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.

Focusing on students returning from the U.S.

The first group of roughly 600 students from Brazil’s “Science Mobility Program” aka “Science without Borders” returned from the U.S. in recent months. More than 5000 more have already gone to programs and thousands more are expected to travel in a program that is meant to send 101,000 Brazilians out of the country to study in the STEM field.   PAS Brazil is using the opportunity of so many students to learn about Brazilian experience in the U.S. with a series of focus group style meetings held in various Brazilian cities and so far have been carried out in São Paulo, Belo Horizonte and Rio, with plans for similar outreach in Porto Alegre, Fortaleza, Recife, Brasília and Manaus.  We have been achieving what we consider an ideal group size of around twenty participants, small enough to control and not intimidate any individual participants, but large enough to get some synergy and back and forth among participants.  The sessions are almost entirely in Portuguese, with a few questions about English capacity asked in English.  Response has been good. Students like it that we are taking the time to talk to them and word of our efforts is spread well beyond the initial groups.   

After our third meeting, this one at PUC Rio, a pattern is becoming clear. The program is a spectacular success from the students’ point of view and the consistency and the unanimity of the responses in widely separated places are interesting. The caveat is that we have a self-selected group of people who want to talk to us. But the more statistically valid studies done by IIE seem to bear out much of what we are observing.  The following are major points.  

All of our groups recognized that they were pioneers and were not surprised that it was a challenge to get to universities in the U.S. in such short time and adapt.  We discussed the necessity of moving quickly fast and students seemed to accept that had we not moved quickly to get the program running, we could have lost the initiative and maybe not achieved the success that is clearly coming now.   

Two of the women who had gone to Parsons School of Design in New York, illustrated the evolution. They said that they were welcomed at Parsons, but nobody knew exactly what to do with them.  This problem was exacerbated by their arrival in January instead of the usual fall semester.   When the second wave of Brazilians showed up for fall semester, it was easier for them and by extension for those already there. One of the women recounted that she had become inured to having to explain to her unique status and was surprised when she made one of her usual calls, prepared to explain, the person on the other side of the conversation blandly said, “Oh, you are with Science w/o Borders.”

Medical care was a concern. The SwB participants have insurance, but they are uncertain what to do and how to use it.  One participant said that he hurt his knee and had trouble figuring out where to go or who would pay the bills. Another was bit by a stray dog and needed a series of shots.  That was painful both physically and logistically.  There is also the challenge of multiple bills.  In many U.S. clinics, each of various care-givers bills separately and some of the bills come much later.  We explained that this is also a problem for Americans, but it is little solace.  

Most of the students managed to get summer internships and one woman’s summer internship in environmental management matured into a full-time job with CH2MHill in Brazil.  But participants in the first wave of students found it more difficult than the next because they arrived in January.  Many positions were filled already by that time and everybody had to scramble.  Universities were helpful in this regard.  All but a few actually got internships.

We heard some complaints that coursework in the U.S. did not easily translate into Brazilian credits.  Some were bureaucratic tribulations that should be easily solved. For example, American courses have less class time but more homework than most in Brazil. A Brazilian course might have ten class hours where the U.S. would have only three and so the schools think it is ten hours versus three in the U.S. for credits too.

Brazilian schools were required to accept credits as part of their agreement with the Brazilian government made when they sent students to the U.S., but they expected that courses would be more general and less core. The idea would be to take courses in the U.S. that were not available or not available in the same way in Brazil. There is no reason to take calculus II in the U.S., for example, when the same thing is taught much the same way in Brazil. The very fact that classes are different – a good thing – means that they will not easily translate into the standard courses in Brazil. One participant commented that she saw her time in the U.S. as a special benefit and did not expect a direct translation of course. Not everyone could be so insouciant about it this was one of the things that seems most to upset participants.  One participant complained that some participants were just taking fun classes like football or archery.  He thought this was not in the spirit of the program.  Other participants did not think this was happening often, or at least not happening often enough to be a serious problem.  

We got the usual observations that American schools demand less time in class, but require more homework and professors in the U.S. are more open to working with students and discussing projects with them. There is less social distance in the U.S. between professors and students. This is something many Americans find right and natural, but we are beginning to see that this is one of the fundamental strengths of American education, a source of much innovation and immensely attractive to foreign students.  Our Brazilian students observed that American students are not expected to master material as much as they are encouraged to discover it for themselves. American universities also encourage students to study in teams and do projects with other student, with professors acting as coaches or guides. Our Brazilian students like this.

They also mentioned, as the others have before, that American classes start on time and people show up when they are supposed to be there.  What is becoming a meme is the idea that American professors have office hours and they are usually really in their offices at these times and available to students.   

