Friday, August 19, 2011

Geliah Gloria

Music enthusiast, athlete and environmental advocate Geliah Gloria speaks about her experiences as a geography student, environmental researcher, and guardian of the Philippine coasts.

Basic Info

Name: Geliah Alcala Gloria 
Hometown: Dumaguete City 
Current City: Dumaguete City/Quezon City (to and fro)

- Research Assistant of the Biodiversity Conservation Component of the Silliman University Project Team under the Integrated Coastal Resources Management Project (ICRMP) of the DENR. ICRMP is a foreign assisted project funded by ADB & UN-GEF.
- Freelance editor (edited scholarly work by consultants, professors, doctoral students, masters students, undergraduate students, etc.)

Hobbies and interests: soccer, swimming, reading, nature trips and activities (caving, scuba diving, surfing, mountain climbing, wildlife surveys), jamming (playing the drums, singing), baking, watching movies, music, classical art, capoeira, intelligent conversations, spending time with friends, environmental advocacy

Towards Your Geographic Career

FG: As a child, what did you want to be when you grow up? 
Geliah: At first, I wanted to become a forensic scientist, then I wanted to be a nurse (like my mom)... I also wanted to be a model but I found out that I couldn’t either be any of the first two since I couldn’t deal with 'opening up' people. And for the third one, I guess I’m simply physically under-qualified for it!

What made you interested in geography?
I believe that it is not what only what you learn in class that’s important— it’s also how you were made to learn it. I owe my continued interest in geography to my college professors who taught the geography major subjects well.

I started to realize that I wanted to pursue geography when I learned new things about landscape processes and how they affect the way people live in Geography 121 (Landform Analysis as taught by Ma’am Yo). And since I like memorizing, I enjoyed memorizing countries/provinces and their locations on the map (e.g., Geography of the Philippines as taught by Ma’am Lou). I also enjoyed learning how to use GIS software like ArcView (Digital Cartography as taught by Ma’am Joy). All these made geography so much fun and educational at the same time, but what inspired me the most was learning about natural resources conservation (Geography 111 as taught by Ma’am Do). I personally find meaning and importance in sustainably managing our resources, first, for the environment’s sake, and second, for the sake of future generations. Doing research along this line also sparked my interest in Geography (Geog 192 as taught by Sir Iño and Geog 105 as taught by Ma’am Vangie).

Why did you take up Geography as your undergraduate degree?
Initially, I got accepted at UP Visayas with a degree in BS Management but I transferred to UP Diliman during my second year and shifted as well. My college major was BS Geography, only because my Papa enrolled me in it. My Papa chose geography because he took up geology before (and is now a geologist) and foresaw that geography would one day be the “next nursing.” He also thought that through geography, I would one day work as a consultant for the World Bank or IMF. It was very fortunate that I ended up liking geography and continued it as my major.

Upon finishing your degree, how was it stepping out to the “real world”?
Stepping out to the real world entailed me to first to step back into my roots, nourishing myself with family, food, leisure, friends, and spiritual activities. Everyone deserves a break after college, especially if you're from UP. Then as soon as I felt that I was nourished (and fat) enough, I started looking for work. My first job (part-time) was to edit articles for inclusion in a maiden research journal. I later on became the managing editor for the maiden issue of that journal, Silliman Nursing Research Journal. This made me realize that what I learned from Geog 199 (Research Methods in Geography) really paid off. 

My skills in preparing research manuscripts also became useful in my third job (second job was as a part-time Computer teacher) as a research assistant in ICRMP. I became involved in activities related to coastal resource management. Although I had little background on CRM, I was able to learn so much about the nature of implementing government projects, from creating budgets, to facilitating trainings, to making site visits, to establishing cooperation among stakeholders, and many more.

Since the nature of my work was more on field, I was able to meet a lot of influential and important people from various sectors—national government, local government, academe, NGOs, and private entities. I was able to travel to a lot of places, covering various regions from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. From the series of consultations, workshops, meetings, and planning, you could just imagine how much knowledge and mentoring opportunities I’ve garnered in the past two years. The unfolding of the “real world” happened through these experiences. 

I learned about the harsh reality of the Philippines, which to me, is our problematic governance — defects in the institutional top-bottom approach, bureaucracy, “small-scale” corruption, pollution, lack in higher education institutions, etc. It’s so depressing and frustrating for someone like me who was just fresh out of college and filled with idealism. That’s when I realized the truth in the phrase, “The real world starts after college.” 

