow his true calling and that is to serve his beloved alma mater.
“The university helped me finish my education and gave me numerous opportunities to serve both inside and outside of the country,” he narrates. He knew that PUP could make it big – and he wanted to be a part of the movement that is going to make this vision a reality.
Back to Sintang Paaralan
Manuel felt that going back to PUP and serving the university is the best way to give back to the same home that has willingly accepted him – back when he was still a mere freshman student, lost in the university’s expanse. This time, he wandered through the classrooms as a professor, and later on, he became the Dean of the College of Engineering from 2006 to 2013.
“Magagaling ang ating mga estudyante. These are deserving youth and they need the university’s assistance,” he shares. As someone who benefited from the university before, he wishes to do the same for others by being someone that can give them the opportunities that he once had.
He also served as the Executive Vice President, Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Vice President for Research, Extension, Planning, and Development from 2012 to 2016. After being appointed as the University President, Manuel knew that this position should not be taken lightly.
“Isa din sa mga inspirasyon ko ang mga Iskolar ng Bayan. Nakita ko kung gaano nila ka-gustong makapagtapos ng pag-aaral,” Manuel expounds. “[PUP] has the potential to meet a wide range of needs in the surrounding communities, and I recognized that potential. It gave me hope that I could be a part of an institution that could have a significant impact on the lives of many people.”
The life of a leader
Being the University President is a huge responsibility that comes with all sorts of challenges. For Manuel, the position required him to be on his toes at all times.
“We cannot let our position get into our heads. What matters is the kind of leadership you demonstrate,” he shares. Manuel wants to be the kind of leader who knows and sees everyone– including their struggles, hardships, and eventually their successes. “Kaya mula sa pinakaibaba, mga estudyante, janitors, security guards, empleyado, hanggang sa mga middle managers, directors and executive officials, pinupuntahan po natin sila, inaabot, kinakausap, pinakikinggan.”
With this kind of leadership, he has also drafted plans for the university’s improvement, geared towards technological advancement and infrastructure improvement. As an engineer himself, his plan was more focused on improving the technology and facilities. “Over time, we are seeing improvements, from our comfort rooms to our sports facilities, student centers, and newly constructed research and laboratory facilities, we are working tirelessly to achieve our goals,” he states.
He also plans to make PUP a smart campus, focusing on improvements in technology, and student services, mitigating compliance mistakes, automating workflows, reducing wait times, and conserving energy and resources, among other things. Just like any other institution, PUP must keep up with the times and the increasing demands for quality education.
However, the pandemic posed a significant challenge to his administration and hampered most of his plans for the university. As the University President, it was his job to ensure that everything is covered. “We were caught off guard and unprepared because we needed to come up with a solution right away to make things work,” he narrates. With his brand of leadership, he wanted to ensure that with whatever policy he implemented, no one will be left behind.
The pandemic’s awful hit
During these unpredictable times, the main concern of the university lies in three aspects: the studentry, the quality of the education they’ll receive, and the technological advancements needed to further their learning. With these in mind, the Flexible Technology Learning (FlexTel) is an alternative learning framework, which improved gradually through time.
FlexTel accommodates the needs of various learners, including their learning circumstances and their ability to access learning tools and gadgets. In this mode, the professors can also follow a curated teaching load that considers their flexibility as well. “Its implementation may have been hampered by birth pains, but it has opened the doors to learning for all PUPians across the country,” he adds.
With the mixed reactions from the studentry, Manuel recognizes that the FlexTel also needs improvement, and just like any other policy, it is open for criticisms and amendments. “PUP continues to work with various sectors to improve FlexTel implementation in the coming years so that it is more inclusive, accessible, and fully coherent,” he says, as he ensures that their concerns will be duly noted.