We close our meetings with a set of ideas that we find appropriate and that seem to resonate with groups of young people and academics.  We thanked them for their interest in our country and tell them that their participation in this program will help bring our two countries into even better partnership.  We compliment the Brazilian initiative. This is important, since we don’t want to give the impression that we are trying to steal Brazil’s glory.  We tell them that we hope that they might return to get their PhDs in America or do other sorts of advanced study (America is indeed the best place for this) but that we want them to return to Brazil and do their real work here in their own place.  They are more valuable to Brazil and to us in their own country and in the long run to us too. We are not looking for a brain drain to the U.S. but rather a brain circulation and idea exchange that helps all of us.  We are looking for the win-win.  They like it when we say that, and it has the virtue of being objectively true – all good things.

Universities in Minas

Minas Gerais is full of good universities.  We visited three: PUC-Minas, UNA and UFMG.

PUC-Minas is the largest PUC in the world with more than 56,000 students.  The campus is beautiful as you can see from the pictures.  We visited with some of the university leadership and then did a talk about the U.S. education system.   I was surprised by the crowd.  It filled the lecture hall and they said that they had to move to a bigger room.  This turned out to be the general rule in Belo Horizonte.  I think it is because they don’t see diplomats as often as people in Rio or São Paulo. We are always delivering our talks in Portuguese, which I also think is important.

UNA is a private for profit university.  It has ten campuses around Minas.  There was real professionalism around the place and they are obviously prospering.  For-profit institutions present a bit of a dilemma for us.  Of course, we can cooperate with them, but making grants etc. is a problem.  Some of these schools, like UNA, are very well run and they attract ambitious, upwardly mobile people and they can be very flexible and innovative. 
We did a lecture there too, to another very full room.  I was particularly impressed that they got this big crowd at 8pm on a Friday night.  I had underestimated the ambition of the students.  Some came to see us, but it was not uncommon for them to be at school at night.  In fact, after our hour-long talk, many of them went on to even later classes.  You have to respect their discipline.

Finally, we went to the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), another great university.  This visit was the ostensible reason for coming to Belo Horizonte.  We were meeting returned Science w/o Borders students.   We did a focus group with about sixteen of them.  Their experience in the U.S. was good.  Like others we have met, they talked about the greater flexibility and hands-on approach in the U.S.  They were impressed with simple things, such as professors being on time and keeping office hours.  Their principle problems related to coming back home.  Some said they were having trouble getting their credits properly recognized. 

Our focus groups are very useful not only because we learn a few things but also because it is good general contact work.  Students are pleased that we come out to talk to them.  I am really interested in their impressions.  As I wrote in other places, focus groups are not statistically valid, but as I am getting more and more of similar comments I am getting more confident that the picture is accurate.  SwB is working and it is benefiting both our countries.

Returned students love the USA

We are traveling around Brazil to talk to students who returned from SwB scholarships.  Our first group was in Sao Paulo at USP.

The group was positive overall. The first young woman to speak was eager to let us know how satisfied she was. People were so nice to her, she said, from the time she applied, through the special visa day until she got back to Brazil. The woman next to her also voiced her approval, but added that in her case it was particularly important that the program reached into the interior, where she was studying. One of the goals of the Science w/o Borders program is to reach into previously under-served populations. The geographical part seems to be working.

Both the ease of the program and the reach became themes. U.S. universities are uniquely suited to welcome students from around the world. We have experience in our own vast country of people coming to university from far away. Our universities have dorms, which is not a common characteristic worldwide, and we have teams in place to help students adjust. A couple students spoke up about the quality of the dorms. Like hotels, they said. They were impressed by the luxury of college campuses, with their gyms, theaters and swimming pools. Perhaps these kids should talk to our kids to let them know what a great thing we have going. Some kids who had gone to the University of Nebraska actually expressed their gratitude for not having much choice of where they would go. They were unfamiliar with Nebraska and would never have chosen it, give a wide choice. But they thought the program was excellent and they loved Nebraska because of its friendly and welcoming people.

One thing that struck several students was the big difference between the feeling on American campuses.  In Brazil they have lots of class time and less homework. In the U.S. they have less time in class but expect to study more.  They come to conclusions themselves and praised the open atmosphere. Our surveys indicate that SwB kids did well in U.S. universities and that among many their grades improved. A few kids explained from their own experience in the U.S. that classes were more challenging and more rewarding. They got better grades because they became more committed. Study was their choice and they reveled in it. It may also be that they do better because the trip to the U.S. represented a clean break with the past. They were free from many of the old strictures. The improvements in performance were most noticeable among the students who did less well in Brazil. Again, this is subject to interpretation. It could just be that they had more upside potential, but it obviously didn’t hurt that motivation improved. They didn’t know whether to characterize American punctuality and attention to deadlines as a positive or not.   It was harder.  One young man commented that you get your assignment and everybody is expected to have it done on time.  Excuses are ignored for the most part. The same young man mentioned the downside that pot-smoking was more common on campus in the U.S. He didn’t really say that he opposed it, but he did say that he was afraid to do it since the stakes were high for him and Brazil is he was caught messing up.

