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Rejected at Military School, Now an Engineering Topnotcher

She had made it to the Top 7 with a rating of 89.35!

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Mining Engineering Topnotcher


Life doesn’t always give us what we want but offers the path to where we are supposed to be instead.

Just take it from this August 2019 Mining Engineer topnotcher who initially wanted to be a pilot of the Philippine Air Force but is now working as a tenement officer in Zamboanga del Norte.

Sweet Chylka Maeh Dela Cruz, or mostly known as Sweet, didn’t plan on taking up Mining Engineering at all. In fact, the degree wasn’t even her second or third choice.

What she really wanted was to take up one of three courses: accountancy, computer engineering, or computer science.

However, when her uncle-in-law convinced her grandparents to let her enroll in the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), she eventually agreed and decided to be an Air Force Pilot instead.

The change in plans shocked her for a while, when she learned that she passed the entrance exams for PMA at only 16 years old, she admitted that she was excited to enter PMA.

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But since one had to be 17 to take the medical exams for PMA, she decided to take up BS Criminology in the meantime.

But life had other plans for Sweet. Due to some medical issues, she didn’t pass the medical exams for PMA and had to think of a back-up plan instead.

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She decided to transfer to Mindanao State University – Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT) and take the course less known, Ceramics Engineering.

After a year, though, Sweet decided to shift to Metallurgical Engineering.

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But she changed her mind and wrote Mining Engineering instead on the day that the shiftees were evaluated.

When she received her approved shiftee form from the department chairman, the words “Mining Engineering” was written on it in bold, red ink, and that was when she realized that there was no turning back now.

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Sweet’s college life still didn’t sail smoothly from there.

In fact, she shares that college had been a roller coaster ride for her.

During those years, she got distracted by her failed relationship and, at the same time, lost her grandfather, who raised her and stood as her father figure.

To top it off, she was also struggling financially.

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Because of these, Sweet couldn’t focus on her studies anymore and lost a lot of weight and sleep.

She also started doubting herself and regretting her decisions, leading her to drink out every night to drown her pain. She typically did this even before exams, and eventually, this caused her to almost fail two subjects in one semester.

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Fortunately, she woke up one day and decided to turn her life around. She repeatedly reminded herself that as the eldest of the family, she had to be strong for those who depend on her.

She knew that if her grandpa were alive, he wouldn’t be happy seeing her in such a state.

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So after quite some time, Sweet began to help herself up and look for freelance jobs online. She became a freelance PowerPoint specialist, and the pay was good enough to cover her personal expenses and more.

She also started taking her studies more seriously and immediately caught up with her classes.

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She continued all the hard work until June 2019, when she finally graduated with a well-deserved Cum Laude medal.

However, Sweet’s journey was far from over as she still had to conquer the Mining Engineering August 2019 board exams.

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Since she had only two months to prepare for the board exam, she immediately enrolled in a review center, whose classes began at the end of May.

They were then given a week to rest for their graduation in mid-June, and immediately after, they started the review classes again. The last week of July was their last days to prepare for the board exams on August 6 to 8.

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It was quite safe to say that Sweet was pretty overwhelmed with the pile of materials that she needed to read, solve, and memorize, all in a span of two months.

It challenged her health, and she even got sick during the review.

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But she was determined to push through and decided to make a strict schedule to follow.

She believed that following her schedule religiously would significantly help her manage her time wisely, and she wasn’t wrong. By planning her week ahead, she already knew what to expect, making her time more productive.

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She also made sure to get enough sleep every night despite sleeping late.

In between her review sessions, she would treat herself to intermittent breaks and watch an episode of Fairy Tail or FRIENDS, as well.

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On the day of the board exams, Sweet found the questions really tough and challenging, especially on the third day when the exams were about Metallurgical Engineering and Geology.

Because of its broad coverage, she was never sure what questions would pop up.

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That was why at the end of the three-day exams, Sweet’s hopes of making it to the Top 10 faded.

However, life has ways of surprising us. When the results came out a day later, Sweet was shocked to see her name not only on the list of board passers but also on the Top 10 list! She had made it to the Top 7 with a rating of 89.35!

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She was too surprised at the results that she even asked her friend to confirm that she wasn’t just dreaming.

She then immediately called her loved ones to share her excitement at the good news.

