Summer of STEM: Brazilian Student Scholars Hone Their Research Skills at NJIT

Exchange students from Brazil gather for a festive send-off after wrapping up their summer research projects.

After arriving on campus this summer to work on a community-based pollution prevention project with an NJIT waste expert, Bruno Bezerra de Souza, an exchange student from Universidade Federal de Pernambuco in Brazil, quickly found himself immersed in the life of the university and the region.

Teaming up with Jay Meegoda, an NJIT professor of civil and environmental engineering, Bezerra de Souza and 19 other Brazilian students spent 10 weeks developing plans to help small businesses in four different sectors reduce their toxic emissions, curb waste and cut costs. Their work did not stop there, however: the students took their models to paint, auto body, repair and beauty shops in Jersey City and Newark’s Ironbound district and offered to help them implement it. Sixteen businesses took them up on the proposal.

A highlight of their work, he says, was the chance “to see how each company works and interacts with the neighborhood, while providing them with technical assistance to help them improve their income and be more environmental friendly as well.”

Bezerra de Souza and his team were among 35 students on campus this summer taking part in their country’s Brazil Scientific Mobility Program (BSMP), an ambitious government-funded initiative to send undergraduate and graduate students in STEM fields to top colleges and universities in the United States and throughout the world. Other members of the pollution prevention group undertook a similarly holistic review of nail salon operations, offering a range of suggestions to protect the health of workers and clients, while also improving the bottom line.

Still others focused on high-tech research projects. Mauricio Yamaoka, a student from Sao Paulo State University, worked with Hieu Nguyen, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, on new methods for producing highly efficient LED lighting through the use of nanomaterials that can be manipulated with precision at the atomic level.

“I’m very interested in the field of renewable energy,” noted Yamaoka, who is preparing for a career in power generation.

“Needless to say, we are delighted to work with some of the best students Brazil has to offer and grateful to them for bringing the world to us here in Newark,” said Katia Passerini,  dean of the Albert Dorman Honors College, which helped coordinate the Brazilian students’ summer program.

For its part, NJIT has been steadily “internationalizing” its research enterprise by forming alliances with elite universities and scholars across the globe and “integrating top foreign students” both at the graduate and undergraduate level into the academic and cultural life of the campus, said NJIT Provost Fadi Deek.

“NJIT has long been a destination for international graduate students, but we are seeing our undergraduate cohort grow as students seek opportunities to work on research projects with our faculty,” he added. “In turn, our undergraduates are increasingly seeking such milestone experiences abroad.”

Next month, ten students who won spots in the Brazilian STEM program will arrive at NJIT for the entire academic year.  Two master’s students are already on campus. The program is administered by the Institute of International Education (IIE), the nearly century-old non-profit education and training organization that also runs the Fulbright Program.

“One of our goals is to internationalize higher education in Brazil,” said Frederico Menino, an education official with the Consulate General of Brazil in New York who was on campus this week to meet with the exchange students and participate in their send-off festivities. He added, “The students who take part have a strong commitment to the future of our country and a real sense of mission.”

But as with all college students, a serious academic mission does not preclude fun.

As Bezerra de Souza noted, trips to the pool, pick-up soccer games, forays into New York City and new friendships made for an “extremely good academic experience and also an incredible personal experience.”

Tracey Regan