An APCian in the Land Down Under – How to survive a tough education

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By: Rhea-Luz R. Valbuena

I am very thankful to APC for giving me the opportunity to be one of the Carnegie Mellon University-Australia (CMU-A) scholars who took the Advanced Certificate in Business Intelligence and Data Analytics (BIDA) along with Engr. Sergio Peruda of the School of Engineering (SoE) and Mr. Manuel Magbuhat of the School of Management (SoM). The program runs from March through December 2019, with the first semester held in Adelaide from March through May, and the last two semesters to be completed in the Philippines via synchronous and asynchronous online classes which will be hosted from both Adelaide and Pittsburg.

From left to right: Engr. Sergio Peruda (BIDA Scholar), Ms. Rhea Valbuena (BIDA Scholar), Dr. Tata Medado (President), and Mr. Manuel Magbuhat (BIDA Scholar)

It was really a dream come true to be mentored by high-caliber professors of Carnegie Mellon University. CMU has been known worldwide as the university for Computer Science and Information Technology. In 2015, CMU was ranked as the Best Information Technology school in the United States. It boasts of its alumni who founded many distinguished IT companies, such as James Arthur Gosling, the founder and lead designer behind the Java programming language, Charles Geschke of Adobe Systems, Marc Ewing of Red Hat, George Pake of Xerox PARC, Vinod Khosla, Andy Bechtolscheim of Sun Microsystems, and Jim Levy of Activision. CMU-A is the first international university in Australia that houses the prestigious Analytics Program. In 2016, CMU’s Heinz College that offers IT, Analytics, and Public Policy was awarded as the top academic institution for analytics and operations research by the prestigious Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS). With all these series of recognitions, who would not be blessed to be part of this prestigious university?

Partnering with CMU-A is a bold undertaking of APC as it embarks to become the training center and education partner of the industry for areas concerning analytics, artificial intelligence, blockchain, computer security, and process automation. I was tapped to represent the School of Computing and Information Technologies in the BIDA program. It was really the experience of a lifetime.

ADELAIDE

The first week in Adelaide was fairly relaxing. The laid-back atmosphere was very conducive for learning. The hundred-year-old architectural buildings were well-maintained. People were so nice and respectful toward one another. Cars patiently wait for pedestrians to cross the street. In fact, drivers would even encourage you to cross before they drive off. I have not seen any instances of pickpocketing. It’s generally a safe community.

ACCOMMODATION/VENUE

We have been provided with a very nice condo-style apartment. It has only been operational in January 2019 so the facilities were new and superbly clean. There were entertainment and study rooms, a gym, and a laundry area. Weekly activities for residents were conducted. The location was only a 15-minute walk to and from CMU-A. There were a lot of stores and restaurants that you could go to when you need something.

CMU-A

The building of CMU-A is about two hundred years old. I personally like the historical ambiance. The first week was really meant to help us settle down and become familiarized with the places, systems, and regulations. We met our classmates and they were very friendly. I was glad to see some Filipino classmates who were actually faculty members from other Philippine universities who availed the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) scholarship for the Master of Science in Information Technology and Public Policy program in CMU-A.

And now to THE REAL EXPERIENCE…

The people were very warm and welcoming. It was easy to feel like you “belong.” My classmates were very friendly. They came from different countries, namely India, China, Argentina, Indonesia, and of course, the Philippines. Professors are experts with an impressive track record. Many of them are recipients of various awards in their respective fields. The good thing about studying with international students (and having an international faculty) is the opportunity for everyone to bring in their unique experiences, culture, and global mindset. Many of my classmates are managers of different companies. You will really learn a lot just by listening to their stories during class discussions. My classmates are highly-skilled. I was impressed with their knowledge and competencies as they eloquently answered the questions of our professors during class lectures.

And that was the start of my realization as to what CMU education truly entails. It was what I could call my “grueling weeks” after the first week. The first two courses that we had to attend to were so intensive. Imagine a two-month course that had been shortened to two weeks because we arrived a bit late and the semester had already started. I realized the great importance of our Statistics course since it was foundational in the analytics program.

I had to work hard and persevere during my stay in Adelaide. The learning approach of CMU-A is akin to a personal learning exploration. The curriculum is very demanding (and crazy at times). While lectures are done by Professors, the real work of students come in the form of homework. If one does not persevere, he/she would not pass.

For me, it’s not okay to simply get a passing mark. Why? Everyone back in the Philippines was rooting for me. I owe my education and scholarship to APC and CMU-A. I brought with me the pride of being a Filipino. However, it surely wasn’t easy. Of course, it was not meant to be easy. One has to make a lot of sacrifices. For instance, since 11 of my Filipino classmates who attended the classes were in audit status (meaning that they would not be graded), then they were not required to submit their requirements. Thus, they could simply enjoy the sights and places of Adelaide during their free moments (which were a lot). At some point, I had wished to join them in one of their shopping sprees and tours, but I had to stay behind and finish my coursework. There was a time when I was hanging out with my classmates in one get-together dinner. I was doing my homework on a table while attempting to sing a song in the karaoke because I had a deadline to beat.

It was a regular practice to only have two to three hours of sleep if you were ever lucky to have one. Staying in the Uni overnight was common (universities are called uni in Adelaide). A lot of students were in the Uni even on Sundays and during the holidays! Our laptop was our best friend. The experience would push you to your limits because of the never-ending waves of assignments.

There were professors and teaching assistants who were very strict with getting the right answers. If one was not careful, he/she would be receiving a lot of deductions in his/her overall score. One had to submit an output that was not done just for the sake of submitting something – but these should contain the best answers that one could ever give. The answers should qualify as something that is worthy enough to be submitted to a CEO.

One has to be tool-oriented as well. When I had returned to the Philippines and started to have my online classes, using the online collaboration tools were necessary. Knowing the proper etiquette of using online video collaboration is a must. For instance, you must turn off your laptop’s microphone when you are not talking. You must also use the ‘raising hand’ feature of the software if you would like to talk in class.

Because of the brain-wracking assignments and hardships that one had to endure throughout the semester, receiving a good grade was really a special and wonderful feeling. There is that special pride in you that would cause you to proudly tap yourself at the back and say, “You’ve done well Kiddo!”

OTHER LEARNINGS / REALIZATIONS

• Writing and speaking in English is really a must.
• Math and good programming skills are required for you to understand and appreciate Data Mining, AI, and Analytics.
• Learning and passing the course really depends on how much time is spent on studying as well as doing the homework and other requirements.
• Hard work, dedication, and perseverance are important components that establish the quality of education that one attains.
• Cheating or plagiarism has no place in education. Education is meant for real learning and not for self-deception.

The experience made me a better person. It changed me to become someone who is ready for the next level in life – whether in personal aspects or career-wise. I will definitely miss Adelaide and CMU-A, along with the people whom I met along the way. Nonetheless, just like other CMU-A students, I am ready to share the inspiring world of Analytics to the global community. I am eager to imbue others with the importance of hard work and perseverance in all undertakings.