This led to a discussion of quality of students. Our first group of Brazilians was high quality, but there was some discussion of the future. The bigger challenge, they thought, was not academics but maturity and temperament. A SwB visit is often the first time a Brazilian young person will have been away from home. Some will be sorely tempted by the vices mentioned above, or maybe they will just cut class.  Or maybe they will suffer from melancholy and homesickness. Maybe all of these things in some measure. There were few negatives in these shouts of hallelujah. Most recognized the program was started only a short time ago and rolled out quickly. Paradoxically, there were complaints of too much and too little communication. I guess the general idea was that there was some confusion. Much of this is now cleared up.  Another complaint was in the nature of internships. It is hard for some people to get them. I don’t think this is a completely solvable problem. It is hard to get internships for Americans too. There is a lot of competition sometimes. There is little that we could and even less that we should do to help Brazilians out compete Americans and others.  Schools are making information available and the Brazilian authorities are working with firms. This is as good as it will get.

Many in the group were happy to learn that they could apply to the program again in graduate school.  This is also what many American schools want.

The first round of SwB was a success. We have seen a mutual enchantment. The Brazilians love the American schools and the American schools love to have them. So far, so good.

I have to caution that focus groups are not a statically valid way to measure opinions. They are good for generating ideas and making impressions, but we need to be careful that we don’t fall victim to availability bias, i.e. crediting information more because it is easy to get. But in this case, the ideas from the focus group tracked with survey data, so I feel confident in my impressions. 

My picture up top is my front yard.  I have not mowed the lawn since May of last year. Instead, I have been gathering seeds from flower beds I passed and tossing them around. This is what I have. I like it better than the manicured lawn.

Michigan visit

Vera and I met a University of Michigan delegation and accompanied them to meetings at CAPES.  CAPES told the University of Michigan folks that CAPES asked IIE to respect existing MOUs, i.e. if universities have pre-existing agreements IIE will channel students toward them related to the terms of the MOU.   This, he said, is another good reason to come to Brazil and make agreements.

He explained how SwB is working now.  Most undergraduates are assigned through IIE.  Graduate students require a more granular process.  Laspau is administering the graduate programs and will make the selection of programs if prospective students do not have a place in mind.  However, with a conditional letter of acceptance from an American university, students can go to CAPES and receive SwB funding.  CAPES may also issue conditional letters of acceptance.  There is a kind of chicken & egg problem here.  Sometimes students cannot finish their applications and get conditional letters of acceptance w/o conditional letters of support but they cannot get conditional letters of support w/o conditional letters of acceptance.   

CAPES pays stipends of $1300/month.  This is enough in some cities but not everywhere.   There is a $400 addition for high-cost cities.  This is not a finished process and there is still a lot of fluidity.  Some universities supplement stipends. CAPES is getting good cooperation with firms.   There is a shortage of science and engineering talent in Brazil.  Firms are eager to tap into a potential source of the best and brightest applicants.   Sometimes they are very specific.  Petrobras, for example, is interested only in PhDs.  CAPES mentioned Boeing as a good partner.  Boeing sponsored fourteen students in the first group of SwB students.  CAPES didn’t need the money for scholarships this year and instead asked Boeing to sponsor internships.  Boeing will sponsor thirty-one interns this year.

Currently, there are more scholarships available than there are qualified applicants at the graduate level, i.e. every qualified applicant succeeds.  The Michigan folks asked how they could increase their numbers.    They would like to get 15-20 Brazilians a year in the graduate programs.   They said that they were more interested in getting top Brazilian students than in getting money.  CAPES suggested some common sense ways to get more students.  An obvious target market consists of students already at the school, i.e. undergraduates in science and maybe even SwB undergrads.  The challenge is finding them in a cost effective way.  CAPES has lists, but for privacy reasons cannot share them.  Michigan will have to use the old fashioned ways of meeting and greeting.

Applicants to PhD programs at Michigan do not require an MA, but those starting right out of UG will probably require five years to finish their doctorates.   CAPES will pay for only four years.  Michigan did not see this as a problem.  They can fund the fifth year, if needed.   Michigan guarantees support for all graduate students, conditioned on their continued good grades etc.  Michigan has admissions twice a year, although fall semester starts are much more common and graduates around 260 engineering PhDs each year.

The Michigan folks explained what they see as the strength of U.S. engineering students in general and Michigan in particular.   American schools are very welcoming to foreign students.  Michigan has a Brazilian student association and a Brazilian-American professor on the Michigan delegation assured At Michigan, students get lots of hand-on experience.  Michigan students and professors are well integrated with businesses.  There is lots of cross-fertilization, with academics providing brain power and theories and firms contributing money and a practical reality-check.  Making Brazilian education more like this is a goal of the SwB program.  Brazilian universities tend to have a more hands-off and even a vague dislike of working too closely with business.   Michigan has a research budget of $1.27 billion; the engineering departments have “only” $190 million.

