Son of a Cagayan Valley farmer receives competitive U.S. scholarship

Published December 29, 2020, 10:47 AM

by Kerry Tinga

Edrian Liao from Cauayan, Isabela plans to focus on the agricultural applications of aerospace engineering to help Philippine farmers

Applying to college is stressful for any teenager, but it cannot be denied that some have greater advantages over others. When Edrian Liao, a senior at Philippine Science High School (Pisay) – Cagayan Valley Campus, applied to his dream school, Duke University, ranked among the top five universities in the U.S., he knew that his family could not afford even a fraction of the school’s $57,000 (over ₱2.5 million) yearly tuition. Even if he made it within the university’s highly competitive 9 percent acceptance rate, it was still a long shot that he could even attend.

“The results came out at exactly eight a.m.. After preparing myself for a deferral or a rejection, I clicked the ‘view status’ button and there it was… my future,” says Edrian. “I didn’t read the contents of the letter. I just saw blue confetti sprinkling all over the screen. I jumped with joy, hugging my family.”

“‘But wait,’ I thought to myself… I opened the financial aid award letter and there I saw the scholarship. They gave me more than I asked for. Almost 95 percent of the costs were covered by Duke’s very generous aid grant.”

“And just like that,” he continues, “I took a big step – a leap – into my future.”

From Cagayan Valley

A retired farmer and seed producer, Edrian’s father finished agricultural engineering at Isabela State University. This instilled in Edrian an understanding of the importance of education and technology in the ancient practice of farming. With that in mind, the Pisay senior plans to study aerospace engineering at Duke, focusing on the field’s agricultural applications that could help Philippine farmers.

But as education opens countless doors for this farmer’s son, the possibilities are endless.

Edrian Liao at Philippine Science High School – Cagayan Valley Campus / Photo courtesy of Edrian Liao

When Typhoon Rolly and Typhoon Ulysses hit, Edrian recalls, several barrios were flooded with rainwater and the water from Cagayan River, just a few meters from his own home. While many saw on the news how Cagayan Valley was devastated by the events, Edrian witnessed first-hand people in his community evacuating their homes, suffering in the aftermath of the natural disaster, the crops and livelihood of farmers like his father severely affected.

“I came to think of what might be one application of my desired career in aiding not only the farmers but also the residents to be prepared in these times through the use of aerospace technology,” says Edrian. “With more accurate microsatellites, farmers could be warned of incoming downpours; thermal imaging data and weather pattern analysis could determine what factors can be modified to upscale their harvest and profit from farming.”

Photo courtesy of Edrian Liao

In his own community, Edrian encourages other students to pursue maths and the sciences. He founded a non-profit organization called π-oneers (pronounced Pioneers), through which he and 50 other volunteers tutor high school students in math, biology, chemistry, and physics.

“Hopefully,” he continues, “together with the budding and persistent youth, we will be advocating for scientific advancements that will address relevant societal issues.”

To infinity and beyond

When he was younger, Edrian’s dream was to be a doctor (his older sister is currently pursuing medicine). While in Japan for the Sakura Science Plan exchange program, however, he got to explore more industries. He visited Hiroshima University, Takehara Marine Science Station, and, finally, the Astrophysical Science Center.

“That was where I found my true passion for space technology,” says Edrian. “At first, I was hesitant, because no research university in the Philippines offers this major. But it was my determination and persistence that made me think of applying abroad for a scholarship at a prestigious U.S. university offering a top-notch mechanical and aerospace engineering education.”

Edrian Liao in Japan as part of the Sakura Science Plan exchange program / Photo courtesy of Edrian Liao

With limited knowledge of the U.S. college application process, Edrian sought out help from two non-profit organizations: CAMP Philippines and CAUSE Philippines. Both were instrumental in his recent success, and “pure hope” allowed him to survive the stressful college process.

This is only the beginning of what will no doubt be an inspiring journey for Edrian. While he hopes to come back and work for the newly-established Philippine Space Agency (PSA), he acknowledges that there is so much to explore in college that might change the course of his future.

Nevertheless, Edrian adds, “Lagi’t lagi para sa bayan! And I would say that to every kid and teenager that will be reading this article: we do not just study to be successful and get ahead in life, but also to help communities that we are part of.”