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The roundedness of Mando

6 Aug

Dr. Armando Somintac and his life outside the classroom and the laboratory

(Originally Posted on March 14, 2010)

Dr. Armando Somintac and his life outside the classroom and the laboratory

No, he’s not horizontally challenged. I am talking about his being a well rounded person.

Who would have thought that a Physics professor can do so much more than teaching, research, laboratory works and everything about Physics?

Dr. Armando Somintac or Mando as his friends call him is a certified Bird Photographer, a seasonal basketball player, an aspiring guitarist and a hands-on dad.

I don’t want to be inside a box. I don’t want to be a square. People will just step on you if you’re a square. But if you’re a circle, you get to roll and enjoy…” This is how he responds when asked why he still finds time to do other things outside his calling as a Physics professor.

He definitely doesn’t want to be enclosed in a box. He wants to explore his surroundings. He doesn’t want to be boxed in science and math. He also wants to appreciate nature and art.

And what is a good combination of nature and art? For Dr. Somintac, that is Bird Photography.

Now Bird Photography is not as simple as it sounds. Birds as we know it are always on the move, always ready for flight. “Mahirap siya talaga. Kaylangan mo magbilad sa initan para lang hintayin yung mga birds. But it’s very rewarding ‘pag nakuha mo yung shot na gusto mo.”, says Dr. Somintac.

He narrates that his interest was rooted from his usual hikes in Zambales with his dad. His dad practically introduced him to nature. He still remembers how he was taught of the names of the trees, the fruits, the birds and everything that can be found in the mountains during hiking. His exposure was strengthened when he worked for a Mining company in Baguio that was near the forest. “It is inevitable to love nature”, explains Dr. Somintac. When he started teaching in UP Diliman, he immediately fell in love with the number of trees surrounding the University. so when he wanted to relieve himself of stress in the laboratory, he would walk around the campus like a zombie, not being able to recognize friends as he passes by. This exercise has allowed him to meet Birdwatchers and from then on decided to become a Bird Photographer.

He is currently a member of Philippine bird photographers. But he explains that he does not bird watch nowadays because of the heat that’s also keeping the birds from visiting the campus. He adds that the best time to observe birds are around October or November. According to him, birds come out between six to eight o’ clock in the morning and three to five o’ clock in the afternoon.

In the meantime, he finds pleasure in playing with his adorable two-year old daughter who is very fond of the famous cartoon Dora, the explorer. He also spends time teaching her some basic skills like knowing how to get down a chair. During weekends, he brings the family to Riverbanks, where a Play Place can be found for her very active daughter.

Dr. Armando Somintac is also an aspiring guitarist. Every first semester, he finds time to play a music piece of a band that has been translated to be played by a single guitarist. He shares that he was influenced by his family of musicians. His dad and younger brother are gifted in a way to learn to play a music they hear from the radio or audio player in just a few seconds. And we’re not only talking about guitars here, his dad and younger brother have no trouble working on any available music instrument. Now Dr. Somintac admits that he’s not as good as his family but he really tries to be good at playing the guitar. This is very difficult for him noting his being a left-handed person. At first, he had to do all sorts of things like re-arranging and reversing the strings of his guitar. Later, he learned that he can buy guitars designed for left-handed musicians. His favorite songs include Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody and Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror.

Now Dr. Somintac is also concerned with his physique. He shares that he can’t help growing old so he wants to be as physically fit as possible. He plays basketball every Monday when his friends and researchers invite him. He says he’s also tried bowling, table tennis and volleyball.

It’s really not surprising to know that there are threads in the web talking about Dr. Somintac. At 37, he’s often included in the list of professors in UP Diliman that is considered as “Crush ng Bayan.” When asked to comment about it, he just said that he heard it a long time ago but it must have been when he was a new professor, back when he used to handle two classes per semester consisting of 120 students each. He adds that it must also be because students are fond of his attempt in being a comedian. He does this to make discussions lighter. He explains that Physics itself can be a boring class for students so it’s up to him to make the students feel that Physics is also something they can enjoy if given the right focus and determination. He adds that he always tells the students that if he cannot make them remember it, then he won’t include it in the exams.

Truly, Dr. Somintac is a very well rounded person. He maintains his expertise in his profession while finding time to get to know a little and sometimes much about everything. Because just as his life motto goes, “if you plan to do it, do it right.”


Dr. Maria Corazon de Ungria

6 Aug

(Originally posted on December 18, 2009)

Dr. Maria Corazon A. De Ungria is one tough woman.

When most of the women are busy cooking, shopping or socializing with their friends, Dr. de Ungria is in the University of the Philippines National Science Research Institute (UP NSRI) DNA Analysis laboratory dealing with human body parts.

She plays a major role in resolving forensic cases as requested by the university, government agencies and private clients.

Dealing with cadavers is one thing but what’s “mentally and emotionally straining” for her is seeing the sufferings of those who are alive but couldn’t find justice, those who were victims of abuse and heinous crimes, those whose human rights were violated.

But these were nothing compared to the perks that she get from this job. For her, being a scientist is a very challenging and mind stimulating job which she enjoys a lot. She loves to answer the questions that would reveal the truth which means resolving the case. She also enjoys helping the students appreciate science. “Compensation is not great but people will find satisfaction..”. She adds that she get to experience the best and worst of one world. She can talk to policy makers or the urban poor. She can stay at a hotel or in the slum. Wherever she may be, she tries to “touch the hearts of people” that she speaks with. As she said, “…in my small little ways, I can help people have a better life.”

“Science. Science. Science.”

One may conclude that Dr. Ungria has been born for science. Her mind has always been set to science and never imagined to be in any other field and studying in Philippine Science High School has helped empower her passion. She took her Undergraduate and Doctorate degrees in The Macquarie University and University of New South Wales, Australia respectively, where she was given partial scholarship.

Much is given, much is required

“Everytime I asked and sought assistance …people have reached out to help me.”
After graduation, she originally planned on taking a worriless, stress free vacation at home. But it only took more than a week for her to magnify her calling as a scientist. “I got bored so I told my parents I will be going out. I went to UP and I was offered to head a laboratory with no equipment and money.” But needless to say, the young scientist knew she was home.

Dr. de Ungria received a lot of offers to work abroad including UK, China, Singapore and Australia but she still chose to serve her countrymen. Just like the old saying, “There is no place like home.” She could have gone to other countries and made more money but she still opted to serve her nation.

She feels blessed and thought that it’s time to give back through ways where she knows she’s best.

Of all the recognitions she received, she couldn’t compare the happiness that she gets whenever she sees happiness and satisfaction from her parents, friends, family and everyone that she cares about.

Dr. de Ungria knows that her job is an uphill battle to initiate change and there are risks involved but this wouldn’t stop her – because she is one tough woman.