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A Chemical Engineer Top 1, Against All Odds

Disclaimer: This is rehashed from an article I wrote in November 2017 for GineersNow. Some parts, particularly on the answers of the interviewee in the Q&A, may have changed.

Remington Salaya is my batchmate in Central Philippine University in Iloilo City. He was in the chemical engineering department, I was in civil engineering. In our last term, we shared a class which was correlation or review, attended by all graduating engineering students.

In that class, our professor would ask random questions about mathematics like formulas and concepts, to check if we were ready to graduate or pass our respective board exams. No one is spared from the recitation every meeting. A wrong answer solicits 5 pesos ($0.10 cents) from the students, the sum of which was spent on food, which the entire class enjoyed, at the end of the term. I distinctly remember this group of chemical engineering guys who never miss to answer the questions. They were pretty consistent about it, because, well, almost all of them are scholars. One of those guys in the group is Remington.

He is smart and sharp. No wonder Remington is always in the dean’s list since first year, and he proved this intellectual ability in our review class. That is how I personally witnessed the brilliance of this guy.

But unbeknownst to many, including me, Remington was experiencing tough personal challenges at the time.

His mother died when he was a first year engineering student and his father suffered a heart attack about three years later. For this, he had to take care of his five siblings, only one of which is older.

Not only that, Remington is already a father prior to graduating engineering. Together with his partner, he looked after his own son while being a guardian to his siblings.

It is difficult to imagine how he managed to finish his engineering course with flying colors given his financial situation: Remington led the Engineering Class of October 2014 as Cum Laude.

His struggles did not end in engineering school, as there was extreme pressure on him to do well in the chemical engineering board exam. He accepted the challenge.

Throughout his preparation for the board exam, his mindset was to become a topnotcher. He remained determined against all odds. I got to chat with Remington over Facebook prior to our respective board exams in May 2015. Mine was only a week or two ahead of his, but we already exchanged our wishes for the best results in April.

“I hope you top your board exam,” I said, thinking that it is already given that he will pass.

He wished the same to me. I was not able to deliver.

But he did.

Remington got a rating of 83.30%, enough to place first in the chemical engineering board exam. He is one of the 239 takers out of 405 who passed.

Recently [November 2017], I caught up with Engr. Salaya and asked a few things about his journey as an engineer so far. I discovered that he now works as a Project & Development Engineer [in 2020, he is already the Operational Excellence Manager] at Capiz Sugar Central, Inc. in President Roxas, Capiz.

Student Life

Why did you choose this course? Who or what was your inspiration?

I chose chemical engineering because I don’t draw that much to be qualified as a civil engineer or an architect though my father is a civil engineering graduate. My strength is in chemistry and mathematics and life has led me to this degree. I was qualified as a DOST-SEI scholar and the only option that I had was chemical engineering. My mother was bed ridden in the hospital then.

My inspiration is my family because I wanted to lift our lives from poverty. I finished high school without home electricity, literally doing ‘sunog kilay’ on exam days. I wanted to rise from the soil we have been on. My mother died when I was a freshman and she was the main reason I chose chemical engineering. I wanted to develop a process for which she can survive but my graduation day was too far and too late.

What are your favorite subjects in your entire engineering study? How about least liked subjects?

Favorite subjects are mathematics, chemistry, unit operations, transport phenomena, quantitative methods in management, and process and plant economics. Least liked were the minor subjects. I wanted to focus in the majors but what can I do if these are required.

Have you had any subject failures or disappointing academic performance to the very least? If yes, what did you do about it? How did you cope?

Well, I failed a midterm exam in chemical engineering thermodynamics but I nailed -100% – my finals so I did not totally fail.

Whenever I have academic failures, I just forget about it and move on.

Actually, I had this group ‘Mang-Forty’ in college where we go out after exams to forget those things. Sometimes, we just need to freshen up and move on to overcome failures.

Do you have any study tips or tricks that you think others should emulate from you?

Hmmm…. study tips?

Well, it is good to jot down notes during discussion but it is better that you listen attentively during discussion rather than focusing on writing down notes.