Your Geographic Career

What would be your typical day at work?
At the field: It would be in a training setting. I gather the participants in order to start the program. The trainer starts his lecture/activities while I manage the logistics (i.e., take down notes, record attendance, photo-document the activities, prepare copies of presentations and pictures for give-away, review plans made for the following day, follow-up on meals and snacks, and other preparations).

At the office: I do a lot of computer work. I stand up only to take phone calls, access the office printer, go to the comfort room, take lunch, and refill my glass of water. Sometimes I could stay up for nights on end just to get things done.

What do you like most about your work?
The fact that I am learning so many things that open my eyes to reality. Not that I like reality itself, but just the fact that I am not living day in and out unaware of what’s really going on, at least in the environmental side of things. Other pluses include privileges to meet people of great influence and chances to travel around the Philippines.

What are the challenging parts of your work?
Not getting too frustrated or personally attached to major problems. I have a tendency to be a worrywart. It is also a challenge to get things done on time. Always. 

How is your background in Geography relevant to your profession today?
I’m really thankful that through my background in geography, I’ve learned to deal with things in a holistic manner. My knowledge is not limited to identifying places on the map — I also make maps. Through geography I gained a certain thrill for research. There is this thirst for knowledge that when found, can be put to good use, not for personal or monetary gain, but for more important or meaningful things like advocating for the environment and valuing human lives. My background in geography also made me more appreciative of the interconnectedness of human and earthly processes.

What are some of the important things that you’ve learned as an undergraduate student?
Like I’ve said, I’ve found it important to manage our natural resources for sustainability purposes. I’ve also learned the importance of being involved in research or intellectual investigations. Research is not just a prerequisite for graduation. It is wanting to know more and wanting to be proactive about learning and spreading knowledge. 

Lighter Side

What where your favorite geography subjects?
Geog 111 (Resource Management and Conservation) And Geog 197 (Digital Cartography).

What is your favorite place on Earth?
Really? Anywhere called home. 

Where would you most like to travel?
Ah... Europe. And I finally have the chance to do so.

Name a place you would most like to visit.
Italy, for the art museums.

If you were not a geographer, what career would you have chosen?
I think management and tourism would strike my interest.

What would PAG-ASA name you, if you were a storm within the Philippine are of responsibility?
Ilyang, because it is one of my first nicknames/ terms of endearment.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?
Fly! Wouldn’t it be just amazing to see things from the top and to feel the wind in your face? I’m afraid of heights most of the time, but I often imagine myself on top of a high cliff, raising my arms to the skies, with matching music like Elevation by U2 playing in the background.

Final Thoughts

What current issue/world problem can geographers help solve?
Geographers can help solve any issue just like any other person can. But maybe one localized (Philippine) issue I can cite is the lack of data management. Geographer skills in digital mapping can help by providing a physical databank on things like disaster prone areas, tourist hotspots and more.

What contributions could Filipino Geographers make or leave behind?
Knowledge that can have widespread impact like doing research on transportation systems in the Philippines and applying GIS in the process.

What can we do, as geographers, to raise the profile of the discipline of Geography in the country?
The advertising of our page in Facebook sure helps. But a big profile raiser would of course be coming into the academic scene or perhaps the media as well with exciting new knowledge or applications using GIS and Philippine natural resources (e.g., perhaps applying remote sensing in helping predict weather for disaster preparedness for urban residents or for agriculture).

What are the prospects for geography in the future?
I wouldn’t really know for sure. But I am looking forward and optimistic in its evolution into becoming the “next nursing” as “prophesied” by my Papa.

What would be some life lessons you learned as a geographer?
Life lessons? Love can be tested by distance and time but always remember that each day spent away from someone you love is a day closer to the next that you will see them again.

Any advice to aspiring geographers?
Appreciate your undergrad subjects. No matter how boring they sometimes get, they will take you somewhere far in the future. Remember the little things like the capital of Hungary, the term for the side of the mountain that receives rain, the middle initial of your professor (i.e. bonus item sa exam). Go to all the field trips that you can and make friends, not just with people from your age bracket. Learn to socialize with people with different lifestyle or background from you. Most importantly, learn to be a critical thinker. 


Geliah has recently been granted a scholarship by the European Commission through the Erasmus Mundus Mobility with Asia Program (EMMA). She will be going to the Netherlands this September to get her Master's Degree in Geo-information Science and Earth Observation for Natural Resources Management from the University of Twente. We wish her all the best!


  1. BRAVO!!!!!! Super like TE.. :) God bless

  2. You guys are so inspirational! Kudos!

  3. WOW! this is so inspirational!