Moreover, he also launched the PUP Education on Wheels, a project that caters to the educational needs of the out-of-school youth in various places. This project aims to give more learning opportunities for everyone and to ensure that more people get access to education, regardless of their background. “Ito naman po ang matagal nang vision natin sa Sintang Paaralan, to make education accessible and of quality. The EOW is ongoing at napapakinabangan na ng maraming kabataan sa Smokey Mountain,” he proudly shares.
The Education on Wheels also seeks to expand nationwide, seeking out underprivileged youths – truly living up to PUP’s reputation of giving people, regardless of their stature, a chance at a quality education.
“The goal is straightforward: to bring education to those who cannot afford it, right at their doorstep. This would not have been possible without the generous contributions of our donors, all of whom shared the same vision of educating the next generation,” Manuel explains.
Currently, Education on Wheels has 65 students under the Bachelor of Science in Office Administration. Their courses are TESDA inclined, which guarantees them a job after two years of education.
PUP has come a long way as it is now regarded as the top choice for employers, according to JobStreet. It is now known as the number one producer of professionals in different fields.
The university continues to raise its proud colors as it always claims its spot as one of the country’s top-performing schools. Board top-notchers also hail from various courses such as engineering, accounting, law, nutrition and dieticians, psychometrician, and education, among others.
On criticisms and challenges
Since he sat in the highest position in the university, he has been faced with criticisms and various side comments from various sectors. Being in such a vulnerable post means that Manuel needs to have the right mindset to deal with them professionally.
“I was also once a student of PUP and alam ko po ang mga kailangang baguhin sa Sintang Paaralan, and this is their assurance that someone understands them at hindi natin hahayaan na mahihirapan ang ating mga estudyante,” he shares. He knows that no leadership is perfect, but for it to work, he has to listen to his constituents.
Manuel is aware that PUPians have valid concerns and that they only want what’s best for the entire student population-–a sentiment that Manuel shared back when he was still a student. This kind of connection, as he says, brings him closer to the calls of the studentry and makes him more adept at their needs and concerns.
“We always hear our students, sila ang priority. We always make sure that their frustrations are validated and heard. We understand them and make sure we address their concerns right away,” Manuel adds.
PUP is one of the most highly regarded universities in the country, but Manuel knows it has so much potential to be more, unlock more doors, and open up new opportunities for students and employees alike. The university has always been in the service of the Filipino people, which also educates them about the realities of life and how the world essentially works. While this resiliency is commonly romanticized, Manuel sees it as undeniably patriotic.
“Lagi’t lagi naming binabanggit, ‘Mula sa ‘yo para sa bayan.’ Ito po ang identity ng isang PUPian. Buong husay na maglilingkod at magsisilbi para sa bayan. Nandyan ang Sintang Paaralan na kaisa sa pagtataguyod ng maunlad na bansa,” he expounds. “PUPians know that in everything they do, it must be for the country’s sake and for the masses.”
For Manuel, this is what makes PUP different from the other universities. “PUP taught me to accept where I am and honor where I am. Accepting where you are and realizing how far you still have to go and learn is another aspect of humility,” he explains.
The university has taught him life lessons that he carries up to this day, making him more grounded and humbled tirelessly. As the University President, Manuel has several plans that he wishes to implement to ensure that everybody is given the same chance as he was, decades ago.
The current PUP administration is now focusing on reaching the elusive National Polytechnic University status, which will eventually raise the university’s status and open more doors for the students.
“In the coming years, we would like to continue utilizing these by building better infrastructure, as well as higher educational standards. Several plans have been developed for PUP, and these plans will serve to demonstrate that the university is truly concerned with the interests of its stakeholders, particularly our students,” Manuel elaborates.
PUP has been a safe place for Manuel as a student, and as he sits as the University President, he also seeks to make students and employees feel at home within its walls. The university has been through various ups and downs during his administration, but one thing is for sure – he ensures that PUP will stay true to its nature of being a beacon of hope, critical thinking, and quality education for everyone. There is so much to look forward to, and Manuel is determined to do a great job at helping these plans become a reality.
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