Published May 2, 2013
For the past academic year, UB has hosted 20 Brazilian students through the Brazil Scientific Mobility Program (BSMP), an ambitious initiative of the Brazilian government to send up to 100,000 students abroad for studies lasting a year or more.
The program aims to internationalize the students’ education and provide opportunities for them to gain valuable scientific, research and internship experiences at research-intensive institutions abroad. The Institute of International Education (IIE), the organization that administers the Fulbright Program, is responsible for placing the BSMP students at leading U.S. institutions.
This is the first year that BSMP students have attended UB.
These students typically are in the third or fourth year of their undergraduate studies, and most are in the health sciences or STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines.
For Gracielle Cardoso Torquato, a pharmacy major from the Federal University of Goias, BSMP has given her “a chance to know how studying in a different country is, to be familiar with research technology not available in my home university and also to improve my English with technical vocabulary.”
“All my experiences here are improving my professional skills and teaching me others,” she says. “I also have become more savvy and I plan to use this to help develop my country. After graduating I plan to get into a PhD program.”
Rafaela Bivar Cavalcanti de Oliveira, a chemical engineering student from the University of Campinas in Sao Paulo State, has found the academic opportunities at UB to be first rate, pointing to Carl Lund, as the UB faculty member who has been the most helpful. “He is a very good professor with an excellent and broad background in chemical engineering,” she says. “He works hard to teach the best he can, always providing a lot of homework to help us understand the material and providing prompt feedback.”
There is a difference in the pace of courses in the two countries, she adds. “What I would have studied in two semesters of classes back home, here at UB they give us in just one semester. So it’s much quicker,” she says, explaining that in Brazil the engineering program is five years and requires twice as many credits as UB’s four-year program. “It's a very different environment in which to study,” she says. “I feel people, in general, are more serious about school here.”
Gustavo Della Flora Nunes, a biomedical sciences major from Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) in Porto Alegre, agrees that the overall quality of the UB faculty is great and comparable to the best universities in Brazil.
“The two classes I liked the most (Research Topics in Biochemistry and Neuroscience I) were classes in which each professor was responsible for a few lectures during the semester, allowing them to talk only about the subjects they are most passionate for,” he says. He cites Gail R. Willsky, director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Biochemistry, and Laura Feltri, principal investigator at the Hunter James Kelly Research Institute, as two mentors who were exceptionally helpful. Willsky, he says, “helped me in the initial choice of classes and to find research opportunities. She was really kind and willing to make sure my studies here matched my aims. She personally contacted directors of other departments and principal investigators who I could work with. She guided my first steps toward a successful academic semester.”
Feltri, he adds, served as his mentor in the Undergraduate Research Class. “This allowed me contact with cutting-edge equipment and leading research in the demyelinating diseases field. The research is preparing me technically and intellectually to be a good researcher in the future.”
He points out that in the U.S., there is more investment in tools and equipment for laboratories, “allowing better conditions for practical activities in class, as well as propitiating better results in the research. Grants in Brazil are much smaller and really scarce.”
Pedro Henrique Coelho Machado, an electrical engineering major from the Federal University of Minas Gerais, found distinctive course opportunities at UB. “The most beneficial courses I had at UB were in the laboratory,” he says. “During the fall semester, I took the Microelectronics Fabrication Lab, which used the clean room in Davis Hall to show us different techniques and procedure to fabricate most of the devices used in the high-tech world. And in the spring semester, I am taking Electronic Circuits Lab, which basically teaches you how to use those components fabricated in the clean room in different circuit applications.”
Coelho Machado adds that while engineering courses were the most beneficial, he also took part in backpacking and outdoor activities through the Outdoor Pursuits program in the Division of Athletics, “which gave me an extra knowledge of the Buffalo area and its natural beauties.”
Extracurricular opportunities at UB have been important to all of the BSMP students.
Della Flora Nunes says he explored the Buffalo area by taking some trips organized by the Office of International Student and Scholar Services, and by enrolling in “Backpacking” and “Outdoors Recreation Adventures” classes offered by Outdoor Pursuits.
He also took part in many events, both on and off campus, ranging from typical festivals and concerts to talks by researchers.
He joined Schussmeister Ski Club to learn to snowboard, is playing intramural soccer and took part in the Oozefest mud volleyball tournament with a team from his laboratory.
“Although for me it’s much easier to interact with other Brazilians—even those who were already at Buffalo—I have become friends with some Americans, especially those in my residence hall, the seniors in biochemistry who were my classmates in the majority of my classes last semester, and those who work in the same laboratory.”
Another chemical engineering student, Dayriane Do Socorro De Oliveira Costa from the Federal University of Para, values the leadership skills she has gained at UB.
“Attending workshops and clubs was an excellent way to improve my leadership skills,” she says. “I like how American universities encourage us to be leaders. To become friends of American students was a very hard task, but I did it by going to events at UB. In particular, I joined the ski club, which was an amazing experience and allowed me close contact with winter sports and to make friends.”
Dental student Juliana Delatorre Bronzato from the State University of Campinas also took full advantage of the opportunities at UB.
“ISSS offers trips; those are very interesting,” she says. “Last semester, I visited Letchworth State Park, Zoar Valley, Niagara Falls, Ellicottville, Salamanca, Lackawanna, Old Fort Niagara and others.
“I was in the [ISSS] mentorship program that was really amazing,” Delatorre Bronzato adds. “My mentor and I traveled around and I have experienced the American culture; the American friends that I met here also have helped me. I’ve met nice and friendly people that have helped me a lot. Because it’s very difficult to stay away from home for one year, making friends and participating in off-campus activities makes a big difference.”
A mandatory and essential part of the BSMP year at UB is the hands-on experience that students gain in the summer following their coursework. Some BSMP students obtain internships off campus, others do research in a UB lab and still others undertake experiential learning in a different context.
For example, Cavalcanti de Oliviera has a summer internship at Praxair, a local company that makes industrial gases. “I’ll be working in the projects department, the area that I most like in the engineering field,” she says. “Working with projects allows the engineer to relate things he/she learned in school and apply them to real life.”
Dellatorre Bronzato reports that this summer she will be doing research in the Biomaterials Laboratory in the UB dental school. “I started doing research here in the fall semester. It’s an important experience to my future career plans,” she says.
Last summer, nine BSMP students enrolled in the UB English Language Institute’s summer Intensive English Program to prepare for their academic coursework in the U.S. Rafaela Bivar Cavalcanti de Oliveira was one of these students.
“It was very good preparation in a lot of ways. It made us more comfortable with the language itself, to the place, to the university, to a lot of international students, and also with the distance from home and family,” she says. “It was an enjoyable time. I made a lot of friends, but some of them were just here for the summer."
She says that she and her new friends explored Buffalo, going downtown, to the waterfront, Forest Lawn cemetery, the Elmwood strip and a Buffalo Bisons baseball game.
Marina Carelli, a biomedical sciences student from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, points out that UB also benefits from hosting the BSMP students.
“I have seen that UB also gained a lot with our presence here due to the things we contributed to UB,” she says. “My grades are good, so I think there are good reasons for UB to have us. Considering this is the beginning of the program, it is widely believed that it will get better.”
A second cohort of BSMP students is expected to begin at UB this summer.