CAPES asked the Michigan folks to send more students and especially PhD scholars to Brazil.  They want Brazil more connected to the bigger world of science and engineering.  They are not very worried about Brazilian students going overseas and not coming back.  This could happen sometimes, but Brazil is offering so many opportunities these days that they expect to provide good jobs for all Brazilian technology grads and then still have a labor shortage.  

In the interests of internationalization, CAPES, which evaluates and certifies all university programs in Brazil, is considering adding an international exchange component to its evaluation criteria.  A structure change like this is a big deal.  It will alter the incentive structure and so the reality of how the system works.

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us to see oursels as ithers see us!

We had an interesting discussion with a Brazilian student recently returned from a Science w/o Borders scholarship at the University of Nebraska. When we set these kids off to places like Nebraska, I wondered how they would adapt to the cold. There is no place in Brazil that ever gets as cold as Nebraska does on a typical night in February or March. In fact, summer in Nebraska is cooler than winter in most of Brazil.   But they evidently liked the cold or at least didn’t mind.

He talked about the differences in our countries. Little things count. Brazilians hug on the first meeting, Americans not so much.  Brazilians and Americans like beans. But the Brazilian black beans and rice is very different from our pork & beans that Brazilians call sweet.

On the plus side, people are similar in both countries in their general goodness. Our Brazilian friend cautioned his fellows not to mistake Americans’ more distant body language as a sign of distance of coolness.  He said that the people of Nebraska were almost uniformly friendly and welcoming. I felt proud of my fellow Americans.

One big surprise for our Brazilian friend was how sparsely populated were the “big” cities of Nebraska.  Nebraska is not the most densely populated of American states, but American cities are fundamentally different from Brazilians ones.   Brazilian cities are much denser. You are driving through mostly empty territory until suddenly you see a city. It is almost like looking at a wall of tall buildings rising out of the soil.  American cities have extensive suburbs. You begin to drive into the city long before you get to the center.  And when you get to the center, it is often not very densely settled.  I have noticed this difference myself when driving and flying. When flying over the U.S. at night, you see lights spread out over wide areas.  There are houses and streets down there.  In Brazil there cities are areas of very bright light surrounded by darkness.

Science w/o Borders update

It has been a little more year since the first (approximately) 600 Brazilian students arrived in the United States under President Dilma Rousseff’s innovative Science without Borders program.  According to our Brazilian friends 5,028 Brazilians have now gone on SWB program.  Mission Brazil has integrated education as a top priority, focusing efforts to create opportunities and leverage partnerships in direct support of this game-changing initiative for all of our interests as we build the 21st century partnership with Brazil. This cable reflects at the success our Brazilian friends and we have enjoyed since the official announcement of the Science without Borders program (now officially called Brazil Scientific Mobility Program in English), by President Dilma Rousseff in July 2011. 

Chaotic” Decentralized U.S. higher education system delivers first with the most

When President Rousseff announced in July 2011 that the GOB intended to fund the study of over 100,000 Brazilian students overseas, many of the diplomatic missions in Brazil, notably the United Kingdom, Portugal, France, Spain, Australia, and Canada, indicated their strong interest in attracting these students to their respective higher education institutions.  However, the United States was the only country with a strong (and flexible) education exchange program already in place, and, as a result, received the very first students less than six months after President Rousseff’s announcements and has maintained our inherent advantage ever since.  In this, we contradicted some of our own fears and the expectations of other countries, particularly France and Portugal, that the decentralized nature of the U.S. higher education system would suffer in competition with ostensibly more centralized educational systems in Europe and elsewhere.    Indeed, some European countries were quicker off the mark with bold offers and audacious plans, but the first organized group of students ultimately put their feet on U.S. soil a full nine months before other countries even got started.   It turned out that the decentralized, competitive and seemingly disorganized nature of the U.S. higher education system actually represented a diversity and flexibility that much more easily accommodated the rapid placement of Brazilian students. 
Accomplishing great things through great relationships

Mission Brazil’s goal in working with Brazilian partners was to make choosing the United States the most logical choice and getting qualified Brazilian students placements in U.S. institutions as easy as possible.  To that end, we immediately engaged with two Brazilian federal agencies linked to the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, CAPES and CNPq, respectively, both charged with implementing Science without Borders, to identify areas of common interest where we could cooperate and problems that could be anticipated and solved.  The Mission had long standing relationships with both CAPES and CNPq and had worked on exchange programs before, but nobody had ever done anything on the scale proposed.  The initial (2011/2012) problem consisted mainly of identifying a diverse range of potential U.S. institutions that had the requisite strength in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields as well as the flexibility to take large numbers of Brazilian students on short notice.  Helping our Brazilian partners with this required a paradigm shift on their part, as their experience and understanding of U.S. universities or colleges had been limited to just a small number of these institutions in just a few states.

