National Engineering Center
The National Engineering Center is the research and extension arm of the UP College of Engineering.
Telling the NEC Story
Formally established on January 27, 1978, the National Engineering Center (NEC) has, through the years, served as the UP College of Engineering’s (COE) research and extension arm. It has trained countless professional engineers and non-engineers alike with its continuing education program. Aiding both government and industry through consultancy, the NEC has been at the forefront of engineering research and development in the country with its specialized research centers.
As NEC celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2008, some of the men and women who have stood at its helm and whose personal and professional vision have guided and helped shape this proud institution, have come forward to relate the NEC story.
During a COE faculty conference in the early 70s, then dean Prof. Alfredo L. Juinio proposed the idea of a national engineering center that would focus on research and development, consultancy, and continuing engineering education. With inputs from Dean Juinio, Dr. Edgardo S. Pacheco wrote the concept of a national engineering center. Dean Juinio also asked Dr. Pacheco, Dr. Leopoldo V. Abis, and Prof. Fortunato T. de la Peña to draft a decree.
In anticipation of the kind of expertise needed for the NEC, a total of 33 COE faculty members were sent abroad in 1977 to work on their graduate and post-graduate degrees under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) project entitled “Technical Assistance to the U.P. College of Engineering towards the Establishment of the National Engineering Center.”
The following year, Malacañang issued Presidential Decree No. 1295 creating the National Engineering Center as part of the University of the Philippines and distinct and separate from the UP College of Engineering.
The early years
The task of implementing the decree fell into the able hands of Dr. Leopoldo V. Abis, then the COE’s associate dean, who became the Acting Executive Director of NEC in 1978 and its Executive Director from 1979 to 1988. Prof. Fortunato T. de la Peña became his assistant in 1979 until 1988. They organized the NEC by getting a core group composed of Jackie Castillo, Lando Calso, Nora Cabrera, Alexander Aportadera, Noel Matic, and Nanette Pelaez and Rodrigo Anastacio who came in later. Complementing the staff was an advisory board composed of the Executive Vice President of the UP System as Chairman, Dean of the UP College of Engineering (COE), two members appointed by the UP Board of Regents, President of the UP Alumni Engineers (UPAE), Undersecretaries of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC), and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
Surmounting various challenges, the initial NEC team headed by Dr. Abis achieved the unexpected. From its modest office at the third floor of the COE building, the NEC grew out to having a separate building of its own in 1981. The existing specialized centers of the College of Engineering—the Industrial Research Center (IRC), the National Hydraulic Research Center (NHRC), the Training Center for Applied Geodesy and Photogrammetry (TCAGP), the Transport Training Center (TTC), and the Building Research Service (BRS) – were institutionalized under the NEC.
Continuing education programs were also established. One of those programs was the Engineering Education Project funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The objective was to upgrade the faculty and the facilities of engineering schools throughout the country. “The components of that program were distributed between the COE and the NEC. The COE took care of running the Master of Education Engineering Program. The NEC, on the other hand, took care of the short-term trainings which were conducted in the ten resource-based schools (considered to be the best in engineering) and twenty participating schools all over the country,” explained Prof. dela Peña. During its early years, the center already forged closer linkage with industry and government through various consultancy projects and partnerships. A consultancy unit was formed with faculty members—namely, Prof. Nestor Rañeses, Eugene Gonzales, and Prof. Edgardo Atanacio—as project and development consultants. They tried to scout projects for NEC. The Center managed projects on energy, partnering with the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Power Corporation. The partnership with DOE involved training people, particularly engineers, on energy saving and utilization and on alternative sources of energy. It also included designing and doing a feasibility study of putting up a fuels- and appliance-testing laboratory for DOE. The NPC project led to the discovery of the possible uses of fly ash in construction. NEC also undertook the “Preventive Maintenance Project” with the support of UNDP and United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). Laboratories, such as the microelectronics laboratory, machine equipment and design fabrication laboratory, and the computer laboratory, were also launched. Through a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) grant, the Publications and Engineering Information Service (PEIS) was set-up. The PEIS pioneered in the so called “Selective Dissemination of Information Project” where engineer clients could request certain types of information based on the journals and other materials that NEC was receiving. The NEC team also started coming out with the Philippine Engineering Journal in 1980.
