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Life of Canadian PI by Ethel Clemente Fernandez

My name is Earl

by Ethel Clemente-Fernandez 

  Earl de Guzman Earl and mentor
Earl de Guzman, MSc, Engineering Intern
Earl with his mentor, Dr. Marolo Alforo
August 2012, days after Earl landed in Winnipeg

“You know the kind of guy who does nothing but bad things and then wonders why his life sucks? Well, that was me. My name is Earl.” – so goes part of the premise of the now defunct TV comedy series of the same title, but the protagonist’s fate is nothing like his namesake, Earl Marvin de Guzman, who has, so far, only done great things in his life.

In 2015, the first Philippine-educated Filipino engineer completed his Master’s degree in engineering at the University of Manitoba and eventually, Engineers Geoscientists Manitoba gained its first Filipino engineering intern through the completion of the Master of Science (MSc) in engineering option.

Meet Earl Marvin de Guzman, the person behind these distinguished accomplishments.

At a young age, Earl wanted to become a doctor and dreamt of healing the sick people.

In high school, he was transferred to a technical school and his dad wrote on his application form that he wanted to become an engineer someday, which as we already know, is not what he really wanted. He gave the school a chance in terms of what it can teach him. In his senior year, he needed to choose a university and what degree to pursue. In all his applications to top universities, he would write Architecture as his first option, then Civil Engineering next. De La Salle University accepted him to the Faculty of Engineering, as it does not have an Architecture program.

As engineering is not his profession of choice, he learned to become an engineer.

“The engineering profession is not something you want for you to become one, rather it is a process where you equip yourself with the right tools to be one. I know I wanted to be an engineer when I realized that I can make a difference with the tools I’ve mastered to practice the profession,” he said.

Indeed, he skilfully mastered the tools he was equipped with. Earl did not just earn his civil engineering degree. He graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2011.

He chose civil engineering over the other engineering disciplines because of its feats and contributions to the design, construction and maintenance of buildings, bridges, roads and dams, among others. “Who wouldn’t want to build a bridge and name it after himself, or build a tower and say I designed that?” he quips.

Earl was already specializing in structural engineering in the Philippines, when one of his university professors, Dr. Jonathan Dungca, received a request from a professor at the University of Manitoba, Dr. Marolo Alfaro. Dr. Alfaro was looking for a Master of Science (M.Sc.) student, and Earl was recommended for that position. The research, however, would be in geotechnical engineering. Thus, he was faced yet again with another crossroad in his life. Geotechnical is something that he needed to learn, not something he already loved.

“It was difficult for me to decide because I’ve always been in structural engineering. I talked to my parents about my options and between Canada and Japan; they were more comfortable sending me away to Canada because I can speak the language. The downside for them was that it was really far,” he said.

He came to Winnipeg in August 2012 after receiving a letter confirming his acceptance to the Faculty of Graduate Studies at the University of Manitoba. He did not have enough time to prepare, as he needed to immediately fly to Winnipeg a week after he received the confirmation. He had little time to say goodbye to his friends and other family members.

“I was excited to open a new chapter in my life. I never felt scared that I would be alone for the longest time. I was and still am career-oriented and I wanted to make something of myself,” he said of his journey to Winnipeg.

The move had its own set of challenges, the biggest of which for him at the time was finances. He had depended long enough on his parents and did not want to owe them so much more. “Going to graduate school was my personal decision and I wanted to be able to stand up on my own with moral support from them.” Working harder and taking in projects that can at least provide a bit of extra income to his base research salary eventually resolved the money problem.

Aside from financial issues, Earl admittedly had issues with roommates as well. He has already moved five times in the almost four years that he has been in Canada. He eventually ended up living alone. It is rather more expensive, but the comfort, security, peace and quiet that he’s experiencing is proving to be priceless.

“These are all manageable challenges and I knew I could always be the victor at the end of the day. It made me work harder because I never wanted to go home and if I did go home, I am the first person out of the house the following morning. To me it was a matter of avoiding the negativities that surround me and just keeping everything to myself and always believing there is something better for me the next day.”

Despite of the challenges, he once again proved that he could not only excel in any environment he was put in, but also be successful in this as well. Proof was that while completing his master’s degree, he has been a consistent recipient of teaching assistantship awards for various courses since Winter 2013.

With all the success he’s reaping, he’s grateful to his research supervisors who have guided him and made an impact on his education and career plans: his research advisor in structural engineering, Dr. Andy Oreta, provided direction in both research and practice; Dr. Dungca, the professor who recommended him to the M.Sc. position at the University of Manitoba in 2012; Dr. Alfaro, his M.Sc. and Ph.D supervisor gave him an excellent ground to demonstrate his qualities as a student, a researcher, a professional and as a person. “Dr. Alfaro is untiring in giving me advice in my research and career plans. I wouldn’t be where I am if not because of him,” he said. “All of my supervisors were very supportive of all my endeavours.”

Earl is currently a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) candidate in the civil engineering department specializing in geotechnical engineering and serves as a teaching assistant. He has been a University of Manitoba Graduate Fellow since May 2015 and was recently nominated for the prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship.

His advice to his students are also the rules he lives by:

  1. Believe in the superman that lives in you. Our limit is our own imagination.
  2. Trust in your ability to succeed. Passion to do your work right brings you a step closer to success.
  3. Choose the people you surround yourself with: they can make or break you.
  4. Acknowledge the people who help you in your work to succeed, but never ever let anyone take your work away from you for him or her to take credit for it.
  5. Always be open to new ideas and suggestions from other people. Never think you are the smartest person in the room, but rather someone who is always eager to learn new things.

While My Name is Earl abruptly and inconclusively ended its television run leaving viewers wondering in limbo, it is crystal clear to us that we can definitely look forward to greater things that will come to Earl Marvin de Guzman – MSc, Engineering Intern, and soon, PhD.

Ethel Clemente-Fernandez is a professional engineer registered in the province of Manitoba. She is an active member of the Filipino Members Chapter - Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Manitoba (FMC-APEGM)

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