Taking advantage of the grand diversity of U.S. options
Indeed, in the original Science without Borders formulation, Brazilian authorities had wanted their students to go to only the “best” American universities, with “best” defined by Brazilian authorities primarily in terms of a relatively small number of universities with widespread international name recognition.  Mission officers worked hard to show our Brazilian partners the depth and diversity of the U.S. higher education system and network, explaining that excellent programs could be found in many places in the United States and that some of the most outstanding science and math programs were found in institutions not as well known outside the United States.  For example, Mission officers had great success in raising the awareness among GOB officials of the U.S. network of large land-grant universities and Historically Black Colleges and Universities, because of their long commitment to pragmatic research specifically in the practical sciences Brazil was seeking.   To help us explain, we took advantage of visits by U.S. universities as well as alumni networks, but perhaps the biggest single initiative was a program organized by PAS, in cooperation with CAPES, CNPq and dozens of Brazilian universities, to take twenty-eight Brazilian education leaders to the United States in February 2012.  We divided these Brazilian education leaders into three groups, visited scores of U.S. universities, big and small, public and private.  All the Brazilian academics then gathered in Washington to discuss their findings with each other and with U.S. officials.  The entire group returned to Brazil with new perspectives regarding the U.S. higher education system and full of enthusiasm.  It is not just a coincidence that the Brazilian institutions represented on the visit contributed many more of their students to the second round of students going to the United States.  Post repeated this successful program in November 2012, with an emphasis on graduate studies, taking twenty-eight deans of STEM departments from key Brazilian universities, keeping a similarly ambitious agenda and pace.  This second round, there was no longer the need to explain the program’s rationale or convince either side of the value.  In less than a year, both U.S. and Brazilian higher education leaders have realized the mutually beneficial and symbiotic advantages for building more institutional links.     

After these Mission efforts, it was relatively simple to explain and greatly expand the pool of potential colleges and universities acceptable to Brazilian authorities beyond the “elite schools.”   Without this change in mind-set, sending such large numbers of Brazilian students in a sustainable fashion to the U.S. on Science without Borders program would have been impossible.   There simply were not enough places available at the elite schools, and basing the program primarily on these would not have taken advantage of the great diversity and power of the American nation. With the whole American nation opened up to them, full of possibilities and options.   Evidence of the American nation now opened up and full of possibilities and options has been the non-stop, revolving door of visits by American universities to Brazil, including the unprecedented August/September 2012 delegation of 66 American universities, led by Under Secretary of Commerce Sanchez, coming to Brazil for the annual EducationUSA fair.

Overcoming Logistical challenges

The next serious obstacle we had identified early-on and were committed to resolving was logistical and organizational.  Neither CAPES nor CNPq had sufficient staff experienced in placing large numbers of students overseas nor staff enough for managing the process and paperwork in the U.S.   They could not easily outsource to a U.S.-based organization because of particulars of Brazilian government rules about making advance payments to foreign-based entities.   This is where Fulbright Commission played the pivotal role.   Fulbright’s unique binational character plus its long experience in managing similar albeit smaller numbers of exchanges coupled with its excellent reputation and contacts in Brazil and the U.S. allowed the Commission to play a vital intermediary role.   Fulbright, in fact, was probably the most important factor in the U.S. ability to act more quickly than other countries to receive Science without Borders students.  Working with IIE and later Laspau, Fulbright gave Brazilian authorities the help they needed to get the job done.

The Mission’s network of 24 EducationUSA offices spread at major cities in Brazil also spun up quickly at critical moments to respond to the imminent demand. EducationUSA’s critical role in advertising the program to U.S. universities so they could register with IIE in time to receive the first cohort of the Brazilian students and in conducting an outreach campaign in Brazil to guide SWB applicants in person and through online tutorials on how to fill out the Common Application and how to take the TOEFL, the two ongoing needs.  Our PA and Consular teams have joined forces with EducationUSA to help counter the perceptions of visas as an obstacle for all exchanges.

The first Brazilian selection process (Fall 2011) yielded around 700 qualified candidates, a respectable number considering the 3-month, tight time line and the fact that the program was off-cycle for U.S. academic programs.  IIE placed them in appropriate U.S. schools and completed all the paperwork with remarkable alacrity.  In order to address the potential problem of getting visas issued in time, as well as to call public attention to the program and our commitment to supporting Brazilian educational aspirations, the Mission held pre-departure orientation sessions and visa days at the Embassy and the three Consulates.   Brasilia’s December 2011 program, dubbed “Burgers without Borders,” featured Mission officers, including Ambassador Thomas Shannon, frying hamburgers on a Weber grill to feed hundreds of students while they got their pre-departure briefings by Mission officers, CAPES, and EducationUSA advisers, and waited for their visa interviews.  The visa days were covered by media Brazil-wide  and the events are still talked about a year later.  In December 2012, the Embassy and three Consulates held similar events to send off the third group of Science without Borders students.

