Brazil to Gonzaga: Stem Studies

By Lauren Campbell (’13)

Three-hundred-level engineering classes are already pretty tough, but junior Naira Malaquias takes them in a foreign language. She is a Brazilian who came to campus in January as part of the Brazil Scientific Mobility Program. Nine Brazilian students attended Gonzaga this fall; several more will arrive in the spring to start a year of studies.

Under this new international initiative, the Brazilian government will provide a year’s funding for 100,000 students to study at the best universities around the world. Most students are in the STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and math.
Twenty-thousand students will attend U.S. schools, including Gonzaga and about 80 other participating institutions.

Brazil has a severe shortage of professionals trained in the sciences and produces only half of the engineers it needs annually, said Harry Daniels-Schatz, international student adviser. The program, formerly called Brazil Science Without Borders, will help Brazil gain well-rounded scientists and engineers trained at top-tier universities. All students return to their home universities to complete their degree and share the academic ideas and practices they have been exposed to abroad. Participating students take two semesters of classes and are required to spend their summer in the U.S. for an internship or research.

"For me, studying here was always a dream," Malaquias said. She has been to North America before, taking a summer English as a Second language course in Canada during high school and an engineering workshop at Western Michigan University in 2010. John
Dacquisto, engineering senior lecturer, said he always found Naira’s questions insightful. like most of the foreign students he has taught, she shows a strong desire to learn, he added.

Participating students take two semesters of classes and spend the summer doing an internship or research. junior Carlos Fonseca spent the summer researching alongside Shawn Bowers, professor of computer science, and American students. "Carlos clearly benefitted from an excellent computer science education program in Brazil," Bowers said.

Brazilian applicants to the program must prove their English language skills, as they take classes with mainstream students. "Understanding was not a big problem," junior Fabio Lima said. "Speaking was. I was very shy to speak English." The students
are completely immersed in the English language and American culture, as they are placed in on-campus housing with American roommates. "If I was living alone, I think it would be harder," Lima said. "Besides my English, which improved a lot, my view about
the U.S. has improved a lot. Before I had a superficial view of it, but now it’s better. And in my academic life, I’m more open to different ways to learn things."

At their home universities, the students take full days of classes, which are never shorter than an hour and a half each, a very different schedule than they experience at Gonzaga. Homework, however, is a new concept: Brazilian courses are graded on the basis of just a few tests throughout the term. Still, these students are determined to be successful.

"When I came here I had to choose the subjects to take," Fonseca explained. "I was afraid of not understanding the lectures because of the English, so I took easier classes. Now I am taking harder classes so I will have to work harder. It will be exciting."

This program benefi ts not just the Brazilian students, but the American students who learn alongside them. "In general it is good for students to meet and interact with students in their own disciplines from other institutions," Bowers said. "Meeting fellow students helps you feel professionally connected to peers outside of your own institution and provides a different perspective on your college experience."