Dr. Francisco L. Viray (Executive Director, 1988 to 1993) took over the leadership of NEC from Dr. Abis. Assisting him were Dr. Alexander P. Paran (Assistant to the Executive Director, 1988 to 1990), Dr. Angela D. Escoto (Assistant to the Executive Director, 1990 to 1991), and Prof. Artemio P. Magabo (Assistant to the Executive Director, 1991 to 1992; Deputy Executive Director, 1992 to 1995). Dr. Viray wasn’t going to rest on the NEC's laurels. His team sought to improve what Dr. Abis and Prof. dela Peña had already accomplished. For one, the Continuing Engineering Education Unit (CEEU), composed of faculty representatives from all engineering departments, was established. The CEEU updated NEC’s existing continuing education program and expanded the number of courses. In addition, incentive programs were established for the COE and NEC staff, new courses were developed, and facilities were improved. The support of alumni members who have important positions in the industry, government, and educational sectors led to consistently high number of participants in NEC’s training programs and more industry partnerships and joint undertakings. NEC was also able to provide free training programs to faculty members in the Western Visayas through a joint undertaking with then Bureau of Higher Education now Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).
Dr. Viray considers the unification of leadership of the COE and the NEC as the highlight of his term. “It was really the intention of the faculty that the Executive Director of NEC & the Dean of COE be one and the same. Since NEC is the research and extension arm of the college, it would be better to coordinate activities with only one person in charge.”
Prof. Magabo credits the spur of NEC’s development during Dr. Viray’s term largely in part with the unification of leadership. Many more COE faculty members became involved with NEC projects and activities than ever before. But the unification of posts also presented a different kind of problem never before faced by the NEC. “Dr. Viray saw the need for someone who would be able to run the day-to-day operation of NEC. There was no position available for this particular job when the NEC was created,” Prof. Magabo recalled.
That same year Prof. Magabo became NEC’s first Deputy Executive Director and he would serve under that capacity well into the term of Dr. Reynaldo B. Vea (Executive Director, 1993 to 1997), Dr. Viray’s successor.
During Dr. Vea’s term, the NEC took the lead role in the Engineering Science Education Project (ESEP) funded by the Department of Science and Technology. Dr. Vea contends, “There were lots of projects going on at that time but the ESEP turned out to have more lasting consequences.” Through ESEP, funds were poured for faculty, library, laboratory facilities, infrastructure development in general, and graduate students’ scholarships for 19 ESEP schools which accounted for 50% enrolment of engineering schools. One of the project’s results was the formulation of the Peer Evaluation Process (PEP) instrument, a set of criteria to evaluate the engineering programs in the various areas in engineering education against which the progress of the ESEP schools could be gauged after the implementation of the project. Outside of the project, the Foundation for Engineering Education Development (FEED) was set up to conduct the evaluation. According to Dr. Vea, “The FEED is now leading the effort for the Philippines to become a member of the Washington Accord, which is important for Filipino engineers to be able to become members of international registers of engineers.” The NEC’s involvement with the ESEP illustrates the NEC’s national scope. As Dr. Vea puts it, “NEC was created not only for UP. NEC has a mandate for manpower development for the entire country. So it is important that the executive director continues to be active in the technical panel for engineering education. Because it is one manner where we were able to exert influence in the direction of manpower development for industry… We have concerns bigger than UP, and NEC is the appropriate instrument for that. While the Dean takes care of the concerns the College, (s)he also has to think about national concerns as far as engineering education and engineering practice are concerned. That was the way I looked at it. That’s the way I still look upon it as being the role of NEC.” It was also under Dr. Vea’s term that the NEC received its accreditation as a Training Institution in the area of ‘Engineering and Technical Courses’ from the Civil Service Commission.
