PhD scholar brings scientific expertise to Northern Mindanao

The deployment of hordes of Filipino workers to several countries is not a recent phenomenon. In the last five years alone, more than one million Filipinos left every year to take higher-paying jobs in other countries. In 2012, almost two million workers were deployed to mostly Middle Eastern countries. The mass exodus of workers includes not just laborers but knowledge workers as well. This is becoming a serious problem for the Philippines because it is also losing its best and brightest scientists to countries that are investing more on research and innovation. As a result, the government is hard-pressed to look for thousands of experts in agricultural, fisheries, and marine sciences; biotechnology, energy, and environmental sciences to replace those who left in the last few years.

He identified and analyzed several characteristics 
of 11 medicinal plants native to the Philippines.
These plants have the potential to yield a high therapeutic value.

Recognizing the challenge of building a pool of well-trained scientists and technologists in the Philippines, USAID began offering PhD and post-doctoral research scholarships through its STRIDE program (Science, Technology, Research and Innovation for Development) under the Graduate Scholarship in Science and Technology (GraSST). Since 2014, 11 individuals have embarked on their journey to conduct doctoral-level research under the supervision of experts in leading U.S. universities.

One of them is Richard Licayan. He had high hopes of training in the U.S. to upgrade his research skills in chemistry. As a head teacher of Macabalan National High School in Cagayan de Oro City in Northern Mindanao, Richard has had big dreams for young Filipino students since he started teaching 11 years ago.

Students in Northern Mindanao have been performing poorly in the National Achievement Test that includes science subjects. The region’s average in the last five years was below the standard of 75 percent. Richard realized that in order to encourage young people to pursue careers in S&T and strengthen the pool of future experts in the country, he had to set an example by undergoing high-level research training. His dream came true after being granted a GraSST.

USAID believes that it can help improve S&T innovation in the Philippines by investing in advanced training of experts who will cultivate an atmosphere of innovative thinking that would lead to economic growth. Richard’s work in Rutgers is a fine example of a good investment. He identified and analyzed several characteristics of 11 medicinal plants native to the Philippines. These plants have the potential to yield a high therapeutic value and can be further developed into functional foods that are rich in antioxidants or into pharmaceutical products that would target degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

With enough funding for further research and development into these plants, many industries in the health and chemical sectors can look forward to exciting innovations in the coming decades which would hopefully entice local experts to stay and participate in the endeavor.

After completing his PhD research at Rutgers University, Richard believes that his new assignment as assistant principal in Northern Mindanao’s Gusa Regional Science High School is a great opportunity to giveback. “With my rigorous training in Rutgers University, I gained many insights into how to improve the quality of science in our school,” he said with determination. “I am confident that my training in a U.S. university will [help] escalate the academic performance of our students.”

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