Inspiring students’ natural curiosity

September 07, 2018

“I want the international community to realize three things about Filipino biologists: we are competitive, we teach our students well, and our students are naturally gifted,” said Ronald Allan Cruz (HS’ 98, B.S. Biology’ 02).


In July 2018, Cruz proved just that when the Philippine delegation—composed of high school students— triumphed in the International Biology Olympiad (IBO) held in Iran, bringing home two medals and a merit citation.  Cruz, an Assistant Professor of Biology, is the Philippine Country Coordinator for the IBO.


Balancing multiple roles in the academe is anything but a walk in the park and taking in an additional load of high school competition training requires heart and mettle. Cruz, thankfully, has both. After all, his dream is to continue sharing his passion for science with young Filipinos, especially his students.

Ateneo's Dr. Cris Lopez and Ronald Cruz with members of the Philippine team.

“I’d love for them to never stop learning new things, experience new things, and wonder what makes the world move,” he says, “but I also want them to be happy and to love themselves regardless of where life takes them.” This mantra may very well apply to Cruz himself.


A book on marine life—a gift from his father—set off his passion for the natural sciences. “The diverse forms of animals fascinate me. I love science for the wonder and sense of awe and exploration that it is supposed to invoke in people.” He took up BS Biology in Ateneo de Manila before pursuing a MSc in Marine Science from the Marine Science Institute at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. Now completing a doctoral degree, also at Ateneo, Cruz relates how his passion for biology fueled his competitive drive.


“In my junior year, I represented the university in the National Inter-Collegiate Genetics Quiz. I strongly value the spirit of competition in the context of testing and showcasing one’s capabilities and level of training as well as driving one to be better,” he shares.   Heartened by the positive lessons he learned from this experience, he committed to help inspire interest in biology, especially among the younger generation. He saw an opportunity with the Philippine Biology Olympiad.

"Hopefully, we never lose our wonder and passion for discovery," says Cruz.

Together with Dr. Cris Lopez, chairperson of the Department of Biology, Cruz met with representatives of the Department of Science and Technology-Science Education Institute (DOST-SEI) to seek endorsement as the official organizer of the Philippine Biology Olympiad (PBO). IBO requires that the Olympiad organizer be authorized by a Ministry of Education or a government agency.


“We believe that our department has the initiative and resources to organize the PBO, train the delegates, and represent the country in the IBO,” he says.


In 2016, Ateneo’s Department of Biology was officially approved by DOST-SEI as the official organizer, with Cruz tapped as the Country Coordinator. The Ateneo Biological Organization – eXplore. eXperience. eXcel. (BOx), the student organization that he founded in 2004, was the Department’s co-organizer. His responsibilities as Country Coordinator include ensuring that the Philippines met its IBO membership requirements. Cruz also contributes questions for the IBO exams and serves as jury member.


Two years later, the Philippines fielded its first team to the international competition. For two weeks, members of the Philippine team—composed of Gabrielle Erwin Awitan and Nathan Ross Bantayan (Philippine Science High School-Main Campus), Maria Janine Juachon (Philippine Science High School-Central Luzon Campus) and Matthew Keizo Yuda (Manila Science High School)—trained with Cruz and other faculty members from Ateneo’s Departments of Biology and Education.  The university also provided financial and logistical assistance to ensure that the country could finally participate in the IBO, the high school competition that traces its roots back to 1990.

Philippine Team at the International Biology Olympiad in Iran

When asked about the difference between teaching high school and college students, Cruz is quick to point out that his experiences are not the same.


“I only get to teach high school students in the context of the training for the IBO and these students are the winners of the PBO, presumably the best in biology at their age. I got to teach them for only a few hours,” he says.  “There is a “more diverse population of students in college, both in capability and interest and I do that full time for a whole semester, at least.”


This semester, Cruz teaches the following subjects: BIO 100.01 General Zoology, Bi 14 Biology of Science Fiction, Bi 197 Bioseminar, and Bi 192 Bioresearch II. Aside from this academic load, he handles two Introduction to Ateneo Culture and Traditions (InTACT) classes as well as 5 units of administrative load: Loyola Schools Coordinator for Teacher Formation Institute and Faculty Spiritual Formation and Chair of the University Research Ethics Committee.


At the end of a busy day, Cruz unwinds by reading books, writing fiction, and watching movies and TV shows. “As much as possible, I do not bring work home,” he says. “A typical day off is spent with friends—eating out, watching movies, playing board games or Dungeons & Dragons.”  He also likes to travel, naming Japan as his favorite destination as a tourist.


As the new semesters unfolds, Cruz hopes to continue inspiring more students to get excited about the natural sciences.


”There are so many wonderful things out there left to explore and learn about,” he enthuses. “Hopefully we never lose our wonder and passion for discovery because those are part of what make us human.”