HBCUs in Brazil and the U.S.

The exciting news that came with the HBCU visit is that the Brazilian Ministry of Education is going to fund scholarships for prospective Brazilian secondary school teachers to go to HBCUs.  The plan is for them to start their university studies in Brazil for the first year.  After that, they spend two years in HBCUs, and then return to Brazil for their fourth year to graduate in Brazil.

We have to work out details. This program will be complicated because it is specifically designed to send only to HBCUs and the Brazilian target audience will be Brazilians of African descent. This kind of affirmative action is controversial in Brazil and difficult for practical reasons.  

Brazilians don’t recognize the same racial categories as we traditionally have. In America, race was identified as any African descent, no matter how small a percentage or physical appearance. Brazil is not so black and white. Most Brazilians have some kind of mixed heritage and it has always been appearance rather than heritage that counts. Brazilians are not surprised to find that a “black” man and a “white” one are brothers, or that parents might have children of what we would call different races.  That is, if they even bothered to think about it at all. In the U.S., we would probably try to resolve this dilemma; in Brazil the dilemma just doesn’t exist.  You are what you look like and the definition might vary.  An individual, who might be called mostly black in primary European southern Brazil, might be identified as mostly white in heavily African heritage Bahia. There is a famous case at the University of Brasília where identical twin brothers were classified into different racial categories.  

The use of racial categories for affirmative action purposes is creating the need to more closely and permanently define racial identity. Blacks make up less than 8% of the Brazilian population, but mixed race people are more than 43% and even among the 48% that now identify as white, there is room for interpretation. If there is advantage, more people will emphasize their African heritage and the African-Brazilian population will likely grow despite falling birthrates. 

One thing that may be useful in casting a wider net is additional emphasis on English. Students from poorer backgrounds, which often include more African-Brazilians, tend not to have English up to the level required for university study. English is the single biggest barrier to a more inclusive education policy.  The Brazilian government is working to improve English competence in general and specifically they will fund additional English study for those selected to go to HBCUs.

Getting U.S. students to Brazil

I was in Rio for a seminar on how Brazilian Universities can attract more Americans students. I asked PUC Rio to organize and sponsor the program, since they are the most successful Brazilian university in attracting American students and they did a wonderful job.  The event was held at the Loyola Center, just up the hill from the main PUC campus.  This was a private home, and a really nice one.  The owners left it to the school for seminars and meetings.  The neighborhood is very nice, but in some decline as the local favela is bleeding into the nearby forests.   I was told that property values have declined as fear of marauding bands of toughs has grown.  I walked around a little and  didn’t see any, but I was not there at night.  Thinks look different in the dark.

We got a good deal on the meeting. The only USG expense was my travel and paying for a coffee break.  That the universities are paid their own way shows their commitment.  Brazilians sharing experience with Brazilians is a better idea than us trying to tell them what to do, but I did have a role.    

Along with Luiz, the executive director of Fulbright, I gave a presentation on the American university system.  I made my presentation in Portuguese.  I am feeling better about the language these days.  It is hard to judge your own language ability, but people seem to respond.  They ask questions based on what I think I said and laugh at my jokes. Maybe they are just being polite, but at least the language is good enough that they know they are supposed to laugh.  

Little river near PUC

I like to talk about the American higher education system.  I am proud of it, in all its diversity, chaos and achievement. I am not an expert, which is helpful since I usually get only a short time to talk.  I don’t exhaust my knowledge in that limited time and I can make it reasonably interesting; I cannot go into the more esoteric and boring details, since I don’t know them, and I bring a lot of enthusiasm into the endeavor. I am a well-informed layman. In the last two years I have had lots of first-hand experience with the system, visiting dozens of universities and community colleges and talking to hundreds of educational leaders. I also get to do focus groups with returning Brazilian students.  They describe the U.S. system through the prism of their cultural experience.  Anyway, I think I have something of value to share and so I do the talks whenever asked.  

We had a good crowd.  Something like seventy-five people signed up, I am told from sixty-three universities, although there was never a particular time when they all were there.  Some came late and others left early, but at the end of the day, we still had around fifty participants. They came from all over Brazil and were all in charge of recruiting and/or foreign students, so I think we got the right people.  

Anyway, I think it was worth my time, besides it is never a waste of time when you can be in Rio.  

My pictures are from around the Loyola Center. The third one down shows a couple eucalyptus. They are not native to Brazil, but the Brazilians have developed good varieties and they are all over the place.  The bottom picture is a little steam and wall in back of the Loyola Center. 

PA Significant Achievements for August 29, 2013

The HBCU delegations’ successful visit to Brazil culminated with the Minster of Education’s public announcement of a new scholarship program to fund Brazilian students going to HBCUs.   This program will go beyond SwB to also include studies in humanities and communications. The Minster ended his remarks by praising Martin Luther King and quoting from the “Dream” speech.  This program had nearly perfect public diplomacy pitch.   

Posts in Rio, São Paulo and Brasília shared the responsibly for escorting two groups of HBCU leaders. It was a big investment in time but worth it.  Besides the clear benefits for the HBCUs, this was a wonderful opportunity for us to make and renew contacts with important academic leaders inside and outside the usual big cities.

