Eighteen year old Edrian Paul Liao is still ecstatic over a recent piece of good news. The son of a farmer and a former midwife in Isabela, he will be attending the prestigious Duke University in North Carolina this August. He’s just received a full scholarship in BS Mechanical Engineering, Minor in Computer Science—along with a Certificate in Aerospace Engineering.
The Philippine Science High School-Cagayan Valley (PSHS-CVC) graduate also snagged a full scholarship in BS Physics at Jacob’s University in Germany but he said in an interview with Smart Parenting that Duke, a private academic institution, has always been his first choice—even if he knew it would be difficult to get in. The university has produced Nobel Peace Prize winners and counts among its famous alumna former US President Richard Nixon, former Microsoft GM Melinda Gates, and Apple CEO Timothy Cook.
Edrian is the recipient of the Karsh International Scholarship Program assuring the student free full tuition, housing, food and mandatory fees at Duke which, Edrian tells ANCX, is some US$328,000. This doesn’t include funding for research and projects.
Edrian has since been interviewed by several media outfits because of all these good news. They presume he is a typical young achiever, reared by strict parents with daunting standards. But the province-bred lad says he happens to have folks who really believe in him. “Talagang supportive lang talaga sila po sa gusto namin,” he says. And by namin he means him and his two older sisters: the eldest, 27, is finishing a course in accounting; the second one, 23, is in medical school, and like Edrian is also a graduate of PSHS, or Pisay.
Many might also presume Edrian’s childhood involved a lot of cocooning at home, moored to a microscope or to beakers. “Batang kalye po ako,” he says, with pride. “Naglalaro po kami ng tumbang preso, patintero. Sa books, hindi ako palabasa ng fiction, more on mga pang math and science, kasi binibilhan din ako nila Mama at Papa.”
Even at a very young age, Edrian knew math was something he was good at. He found Math problems easy. “So naisip ko baka ito ’yong calling ko sa buhay,” he says.
He’s represented his school Centro de Cultura in international math competitions in Singapore and China. He got into the main Pisay campus in Diliman, Quezon City, but his mother didn’t want him to live so far away from the family—although Pisay’s Cagayan Valley campus is still two hours away from the Liao residence.
In Pisay, Ed lived in a dorm and immediately fell in love with the campus culture. His time away from family during his math competitions in grade school prepared him for life in Pisay.
“Hindi po talaga ako na-homesick kasi po no’ng grade school sa international math competitions, may in-house training, dire-diresto mga four days kami sa isang hotel. Mga three years consecutive ko po ’yon ginagawa. Nasanay na rin ako. Kapag na-ho-homesick, tumatawag lang ako kanila Mama.”
Edrian is especially interested in engineering, data science, and computer science, a little distant from what he wanted to be as a child, which is a doctor. Then, he studied in Pisay and realized there were so many other opportunities where knowledge in sciences could be used.
“No’ng grade school ako, gusto ko ma-involve sa agriculture din, kasi nga si Papa farmer,” he recalls. “Nong’ nagustuhan ko na ang engineering at tech, naghahanap na ako ng applications no’n. Lost po ako no’n. ‘Saan ko ba i-a-apply?’ Dapat kasi may driving force ka sa mga pinu-pursue mong career.”
The pandemic and the distance learning it enforced gave Edrian time to think about his path more thoroughly. When he was in grade 10, he met Hillary Andales, the Filipina who accepted a scholarship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge in 2019. They met at a gathering of students who have won math competitions. They formed a friendship. “Namulat ako kay Ate Hillary na mag-apply abroad,” he tells us.
Studying at home the past year gave him time to focus on his college applications, which proved to be arduous. “Ang number one talagang kalaban ko no’n is ’yong doubt,” he says. “You’re investing your effort into something na walang assurance na makukuha mo. Parang blind investment. Every time magko-call kaming mga mag-a-apply, tulungan kami: ‘Kaya mo ’yan, wag mo i-doubt sarili mo.’”
He did a lot of research on the universities he applied for, specially his top choice. “Nakita ko, wala pa palangPhilippines sa scholars sa Duke. Napaisip ako, being a Filipino, makaka-contribute ako ng new perspective sa community of scholars.”
Face-to-face classes at Duke will begin on August 23, but Edrian hopes to get there way earlier to familiarize himself. Right now, he’s home and taking it all in. He and the family have had their celebrations: “Kain lang po sa bahay at pasyal sa ilog,” he offers. His mother says she is already beginning to miss him. “Sinasabi niya, tatawag daw siya sa akin every day. ’Tapos nire-remind na ako na huwag masyadong kumain ng matamis, kasi may tonsillitis po ako.”
This early, Edrian is looking forward to bringing all his knowledge and experience back to his country. “Pagbalik ko sa Pinas, sana mai- apply ko ’yong matutunan ko sa different industries, lalo na sa agriculture,” he tells us. “Ang gusto ko sa Duke, focused sila sa tech and innovation. Prominent na prominent na ang agriculture dito, at may mga advancement na po, pero di po gano’n kabilis like other countries. Pagbalik ko, gusto ko makatulong ma-revolutionize ang Philippine agriculture.”
Photos courtesy of Edrian Liao