English competency: the continuing weak link, prompts other ambitious exchange programs

With the first hundreds of students successfully placed in American universities  our Brazilian partners needed help to find, place and send thousands more.   A few new obstacles were revealed.   Some were simple but very serious.   For example, there were simply not enough TOEFL test seats offered in Brazil and those available were often not in the places where students most needed them.   One of the goals of the Brazilian program was to reach out to underserved students in underserved places.  The existing testing network did not reflect this, nor was it big enough. The Mission worked with Education Testing Service (ETS) to increase both the numbers of tests offered and the diversity of locations. EducationUSA helped ETS find new testing centers at major Brazilian universities. The problem has since been addressed definitively.  Brazilian authorities bought rights to 500,000 TOEFL ITP.  This test can be and generally is used as diagnostic test and is acceptable for non-degree programs, such as Science without Borders.   Again, Fulbright played an instrumental role to make this happen.  This acquisition essentially eliminated a testing bottleneck.  But TOEFL was in many ways only a symptom of the bigger problem of low levels of English proficiency among potential SwB students. 

English competency turned out to be the major constraint on the pool of applicants and the problem became more acute as the recruiting reached farther into the pool of potential applicants.  The number that could score high enough to qualify for study in the U.S. was low, especially in underserved communities who were important targets of the program. Brazilian authorities committed to funding three to six-month intensive English courses at U.S. institutions.  There was no shortage of American universities and community colleges willing to provide such training and the Mission, especially the Regional English Language Officer (RELO) helped identify a wide variety of them, but even this boost presupposed some intermediate level of English, which was often not available.  Building English proficiency is a long-term challenge. Experts say that it takes years to build a competent English speaker.  This means that anybody who will be going on a SwB scholarship in the next three years is already studying English and has at least a basic competence. There is no such thing as destiny, but demographic facts like this come close.
Adequate command of English makes it much easier and more likely that Brazilians will interact with Americans and improving English competency was a Mission goal before the creation of Science without Borders.  The Mission has long had an ongoing commitment to English teaching and learning through the activities of our RELO and our network of Binational Centers (BNCs) and we had already geared up our programs to some extent in anticipation of large international events to take place in Brazil, such as the Olympics and the World Cup, where basic English competency would be helpful to Brazilians.  But there is a considerable challenge in exponentially ramping up our successful programs, especially since we could not expect significant increases in resources or increases in personnel to run the programs.  The Mission offered resources and expertise to develop courses specifically geared to helping students with nearly sufficient English get over the threshold and our BNC network eagerly accepted the challenge.  Together we developed a program called “English Cubed” that offered classes in BNCs throughout Brazil.   Using year-end-money from Washington, the Mission funded scholarships for low-income students, which several BNCs matched dollar for dollar.  This program was successful in helping dozens of students not only make the grade (i.e. the primary objective to achieve at least a 79 on the TOELF), but for some to go above and beyond the ‘grade’ of 79, by up to 30 additional points to score in the low 100s.  English teachers and students remarked that E3 was the best course they had ever used/taken, and Post is considering how it supports those BNCs that want to continue the program, but this notable success was not big enough in the face of the truly massive numbers our Brazilian partners were hoping to get.  Beyond that, what is essentially a mass education initiative is well beyond our abilities and exceeds our writ, but our partnership for the 21st century depends on our helping to address this challenge with Brazil.  In this context, as with education, Mission Brazil continues to be intensely focused on bringing more English opportunity on this larger scale.  

Reaching really big numbers – English without Borders

Brazilian authorities are addressing the need and the Mission is helping to the extent possible and appropriate. Our Brazilian friends announced “English without Borders” in December 2012.  It is designed to be a comprehensive program to give large numbers of Brazilian students English competency needed to participate in Science without Borders and generally in the wider world.   It is a very ambitious project, which is expected to assess 54,000 university students in early 2013 using the TOEFL IPT as a diagnostic tool.  Brazilian authorities expect English without Borders to benefit seven million Brazilians within the next four years.  The program has already started accessing students’ English language skills at 59 pilot universities, and will: fast-track students with good English skills into the mobility program; provide those at near passing levels with intensive English instruction, in classes of no more than fifteen students per instructor, and offer instruction in a combination of in-person and online courses for those who need more preparation. The Ministry of Education, along with a committee formed by representatives from 10 universities from all regions of Brazil, has just developed a call for proposals for universities to apply for funds to put together these specific language courses and pay for instructors (approx. 10 per university), who will be identified from their pool of pre-service English language teachers.  This prep-course should cover: English language, Academic life in the U.S., TOEFL preparation (the same three elements in RELO/Post-developed English3 program).

 The Minister of Education, flanked by the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation and others made the announcement of English without Borders on December 18, 2012.   Representatives of all English speaking countries plus others involved with English teaching and Science without Borders were invited, but only the U.S. Mission got a seat at the main table with the Ministers, recognizing the key role we played in helping develop the program.   The Brazilian Secretary of Higher Education, agreed to take a a Senior English Language Fellow within the Ministry to help design and implement English without Borders.  While final recruitment for the Fellow is complete, a post-funded, interim specialist will start working on the project February 25 to design data collection tools, identify best practices of English language teaching, and support the development of the course at Brazilian universities.  In the meantime, Post is diligently identifying a Senior Fellow who will undertake this job on a longer term.  This ensures that the Mission is not only present at the creation of this big program; we are taking part in the creation of something our Brazilian friends expect to reach seven million Brazilians within the next four years. 