We spoke at a post initiated but Brazilian run seminar on how Brazilian universities can attract American students.  Sixty-three Brazilian universities were represented.  We asked PUC Rio to organize and sponsor the program since they are the most successful Brazilian university in attracting American students. Brazilians sharing experience with Brazilians does more to advance the 100,000 Strong initiatives than anything we ourselves could do.   The only USG expense was my travel and paying for a coffee break.  That the universities are paying their own way shows their commitment.  

U.S. Speakers Mark and Valerie Wynn continued their series of workshops and talks about domestic violence, this time in Minas and Pernambuco.

Recife PAO met with ABA (BNC) President Eduardo Carvalho who will return to Harvard next week to finish up his one-year Advanced Leadership Seminar.

PA São Paulo, in partnership with SESC and SENAC, launched the book Shared Heritage at Livraria da Vila at JK Shopping, in a cocktail attended by approximately 200 hundred key contacts from government, academic, literary and NGO sectors. As part of the event, PA organized a photo exhibit of works by American and Brazilian photographers on the African, Indigenous, European and current immigrants influence in both countries, originally displayed at the four shared heritage festivals.

Our main social media campaign of the week was the 50th anniversary of the March to Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech anniversary. Posts on Facebook had great reach and interaction with mostly positive comments regarding MLK, America, President Obama and the fight against segregation. Posts had a total of over 62K people reached, total of 278 shares on Facebook. Even the cover photo about MLK had a lot of interaction, with 30 shares, which is uncommon for a cover photo change. On Twitter, tweets had a total more than 1.2 million potential impressions.


We had good meetings in Goiânia.  I think that the HBCUs will be able to come to agreements on exchanges with the institute of technology here.  The institute is already working well with NOVA and it eager for more connections with the U.S.

I have been to Goiânia before, but not in this part of town.  I got the chance to walk around and took the pictures in this post.  It is a nice, modern city with lots of new buildings and lots of new construction.  I didn’t see much in the way of tourist attractions, but it looks like a nice place to live. I always think of these kinds of cities like Houston.  Most people who live there really like it and more people move there all the time, but it is not considered a wonderful place by those who don’t live there.  

The trees above are not damaged or blown down.  They re growing that way.  How the got that way, I don’t know.  I am surprised that they are still there like that. 

Uberlandia 2

Uberlandia sits in the middle of a plateau. It is flat mostly, but 900 meters high.  Like Brasilia, there is a strong wet and dry season and there is lots of water wet season.  This water has to go down and when it does it is captured by dams that make much of Brazil’s hydropower.  Lots of the big reservoirs are near Uberlandia.

We went to the Federal University of Uberlandia (UFU).  It is a modern looking place with an energetic rector.  The place was founded thirty-five years ago.

The road from Uberlandia to Goiania was pretty good and mostly uneventful. There are lots of trucks, however.  Uberlandia is a transport hub, since it is relatively centrally located and on good roads. Almost all the goods that move in Brazil move on trucks.  Railroad and water transport is underdeveloped. This is too bad, since transport by truck is less efficient and the roads are really not very good. The picture above shows the road from a truck stop.  As usual, my camera could not pick up all the beautiful colors, but with a little imagination you might be able to appreciate it.

Uberlândia in Minas Gerais

We are in Uberlândia in Minas Gerais with a delegation of HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities).  We are hoping that they can get more students from SwB and make some sustainable connections with Brazilian institutions.

Uberlândia is a Brazilian city of aspirations, i.e. a place where people go to better their lives and maybe start something new. Big countries like Brazil and the U.S. have such places in abundance. They are up and coming.  It is not a very big city.  When the airplane land, they just let you out and you walk to the terminal. Generally you can only do that in small places.  But the roads are very good and there are bike trails, although as you see below, horses use them too.

The city reminds me a lot of Goiânia or Campo Grande.  No surprise.  It is in the same general cultural and environmental zone.  And this whole area reminds me of Texas.  It has the same sort of energy and even looks similar. It even has the country music and cowboy culture.  Cities like Uberlândia Goiânia and Campo Grande are similar to Houston in that there is not much that draws lots of tourists, but people who live in them like to live there.  There are opportunities, hence the aspiration part.

I am in the Plaza Shopping Hotel, very conveniently located in a shopping center. It is a nice place besides. I recommend it.  There are lots of nice, new hotels in the Central West. They are not the tourist one, but obviously cater to business folks, again with that aspiration idea. Tomorrow we will go to the universities and see what is out there for the HBCUs and SwB in general. I will write more.

Kerry visit

I don’t think I ever liked official visit.  This one was okay.  Kerry is easier to work with than Clinton was. My part was to set up a Science w/o Borders event for Secretary Kerry. The Minister of Education Mercadante was the official host.  We didn’t have much time to make it work, but it worked wonderfully.

Science w/o Borders, called officially Science Mobility Program in the U.S., is a great program. More than 10,000 students have gone to the U.S. since June 2011, when the program was officially launched.  I wrote more about it here

Our Brazilian students brought some of their devices.  There were lots of interesting things, such as bionic limbs. map making flying robots and other measuring devices.  Secretary Kerry spent time looking at all of them and asking good questions. He did very well.

One of the best parts of the program came to us by serendipity.  In the building were about thirty English Teaching Assistants.  I opened their seminar earlier in the morning and we invited them to be part of the event.  They were very enthusiastic, and Sec Kerry seemed to have a really good time talking to them.

Here are a couple of links in Portuguese here and here; even if you cannot read them, the pictures tell the story.