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When asked how being a topnotcher changed her life, Sweet said, “Being considered one boosted my confidence, something I didn’t have in the past.

I remember what my sister told me upon hearing the news, “Ate, I feel like you can be whoever you want to be.

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I’m so proud of you”. And then it struck me; even I can surprise myself, I just have to believe it. I used to tell myself that it’s all just luck. But now, I am able to remind myself that ‘It’s you, Sweet. You did it.'”

I managed to get a talk with Sweet on Facebook, and here is the full transcript of the interview.

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Student Life

Why did you choose this course? Who or what was your inspiration?

Mining Engineering was not my first course, nor my second or third.

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I chose accountancy, computer engineering and computer science in my college applications.

However, I took up BS in Criminology as preparatory for PMA after I passed their entrance exam. However, things did not go as planned due to some medical issues.

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I transferred to MSU-IIT and took the course less known, Ceramics Engineering. And after a year, I planned to shift to Metallurgical Engineering.

However, shiftees are evaluated on the last day of enrolment (if my memory serves me right).

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At that moment, I wrote Mining Engineering instead and went to be evaluated by the department chairman.

After evaluation, she wrote on my shiftee form, in red ink, “MINING ENGINEERING”.

There’s no turning back.

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I did not have a straight path. I took what was available at present.

Who truly inspires me to do my best whatever path or situation I am in is my family. Everything I do is to fulfill my responsibilities as the “ate” of my family.

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What are your favorite subjects in your entire engineering study? How about least liked subjects?

Perhaps my favorite subject is Structural Geology. It is the scientific discipline concerning both large and small scale rock deformation.

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Have you had any subject failures or disappointing academic performance to the very least? If yes, what did you do about it? How did you cope?

Definitely YES! I disappointed myself a lot in college. There came a time when I almost failed two subjects in one semester. I did not have the right mindset then.

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I had to remind myself of my purpose.

“You have to carry yourself back up! Your family depends on you, so don’t let them down! Papa is watching you!” is what I said to myself.

It took some time but it did lighten me up. Thankfully, I gained what I needed again and again – strength.

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What are your most difficult and most painful experience during college life? What are your greatest struggles while in college (death, money, relationships, work, ideology conflict, etc…)?

College was a roller coaster ride. I got distracted in my failed relationship and I lost my grandfather (who stood as my father figure).

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I remember I wrote a poem about the funeral. It was painful. In that chapter of my life, I lost a lot of weight and a ton of sleep.

I hated myself, regretted my decisions, doubted my capabilities, and consequently lost my self-trust. I drank alcohol almost every night, even before exams.

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To top that, I was financially struggling. Hence, I had to apply for freelance jobs online.

Fortunately, I became a freelance powerpoint specialist and the pay was really good. I was able to cover my personal expenses plus more.

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Any topnotcher study tips or tricks that you think others should emulate from you?

I strongly believe to “study smart, not hard”. Establish a study habit prior to the review proper.

Somehow I was able to correlate how these two approaches work and they greatly helped me during review.

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Have enough sleep.

I managed to have enough sleep.

For me, it meant sleeping late and waking up late – never early.

Take intermittent breaks.

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It could include playing a favorite mobile game, taking a nap, or watching an episode of FRIENDS, whatever it could be to relax.

In my case, I watch an episode of Fairy Tail, FRIENDS, or funny videos.

When possible, study in a relaxing place. I did not limit my study sessions in cafes or the four corners of a room.

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What is the best engineering school advice that you can give to other students?

You can rest but don’t you quit. Engineering courses will challenge one’s abilities, health, and confidence.

Abilities? Because undoubtedly it will push your limits.

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Health? For sleepless nights cramming for exams. This ain’t new.

Confidence? Say hello to eyebags and acne breakouts.

Believe me when I say engineering students got it rough. So this is to all future inhinyeros and inhinyerassusuka ka pero ‘di ka susuko!

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Board Exam Experience

What were the greatest struggles that you experienced while preparing for the board exam? What did you do to overcome them?

My greatest struggle is the two-month frame for review.

The review started at the end of May.

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A week was dedicated for graduation in mid-June. Final preparations were on the last week of July.

The board exam was on August 6-8.

There were a ton of materials to recapture, read, answer, solve, memorize, and familiarize.

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On the other hand, the review classes took most of the days. So I had to skip some.

