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.

Universities in Minas 2

Minas Gerais has more federal universities than any other state.   There are twelve federal universities, along with two state universities and various private ones, including PUC-Minas, which is the largest PUC in the world.  They are working on forming a consortium of the twelve federals, two states and PUC.  If it works, it will be a powerful combination.  

Many of the universities are outside the big cities, which is not the common Brazilian pattern.  We visited Ouro Preto, Viçosa and São João del Rei.   None of these are big cities and the universities make a big impression on them.   

Viçosa has a population of only a little more than 70,000; the federal university (UFV) has around 14,000 students.  Viçosa was originally founded as a school of agriculture called Escola Superior de Agricultura e Veterinária, and co-founded by an American, Peter Henry Rolfs.  Rolfs was the director of the school 1927-9.   Exchanges with the U.S. were common in the 1930s and 1940s and in the 1950s, the school developed a strong partnership with Perdue University. The place has a significant American feel and a practical mission similar to one of our land grant universities.

One thing that UFV has that many other Brazilian universities do not is dorms. 

When I was reading the history of the Escola Superior de Agricultura e Veterinária, the parallels to today were apparent.  History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.  Back in the 1920s, Brazil looked to partner with the U.S. in things like agricultural sciences and Viçosa was one of the perennial fruits of this cooperation ninety years ago.  I hope our work with SwB will be as successful and sustainable.  It is good to recall that we can see farther because we stand on the shoulders of giants.  Our duty is to be worthy of those that went before.

The Federal University at Ouro Preto grew from two practical streams: the Escola de Farmácia de Ouro Preto was founded in 1839 and the School of Mines chartered by Emperor Pedro II in 1876.  The two were united to form a federal university in 1969.   Minas Gerais means “general mines,” so a school of mines was natural in the state.

The Federal University of São João del Rei also had roots in older schools.  The Faculdade Dom Bosco de Filosofia, Ciências e Letras and a Fundação Municipal de São João del-Rei.   

We got a fantastic reception at all three university, with crowds growing at each stop.   I counted 170 at Ouro Preto.  Viçosa filled every seat in an auditorium that held 200 and had people standing.  São João del Rei met us with about 150 in the hall itself, but connected other centers via internet and we got questions from the remote locations.  In addition we did television interviews.  My colleague Vera did a really good job of answering questions and I am convinced that dozens if not hundreds of additional Brazilian students will study in the U.S. as a result of our efforts in Minas and around Brazil.  Valeu a pena ir.

My top pictures show the campus at Viçosa.  At the very top are hitchhikers.  They line up for rides.  Next is the old main building.  The engine is from Ouro Preto.  I will download pictures of São João del Rei and make a separate post tomorrow.

Minas Gerais

I went in Ouro Preto to talk at the local university about Science w/o Border and the overwhelming advantages of the university system in the U.S.  I will write more about that later.  Right now I just want to share a few pictures and impressions.

Ouro Preto is really a pretty city in a pretty location.  It looks like Portugal and is the city of the Baroque, as I wrote during my first visit here with Chrissy.  I am glad that this time Espen came with me. He will get to see a little more of the city while I am working. Tourism is not my purpose this time, but I hope he gets to take advantage.

I can repeat over and over that Brazil is a very diverse country but sometimes it is so obvious that it is overlooked.  This part of Brazil is so very different from where I live in Brasilia or areas of the NE or …

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.

Farming and youth in Minas Gerais

We had to get up early to go to the experimental farm at the FUCAM project in Esmeraldas. We left at 7am but got stuck in traffic.  There was evidently an accident on the main highway, so we had to take the back roads.

The farm is a place for poor kids from rural Minas.  There are classes on singing and art, but also and most importantly on agriculture.  We had a great coffee break, with the snack foods of Minas, including pao de queijo and queijo de Minas.  Pao de queijo is a type of cheese bread, sometimes in little balls and sometimes in slices.   It is very good.  Queijo de Minas is a white cheese, sort of a firm version of cottage cheese.

The farm grows its own vegetables and has some left over for market.  Everything is organic.  Part of the education process is their environmental responsibility. Notice the dirt is brown/black. Most of the dirt around here is red or orange. This shows how much organic matter is in this farm soil. The pond below catches the runoff. There are talapia in it.  Talapia is one of the quickest ways to grow usable protein.  They can thrive in dirty water, in fact they prefer it.

On the way out they told us that there was one more demonstration.   We went to a small barnyard with various animals.  I thought maybe they would show us some tricks.   Instead, they showed us how they castrate a bull.  I got to stand very close.  I am glad that they didn’t hand me the knife.  They tie a string around the sack first and then cut.  There is not much blood, but I don’t think it is pleasant for the bull to become a steer.  This is the first time I saw this close up. I had a closer up picture, but it really was less interesting than you might suppose.  Google if you want to see it.  I did take a picture of the unfortunate animal before the procedure.  See below.