“The teacher, if he is indeed wise, does not bid you to enter the house of his own wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.” – Kahlil Gibran
UST’s alpha scientist, its first faculty member who became an Academician of the National Academy of Science and Technology, is known by many accolades, titles, and recognitions, but is most loved for being a mentor.
A chemist. An inventor. A researcher. A teacher. A Thomasian. These are just some of the hats that a humble yet brilliant man named Fortunato B. Sevilla III holds. A professor par excellence, “Fortune” is UST’s latest “Professor Emeritus,” the highest title and recognition that the University of Santo Tomas can bestow upon a faculty member.
A Full-Blooded Thomasian
Fortune graduated from the University of Santo Tomas, where he finished his primary, secondary, and tertiary studies. Not only did he finish his studies here, he did so splendidly, graduating Summa cum Laude in 1968 with a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry. It was then no surprise that he will teach in UST, and has been with UST since the late 1960s.
Discovering the Love for Sensors
After almost two decades of teaching chemistry, he received a scholarship from the British Council to pursue his master’s degree in Instrumentation and Analytic Science in the University of Manchester, United Kingdom. This he did successfully, along with his earning his doctorate degree in the same field.
This training on instrumentation solidified Fortune’s love for coming up with low-cost yet effective and accurate sensors. At that time, no one was doing sensors research in the Philippines. It can safely be said, then, that Fortunato B. Sevilla III, PhD is the pioneer of sensors research in the country.
A Research Style
Fortune’s fascination with science and discovery made it a no-brainer for him to fall in love with research. However, as he observed researchers and scholars, he realized one style that he can adopt and hopefully use to make an impact: to stick with one research domain and be the best at it rather than try out everything.
“I realized that if you stick to just one field, isa lang, makikilala ka later on as the expert in that field. Automatic name recall, and that develops depth as well.”
We Have Arrived
Fortune learned from having a singular research focus that not only can a researcher establish a reputation as an expert, but he/she can also help his/her institution be known for that particular field. Fortune expresses joy that research in the University and the Philippines has progressed. “Before, part of the experiments had to be done with partner institutions abroad. Ngayon, pwedeng 100% dito na sa Pilipinas. We have researches that were done 100% here.”
A Well-Meaning Advocacy
Fortune is also known for being one of the few professors in the Philippines who teaches the sciences, specifically Chemistry, in Tagalog. He said this was inspired by his experience in the University of Manchester. “I went to the area where foreign students were studying, and I saw that the Brazilians had a chemistry book in their own language; the Malaysians had their own, too,” recalled Fortune in Tagalog. “Sabi ko, ‘Hindi yata tama na tayo wala.” This sparked his advocacy to teach chemistry in the native language.
When he came back, Fortune taught chemistry using Tagalog, to immense success and comprehension among students, but to some resistance in the face of a larger move to use English as medium of instruction. “Katabi ng klase ko ‘yung faculty room ng English department, pero tuloy lang ako.” This was echoed in his speech upon being recognized as Professor Emeritus in September 2015: “Sa pagtuturo ng agham at kemistri, mas mabuti kung ito ay malalapit sa araw-araw na kabuhayan. Madali itong maisagawa kung mga panayam o lecture ay ginagawa sa wika na ginagamit sa araw-araw, ang wikang Filipino. Madali at malalim ang pagtanggap ng panayam kapag ang mga salita ay pamilyar. Malayo ang mararating ng hinatid na dunong kapag ito ay ipapasa sa mga tao sa labas ng Pamantasan. Mabilis na mai-uugnay ang agham sa pang-araw-araw ng kabuhayan sa ganitong pamamaraan.”
It came as no surprise, then, that this advocacy became a centerpiece of his being awarded UST’s second festschrift in 2014. Sevilla reaped recognition not just from peers and former students, but from people in the field of languages, for being a man who vigorously bridged the gap between the sciences and the national language, which as early as 1973 was designated as a language for social sciences, civics, and history, but never for learning science.
Universally Loved by His Students
Fortune’s affable nature, genuine love for learning and teaching, and frank, decisive, yet gentle disposition make for a natural magnet for students who want to learn. The epitome of someone who passes on his knowledge on to others, Fortune has trained and mentored several batches of instrumentation scientists—some who developed their own love for sensors and others who later on branched on to other fields, taking with them the wisdom they learned from the alpha scientist of UST.
Fortune continues to teach even at the undergraduate level, where he both shares his love for chemistry and cultivates the same in the future generation of Thomasians. He advises researchers and collaborates with peers on new studies.
As Fortune embraces the continued development of teaching methods, he firmly believes in the immeasurable influence of the teacher: “Mag-iiba man ang teknolohiyang pantulong sa pagturo, kahit mag-iba ito, kailangan pa rin ng katauhan ng guro sa pagtututo ng estudyante. Hindi maaaring maghatid ang kompyuter ng isang role model para sa mag-aaral. Mag-iisang huwarang ang guro sa harap nila nang ilang buwan o taon, mula sa pagdadamit o pagsasalita o pagkikilos, isang huwaran ang guro. Pero higit doon, huwaran din siya sa pag-iisip at sa pag-aaruga ng mga estudyante. Mas malakas ang dating sa mga mag-aaral ang kanilang nakikita kesa sa nadidinig nila. Makalipas man ang limampung taon, natatandaan pa rin ng mag-aaral ang kanilang guro na nagturo sa kanila, ngunit hindi ang kompyuter o PowerPoint presentation.”
The Guiding Force
People who have been mentored by Fortune have only good things to say about the alpha scientist, but one thing that binds their admiration is the fact that Fortune is the endless source of great and challenging ideas that push them to their limits, yet is also the same source of encouragement to persevere and eventually succeed.
Professor Emeritus: In Service to the Students and the University
On September 3, 2015, Professor Fortunato B. Sevilla III, PhD, who by then had given 46 years of his life in service of his students in the University of Santo Tomas, was elevated to the rank of Professor Emeritus in auspicious ceremonies witnessed by the Thomasian community and Sevilla’s peers from outside UST.
The day was a fitting tribute to someone who made UST the hub of sensors researchers in UST and who proudly wore the Thomasian stripes wherever he went. In classic Fortune fashion, though, he reaped praises not on himself but on his peers and students—past, present, and future—as he underscored the kind of relationship that a student and teacher can have while learning:
“Ang tambalan ng guro at estudyante ay pamhabambuhay o mas mahaba pa sa buhay o pang sa walang hanggan. Hindi mabubura ang kanilang pangalan sa kanilang inakdang papel na lumabas sa publikasyong internasyonal. Madalas, nauuna ang pangalan ng estudyante at sa huli ang pangalan ng gurong gumabay sa kanya. Walang sama sa loob ang guro sa ganung kaayusan o bilin dahil minsan siya rin ay naging estudyante na pinauna ng kanyang guro sa pagsulat ng kanyang pangalan sa publikasyon.
Ang tambalan ng guro at estudyante sa pananaliksik ay lumalawig o lumalalim tungo sa personal na buhay. Nagiging matalik na kaibigan ang dalawa. Nagiging ninong ang propesor sa kasal ng estudyante. Nakikita ko bilang isang Propesor Emeritus na madagdagan at dadami pa ang aking inaanak sa kasal. Mapalad ako at marami pa akong estudyanteng matuturan o ang estudyante ang mas mapalad. Maswerte ako at madadagdagan pa ang mga research paper na aking ma-a-akda kasama ng estudyante.”