During studying, it is good to write down concepts in your own understanding in bullet form rather than copy paste everything. Also, in solving engineering problems, try solving it on your own. Do not easily give up, browse the internet after you have your solution, and then check. If your answer is incorrect then try solving it again using the information you got from the internet. Else, if you really have no idea, better browse for similar problems and solve it. In engineering, it is helpful to collaborate with your fellows to solve difficult problems but be sure that you understand them.  After all, engineering is a collaborative profession. Also, better have a cork board to put your formulas, and your greatest desires, like mine being a topnotcher. This way you easily remember them and stimulate your mind.

Board Exam Experience

What were the greatest struggles that you experienced while preparing for the board exam? What did you do to overcome them?

Before the board exam, well, I am already a father to a son when I graduated so the problem is in finance. Financial problem was inevitable but I managed. I was raised to be resourceful so I just have to keep my P5,000 budget a month for essentials. I lived for free in my uncle’s apartment-for-rent in Karangalan Village, Pasig although my review center is in Morayta. I had to accept the lodging even if the location was a bit far.

Did you enroll in a center for your review? Do you recommend doing so? Which one did you go to? I enrolled in Manila Review Institute Inc. for an in-depth review. I did not go for a refresher course after. I went back home to my son for a month-long vacation to unwind before exams.

I recommend MRII as they tapped everything that you need for review. Facilities are nice, location is accessible, materials are detailed enough. I would like to emphasize that depending on your review center is not enough, you have to combine your own effort. You also have to rest. It’s best to cast your fears and calm your nerves before the board exam. This way you won’t experience mental block. Also, put God first.

How did you find the board exam? Easy, average, or difficult?

Over-all, board exam was difficult. I only had 83.3%. Day 1 was the most difficult, while Day 2 and 3 were average.

What were your expectations after you took the board exam and before the results were out? Did you have a feeling that you will be at the top?

I expected to pass because I was confident enough in the Days 2 and 3 even if I had difficult in Day 1.

But the night before the results were out, I was anxious. I never imagined failing but I imagined being the topnotcher, thinking about this made my heart skip a beat. This was my greatest desire before starting review and I actually have a ‘Topnotcher – Number 1’ post-it note on the wall near my study table.

What did you do the first minute you discovered you topped the board exam?

I was riding the jeepney when the results came out. I called Ian, my classmate, asking about the results, and he informed me that I made it. I almost screamed at the top of my lungs how thankful I am to God but I was in a Jeepney from UP Diliman. I instantly looked for a computer shop nearby to verify the results and also to take a pee that time. I confirmed it and posted a screen grab to praise God and thank my benefactors.

Who do you owe your success to?

I owe my success to God, family, relatives, Uygongco Foundation, Inc., and DOST-SEI. Without them, I won’t be successful

What incentives did you get from your university and review center after your board exam success?

CPU rewarded me 10,000. MRII – 50,000. CPUAAII – 10,000. Engr. Rey Cordova – 10,000. A fellow Centralian – 5,000. Uygongco Foundation, Inc.  – 10,000.

Give 5 important tips for future board exam takers who aim to become topnotchers.

  1. Write formulas, post them, and read them everyday.
  2. Practice solving, if you can’t solve it on your own, browse references.
  3. Read and jot down concepts in your own words.
  4. Conduct pre-board exams on your own.
  5. Pray, don’t be afraid. Remember, God is always with us.

Job as an Engineer

How did becoming a topnotcher give an impact in your present engineering job?

Being a topnotcher puts much pressure in my job. I became very respected by my fellows and down the line personnel. It is difficult to do something wrong because I have to prove myself everyday.

What is the most satisfying thing about being a working engineer? How about the hardest part?

Satisfying part is that you see the things you once draw in blueprints, flowsheets, and plans. Also, it is always the best day ever if my proposals and purchase requests are approved. Hardest part is to manage personnel when you really need to be on their language using their jargons.

Is there something that you wish you knew prior to this job?

I wish I had much contact on actual works in engineering firms rather than having my on-the-job training supervising a processing plant and doing analytical works in the lab.

What is your long-term goal as a registered engineer?

I wanted to have my own business for my family and my son to continue building.

Do you know any engineering topnotcher that is worth a feature on this website? Let me know! E-mail

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