We all had too much load in such ample time.

The review was short and it challenged my health (got sick during review).

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Time management was an utmost priority.

And yes, I still managed to have enough sleep then.

I followed the schedule that I deemed necessary.

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Did you enroll in a center for your review? Do you recommend doing so? Which one did you go to?

Yes. I enrolled in USEP’s review center in Davao. Why, of course! I do recommend this review center!

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Not only that they were able to invite distinguished professionals as speakers, we were also given the privilege to have a week-long exam following our request.

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How did you find the board exam? Easy, average, or difficult?

The exam was extremely difficult. Particularly the third day covering Metallurgical Engineering and Geology.

Since the coverage is very wide, one can never be sure what to expect.

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What were your expectations after you took the board exam and before the results were out? Did you have a feeling that you will be at the top?

I did not expect it at all. After the exam, my hopes for the top faded.

Instead, I hoped and prayed that MSU-IIT will have a 100% passing rate.

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What did you do the first minute you discovered you topped the board exam?

I couldn’t believe it. I even asked my friend (who was travelling with me) to check the long list just to make sure my name was in it.

Assured, I called my family and my boyfriend for the good news.

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Who do you owe your success to?

My life is not my own. This success is my family’s fruit after their years of hardships and sacrifices.

I’ll grab this opportunity and state their names here…

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To nanay Vidala, Papa lando, Mama Mely, Mama Lany, Tito Mike, Papa Leo, Lolo Nardo, Lola Prescilla, Swing, Kharmela, Ate Berly, Kuya Dondon, Kuya Boyet, John Dave, Dylan, Christian Jade, and Nicole.

I also owe this to my friends who believed that I could do it.

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To my professors in college who gave me that extra push.

To my boyfriend who stood next to me and never failed to remind me that I am worthy and loved.

To God Almighty for continuing to bless me despite of my bad decisions in the past. Truly, He loves unconditionally.

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What incentives did you get from your university and review center after your board exam success?

I received cash incentive from my university. Our department chairman was very kind to assist our department’s topnotchers in claiming the cash incentive.

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Share your most effective study habits.

My most effective study habits are:

– taking intermittent breaks

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– planning my week ahead

– creating acronyms to remember concepts

– discussing concepts and trivias with colleagues

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Give 5 important tips (in bullets) for future board exam takers who aim to become topnotchers.

– Always aim high

– Your doubts can stand as an advantage so assess them carefully

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– Rest when you need it

– Follow your study sessions religiously (according to what you deem is necessary)

– Discipline and consistency are equally important.

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Family & Love Life

Describe your family, parents, siblings (and children if applicable)

I grew up in a broken family. I never asked them but in an early age I understood.

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I grew up with my grandparents (mother’s side). Hence, I have two Mama’s and two Papa’s. I am the eldest.

I have three siblings- two of which are my half-sisters. I call my aunt “ate” and my uncles “kuya.”

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Did your parents encourage you to study engineer?

No. They encouraged me to finish school and land a stable job. I am the first engineer and the first licensed professional in the family. Most of the time I have the freedom to choose whatever I prefer.

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Are you in a relationship? Or it’s complicated?

Yes, I am in a happy relationship. This guy is my rock. My lunch breaks during review are mostly spent with him on the phone.

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During college, we eat and study together. We made it a rule to prioritize academics. He knows my downpours and my rainbows.

I am very proud of what I have become because he made me believe that I am worthy despite the baggage that I carry.

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Describe engineering in one word.


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Why is engineering important in our society?

Engineering roots from society’s demand for improvement.

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From waking up in the morning to taking a bath, leaving the house to driving to work, from taking the elevator to turning on the computer, etc.- all of these actions are done with products improved more conveniently each decade by engineering.

We may not appreciate it everyday but engineering is there.

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Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

I see myself as a doctorate degree holder, a Competent Person in the industry, and a Senior Mining Engineer. I can see myself studying space mining, too.

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From Rejects to Topnotchers

From an Accountancy Dropout to an Engineering Board Exam Topnotcher

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Even College Engineering Dropouts Can Be Successful Too

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171 shares, 39 points
Engr. Marinel Sigue
Electronics Engineering graduate whose first love is writing. She is obsessed with anything pink and dreams of living the van life in a renovated school bus.


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