Into the 21st century
The last ten years of NEC were marked by significant involvement from the faculty of the COE. It was also during this period that the NEC progressed in terms of developing wide-ranging courses and trainings that cater not only to engineers but to non-engineers as well. All these accomplishments transpired not without challenges along the way.
In 1997, Prof. Edgardo G. Atanacio, took over the dual role of COE Dean and NEC Executive Director from Dr. Vea. This was considered a difficult period not only for the NEC but for the whole country as well, as the Asian region was then experiencing financial crisis. Many of the companies that send their employees to attend the center’s short courses and seminars were forced to take austerity measures. Enrollment in many of the short courses offered by the center went down. Dr. Aura C. Matias, who took over the post of Deputy Executive Director in 1996, had to oversee the day-to-day operations of the NEC, as well as creatively find ways to keep the center afloat. She managed this by implementing lecture series, instead of short courses, on pressing topics of the day, such as construction management and preventive maintenance.
Prof. Atanacio and Dr. Matias also faced the challenge of a lack of research initiative from within the COE faculty. “There were only a few faculty members that had the interest in research,” recounts Dr. Matias. “So our strategy at that time was to get big contracts, to get their feet wet. The projects were also mostly inter-disciplinary so we were able to tap into USAID and World Bank.” The researches ranged from climate change mitigation to public utilities and services. One such research, done in cooperation with the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), persists today in the form of the Public Assessment Water Services (PAWS). In 2002, Dr. Herman Mendoza became deputy executive director. He recalled the Engineering Enhancement Program of the NEC as one of its highlights at that time because of the close involvement of the faculty members from the Departments of Engineering Science, Mechanical, and Civil Engineering. “This was one training program wherein NEC staff experienced working and coordinating closely with the faculty,” he disclosed. The engineering enhancement program aimed to strengthen the basic engineering skills of the new engineering graduates and help them prepare for the industry and their respective licensure examinations.
Dr. Mendoza also asserts that it was imperative to maintain an atmosphere of unity and cooperation among the NEC Staff to develop and implement effectively the projects and training programs of NEC and to support the research & development initiatives of the College of Engineering.
But even then, the willingness of the faculty to do research and consultancy work for the NEC still proved to be a challenge. “In terms of consulting and research, not all faculty members were intent on doing these apart from their teaching jobs,” Prof. Atanacio revealed. It was a problem that constantly plagued the NEC from the very beginning, and one that would be mitigated by his successor, Dr. Rowena Cristina L. Guevara.
Under Dr. Guevara’s leadership as Executive Director of NEC and Dean of COE, her biggest challenge on her first year in 2004 was to initiate a paradigm shift in terms of faculty involvement in NEC activities. “We had to convince the faculty members that you have to help the NEC so that it can help you back. It was an enormous mindset change. Before, the faculty just minded their own work. But eventually we convinced them that we all have to work together,” Dean Gev, as addressed by her colleagues, reported. Although the results were not instantaneous, faculty members’ participation in NEC programs dramatically increased from 20% to 80%.
Aside from this initial success, the number of engineers and even non-engineers that were trained by NEC rose exponentially. The range of courses that the NEC was offering expanded. The links between the NEC’s projects and the COE’s graduate programs were also formalized. There are two NEC programs that are linked to the COE’s graduate programs. “One is with the National Electrification Administration and our Energy Engineering program, and the other one with the Philippine Constructors Association and the Civil Engineering program. With that last one, the COE also gained something from that engagement because the CE program now includes a Construction Management program, which we didn’t have before,” Dean Gev explained.
Today, the NEC has become, in Dean Gev’s own words, a “lean, mean machine” with people who have a passion to serve and to succeed. And it was made possible under the kind of leadership—fearless, visionary, and uncompromising—that these men and women exercised. This leadership is matched only by the dedication and hard work of the NEC staff.