We look forward to continued success working with Brazilian colleagues in the mutually synergistic fields of education, English teaching and youth programs. For example, the Mission and CAPES implemented an intensive English language program at the University of Oregon for 20 public school teachers in 2011.  Program success led CAPES’decision to increase its share to cover 40, for a total of 50 participants in 2012.  With English without Borders the Brazilian government expanded this initiative again, funding 540 scholarships in January 2013 and another 540 going in July 2013.  Our Cultural Affairs and RELO team have been working closely with CAPES, CONSED (the Association of Brazilian state secretaries of education), and Fulbright to expand these opportunities for Brazilian Public School English teachers throughout Brazil.  PA has been guiding CAPES in its decision, helping to identify potential programs which can accommodate and meet expectations, and to ensure geographical diversity.  The inaugural group traveled to the U.S. in January 2013 for their respective six-week intensive programs at 18 different higher education institutions.  There are 1651 applicants for the July 2013 program currently being assessed. 

A chance of a lifetime

We are experiencing a wonderful and unique time in Brazilian-American relations.  Our interests in linking American and Brazilian education systems and networks coincide with those of our Brazilian friends.  In addition, Brazilian officials have access to resources that allow them to fund some of their aspirations in a way that was not possible in the past. Beyond all that, changes in Brazilian demography and the rapid growth of the middle class is creating a burgeoning demand for all sorts of quality education and for related items such as English teaching.  Building on many years of work, we are enjoying spectacular relations with Brazilian authorities in the education field at many levels: federal, state and local.  In this auspicious time for public diplomacy in Brazil, the Mission has taken full advantage of the opportunities and expanded on them.  We intend to continue down this path, which will influence Brazilian-American relationships for a generation.

Advancing education with Fulbright

Our biggest tool in SwB and education involvement in Brazil in general is the Fulbright. It was Fulbright that made possible the Brazilian use of IIE and Laspau, without which SwB just would not have worked for us.  It is Fulbright that is administering the 1080 Brazilian English teachers travel to the U.S., the U.S. Community Colleges  & the Humphrey Program, among many other things.

We don’t think about Fulbright much of the time because it just works. But clearly, if we didn’t have a Fulbright Program, we would have to invent one to do the many things we want done.

I chaired the Fulbright Board meeting Thursday, and would like to share some notes. The Fulbright Board meets four times a year. It is a binational board with Brazilian and American members. I am the ex-officio president and I have a counterpart appointed by Itamaraty. The Brazilian and American governments jointly support Fulbright activities. Given the GOB emphasis on education in the last couple years, Fulbright has become more important, but most of that growth has been as a facilitator of programs. Another crucial role Fulbright has been playing is that of connector. Our board includes influential people, among them reps from CAPES, Itamaraty and academia. These connections have proved extremely valuable in coordinating Mission contacts with Brazil.

As SwB came on the scene, we decided to move Fulbright efforts for Brazilians going to the U.S. more into the social sciences and humanities.  The logic was that Fulbright could not compete and should not compete with SwB and, besides, this need was being met.  This has turned out to be a good decision.  We are getting many good quality applications for the scholarships, more than three candidates for each one.   Far from taking away from Fulbright, Science w/o Borders has helped Fulbright by raising its profile.  We have more quality applicants than ever.

Among the expanding less traditional programs is Foreign Language Teaching Assistants (FLTA).  We will have 45 grants, funded by the Brazilian government.   These FLTAs will work in U.S. universities to increase interest and competency in Portuguese among U.S. students.  U.S. students also come to Brazil to help at teachers’ colleges. They are spread all over the country, currently at eighteen host institutions. More and more American schools are offering Portuguese and interest is growing. 

I learned that the University of Georgia is the flagship of Portuguese learning, i.e. received a big grant from the National Security Education Program (NSEP) to establish an Undergraduate Flagship Program in Portuguese.  It is a program of intensive language instruction, one-on-one tutorials, Skype partners in Brazil, and other innovative curriculum. Flagship students will also spend a year in Brazil where they will reach professional-level Portuguese proficiency through language and content courses, as well as an internship experience. UGA is partnering with São Paulo State University (UNESP). This program started in 2012.  Pardon the digression.

To me the most impressive thing about Fulbright was the scholarship it sponsors.   You can find more about what Fulbright offers at this link, but let me list them.  Fulbright Commission in Brazil sponsors programs for Brazilian scholars.  There are two main types: all field grants, which offer 3-4 month terms in all fields of study at U.S. universities.  There are twenty-five of these grants, plus several specialized “chairs”.   The chairs include: Dr Ruth Cardoso Chair in social science at Columbia, Distinguished Chair of Human Rights at Notre Dame, Distinguished Chair of Agricultural Studies at University of Nebraska – Lincoln, Distinguished Chair of Environmental Sciences at University of Texas – Austin, Distinguished Chair of Brazilian Studies at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, Distinguished Chair of Music & Musicology at Indiana University.  In addition, there is a new program that will offer five nine-month research awards.

