Just as the new school year is about to begin, a cohort of undergraduate science students from Brazil is wrapping up a year abroad at Fordham’s Rose Hill campus.
August marks one year since students from the Brazil Scientific Mobility Program (BSMP) arrived on campus. Run by the Institute of International Education and supported by the Brazilian government, BSMP places top-achieving junior and senior students pursuing STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) at U.S. colleges and universities to gain global experience, improve their language skills, and increase international dialogue in science and technology.
The Fordham cohort—Aryadne Guardieiro Pereira Rezende, Tulio Aimola, Caio Batista de Melo, and Dicksson Rammon Oliveira de Almeida—have spent the year studying and researching alongside Fordham students and faculty.
“Fordham is a wonderful university. It teaches you to grow not just as a professional, but also as a person. I loved my semesters there,” said Guardieiro, a computer science major from Uberlandia, Minas Gerais.
Guardieiro worked with Damian Lyons, PhD, professor of computer and information science, on the use of drones to hunt and kill Aedes aegypti mosquitos, which spread diseases such as dengue and Zika virus, both of which are significant problems in Brazil.
“Different fields were available to research here,” said Batista de Melo, a computer science major from Brazil’s capital, Brasília. Batista de Melo researched with Frank Hsu, PhD, the Clavius Distinguished Professor of Science and Professor of Computer and Information Science, in Fordham’s Laboratory of Informatics and Data Mining.
“Our project used IBM’s Watson, which might not have been possible to use in Brazil, since it is such a new technology.”
The program has benefitted both Fordham and Brazilian students alike, said Carla Romney, DSc, associate dean for STEM and pre-health education, who oversaw BSMP at Fordham. Because it’s difficult for science students to devote a full semester to travel, the experience served as a sort of “reverse study abroad” for Fordham students.
“Having international students in the classroom has been an amazing internationalization experience for Fordham students, too,” Romney said. “It brings a different atmosphere into the classroom when you have students with widely divergent viewpoints and experiences. You get to know other cultures, other worlds.”
BSMP students complete two semesters of academic study at an American institution, followed by a summer of experiential learning in the form of internships, research, volunteering, or other types of “academic training.”
Earlier this summer, the four were joined by an additional 17 BSMP students who had been at other American colleges and universities and who took up residence at Fordham to undertake internships and positions at various New York City companies and organizations.
The experience was challenging both academically as well as personally, said Oliveira, a computer science major from Recife, Pernambuco who researched smartwatch applications in the Wireless Sensor and Data Mining (WISDM) lab with Gary Weiss, PhD, associate professor of computer and information science.
“The cultural shock was really unexpected, and for several months it made me feel uneasy,” Oliveira said. “Over time, I learned to overcome it. Being from a predominantly tropical country, I considered the winter to be the greatest challenge of all.”
In addition to culture shock, there was the inevitable loneliness, which Guardieiro said she felt deeply at times. However, she felt supported by her academic adviser and fellow students, and eventually came to love her newfound independence.
“I learned to never lose an opportunity to do what I needed or wanted to just because I did not have company to do so,” she said. “I learned to expose myself to new—and not always comfortable—experiences, and I was amazed with the results I got. I took dancing classes with great teachers, visited places like Wall Street companies and all kinds of museums, and visited many states by myself.”
The Brazilian government recently put a one-year moratorium on the scholarship exchange program, but Romney said Fordham would continue its partnership with the program when it resumes.
When it does, Guardieiro has advice ready for future Fordham-BSMP students:
“Don’t be afraid to do everything you want to… This kind of experience is given to us to learn as much as we can.”