The graduation ceremony of July 2015 was a crucible.
Just over a year earlier, I had moved out of the Diploma in Computer Science program. I also stopped teaching in the Master of Information Systems and was told my services were no longer required in the Diploma in Land Valuation Management programs. With a bit of reluctance, my entire being as a UPOU faculty was thrown in the Bachelor of Arts in Multimedia Studies program to continue what my predecessor had started and bring more stability to its foundation and facilitate its moving forward.
I faced the challenge head on, working harder than I ever did before and ever thought possible. It was tough on me. But it was no cakewalk for anyone else involved, either. Restoring any semblance of order required clamping down hard on any bad practices which we had unwittingly perpetuated in the past. The structure of the BAMS program by itself is riddled with issues. Workarounds had to be employed, especially at the beginning, just to keep the whole thing running. But its management became progressively more difficult as the years went by, as the workarounds slowly turned into common practice. All the while, graduation rate continued to be awfully low and attrition rate felt like it was high and still rising. For sure, the resident population kept accumulating. Everyone involved at UPOU knew it had to change. And it was going to be my most important assignment.
Again… it was HARD. Students had to be straightened out and made to understand that following the rules was important. And I took out just about every approach I had on my playbook to at least have a chance to succeed, from playing nice, to being brutally honest, to copping the terror prof persona as best as I could – anything to get the students to buy into the process.
I knew that it would be years before I’d be able to see results. But knowing that provided no comfort to me in July 2015, when only five BAMS students graduated, and none of them attended their own graduation ceremony. For seven straight years, I had a role to play in the ceremony – as university marshall or as program marshall for DCS. There was always something. That year, I didn’t know my place. Of course, I ended up marching behind the faculty marshall. But it was a strange and depressing feeling. I wanted to just skip the whole thing after the obligatory pictorial session with the officials and go home.
In all fairness, it’s hard to blame the actual graduates back then. There were only five of them, and I did know that at least two of them wanted to be there, so much so, that one of them made it a point to attend the ceremony the following year. But that didn’t stop me from using this incident as fuel to the fire. There was no chance in hell I was going to let myself experience that day again.
It became obvious, that our system of managing things wasn’t the only one that needed fixing. There is a whole damn culture among BAMS students that needed a little tweaking. That’s when I started directly challenging their mettle, whether it’s about academics or what it means to be an Isko. I intimidated a bunch, angered a few, and prompted a few others to ignore me. But I do believe enough people started to listen. Because even though I’d openly complain and go on my occasional tirades, I would like to think I was endearing or amusing enough so people would keep listening and not get tired of me.
That was all that we needed. Sowing even just a few seeds can yield plenty given enough time. We just needed to keep tending to it. Trust the process, as they say. Did I mention it was hard? I constantly harbored doubt, wanted to give up multiple times, and asked to be replaced as BAMS PC at least twice. I had always had tendencies towards introversion. I had sporadically felt pangs of anxiety and depression since I was a teenager. But never did I think seriously of it until then. Perhaps what I felt for students with mental health issues was not sympathy, but empathy. It was a scary thought and I started to worry if it was affecting my judgment. I couldn’t afford mistakes – decisions being made impacted peoples’ lives, at least as far as academics went. But our process never stopped.
The number of graduates finally reached double digits at ten in 2016. And that time, some of them came. I will not even hide how relieved I felt when I finally marched as BAMS program marshall. And now, in September 2017, BAMS produced one of the largest number of graduates in the entire campus at 25, with 20 in attendance. And among those 20, are two who finished magna cum laude. This is unprecedented and I can’t help but feel proud of the moment, and proud for the students who were part of it.
However, I will not take credit for singlehandedly raising graduation rates. At the heart of this achievement is the work that all these students put in. They didn’t do it for me. They did it for their families and their careers. They did it for themselves. I only helped in showing them the way. Neither will I fail to acknowledge the help my colleagues at FICS provided for these students. Not once did my fellow faculty members come and tell me they didn’t want to teach in BAMS anymore. They never faltered in their willingness to gut it out in BAMS with me. This wouldn’t be possible either without our support staff and how they shouldered the processing of the paperwork which I have always had trouble keeping up with on my own.
The work is far from over. There is still a lot of students that need to finish – a lot more who have issues that need sorting out. So, why am I writing as if the story has ended?
The simplest answer I can give is that my time managing the program may or may not be coming to an end. Right now, I don’t know if I will be there next year to lead what would hopefully be a contingent even bigger than the one we had just now. If I am, then it’s all good. But if not, I step out knowing things are now better than it was when I stepped in and it is poised to get even better long after. I find comfort and a sense of achievement in that.