For American scholars there are forty-nine grants for 2-4 months at Brazilian institutions.  Forty-five are regular grants plus five specialties including:  Awards in the humanities and social sciences,  Fulbright-Science w/o Borders awards in the STEM fields,  Distinguished Chair in American Studies at PUC-Rio, Distinguished Chair in Environmental Sciences and Engineering at UFOPA (Santarém in Pará),  Distinguished Chair in Oil and Gas sciences at. Fundação de Amparo a Ciência e Tecnologia do Estado de Pernambuco,  Distinguished Chair  in Visual Arts at Fundação Armando Álvares Penteado in São Paulo, plus Five nine-month post doctoral grants in any field.  

An important change we have decided to make is to move our EducationUSA coordinator from Rio to Brasilia.   We have a network of twenty-four advisors around Brazil. Until the revolution provoked by SwB, the system worked well.  Now the volume is greatly increased and we need to adapt.  For example, it is no longer good to let advisors wait for people to come. Rather we need boots on the ground all over the country.  We also need them to help with “simple” things like helping Brazilian students fill out the common application.   In any case, we think a more proactive stance is needed and that Brasília is that place to base our efforts, since it is the nation’s capital and is centrally located.  Brasília has the best connections of any city in Brazil. You can get a direct flight from Brasília to any of the state capitals except Macapá and Boa Vista.  For those you need to hop via Belém and Manaus respectively. 

Otherwise there was the usual business.  We are moving ahead on our SwB facilitation, our English teachers and our school principal program. Lots to do and lots being done.   As I learn more about how Fulbright is connected and my role, I see more possibilities.  It really is a great program and I am so proud that I can be a part of it.  

My picture is an from when Mariza visited.  It is the base of Itiquira Falls near Brasilia. The spray is exhilarating. It keeps it constantly wet and green.

Finishing up my U.S. university trip

We traveled around the Louisiana and then to Washington.  As I wrote a few posts ago, much of what I learned was similar to what I learned before.  Educational exchanges require trust and relationships.  I will not repeat that analysis again, but I do what to share some of my pictures and notes.  Above are ferns on trees at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette.  Many trees are covered in them.

The U.S. has lots of great universities.  I am fond of the more out-of-the-way state institutions.  There is a lot of excellence in these smaller centers and lots of people get their educations there.  We visited Louisiana Tech in Ruston LA.   It is a long way from New Orleans.  The Louisiana environment is a lot like southern Virginia, pines and mixed forests.  It was familiar.  Above is the biomedical building at LT.  Below is an interesting type of store.  I never saw a store devoted to irrigation.  It is especially surprising in Louisiana, where it rains a lot.

Below is a statue of Mike the Tiger at LSU.  They have a real tiger too His home is behind the statue. I took a picture of Mike, but he was just laying there.  The current Mike the Tiger is number 6. 

We also visited Tulane.  It is a beautiful university full or tradition.  It is long and narrow, only a couple blocks wide but about a mile long. 

Louisiana: LSU1

Our first top was Louisiana State University Petroleum Engineering Research & Technology Transfer Laboratory (PERTT Lab) Well Facility, long name.  They have working equipment and study how rigs really work under pressure, literally under pressure.  They bring in various types of mud and oil to simulate real conditions.

LSU is a leader in oil and gas because this is so much oil & gas in Louisiana.  Much of this is conventional energy, but LSU is also gearing up to work on the unconventional new sources. Petroleum engineering is a growth industry as the new technologies have essentially created vast new sources of energy. Our friends at LSU told me that their students have 100% placement rate.  This is caused by the great demand surge plus a generational change.  Fewer petroleum engineers were minted after the 1980s. Many of those working today are near retirement. There is a shortage developing at the same time that the U.S. is expected to become the world’s largest oil producer within this decade and may become a net energy exporter within my lifetime. What a change!

LSU folks believe in hands-on experience.  With that in mind, they have their own simulation well.  This is a real oil well, but it has lots of equipment that can simulate conditions that students might face in their future.  They even have a hands-on test.  Students are uneasy about these tests because they happen in real time, and they have to make quick decisions.   LSU professors tell the students that it is better to create this kind of time pressure in the lab. You don’t want to have your first test in the real world.

The equipment is used by firms as well as students and academic researchers.  These firms, such as BP and Chevron, pay for the service and their work with students and professors helps everybody learn while pushing the frontiers of knowledge.   There are not many intellectual property issues involved, since much of the research is testing existing technologies and often involved with health & safety and environmental protection issues.  Firms want to share experience about health & safety and environmental protection, since they know that any well that causes trouble hurts all players in the industry, no matter who owns the rig.