WEST LAFAYETTE, IND. — Purdue University’s Global Engineering Program has launched an initiative to form collaborations with academia and industry in Brazil. The initiative included three study abroad courses this summer oriented toward engineering students in addition to two other classes offered in agriculture, and language and culture.

"More than 50 Purdue students and eight faculty visited Brazil this summer," said William Anderson, director of the Global Engineering Program. "This is an important step toward forging our partnerships there."

Central to the initiative was a study abroad course involving 26 students who delved into issues including alternative energy production, transportation infrastructure, ecology, and the environment. The course was developed by Monica Prezzi and Rodrigo Salgado, both professors of civil engineering.

"The program was very comprehensive, in terms of technical content," Prezzi said. "We had university, academic and industrial hosts."

Such study abroad efforts benefit the students as well as the local and Purdue communities, Salgado said.

"Any time you can establish or strengthen ties with the fifth-largest economy in the world, you are going to realize benefits," he said. "It’s beneficial for Purdue students and faculty and for local businesses to interact with this dynamic economy and for our students to be able to work there, whether permanently or temporarily. At the same time, Brazil sends thousands of students abroad with full scholarships every year, and Purdue should make an effort to attract these students."

The Purdue students visited the Itaipu Dam and its bio sanctuary, created to mitigate the impacts of construction on wildlife and the environment, near the border with Argentina and Paraguay; the Santa Cruz Ethanol Plant near Sao Carlos; an airline aircraft maintenance facility in Sao Carlos; the University of Sao Paulo at Sao Carlos; a new subway line construction site in the city of Sao Paulo; a port construction site in the state of Rio de Janeiro; the Port of Acu "superport complex" under construction in Campos; the Petrobras research center in Rio de Janeiro; and the graduate program of COPPE-UFRJ, a university in Rio de Janeiro.

"Brazil is a country of important significance in the world, and its stature and prominence will only continue to grow both politically and economically," said Michael A. Brzezinski, dean of international programs. "Purdue is actively engaging the country through faculty research and now, thanks to the College of Engineering, via student learning opportunities as well."

Melba Crawford, interim head of the School of Civil Engineering and associate dean of Engineering for Research, said all three courses are in areas of strategic interest to the College of Engineering.

"The interdisciplinary course led by Prezzi and Salgado provided the type of opportunity we strongly endorse for our students to experience multiple aspects of the profession," she said.

One of the other engineering-oriented study abroad courses, led by Lia Stanciu, an associate professor of materials engineering, focused on the use of biosensors for environmental monitoring in the rainforest. The other course, led by Anderson, focused on the use of "remote sensing" from satellites and aircraft to study global climate change and the rainforest.

"The major technical theme of this program was the role of the rainforest in global climatology and how remote sensing is being used to monitor its health," Anderson said.

Other topics included forest ecology, land use change, and the role of indigenous peoples in conservation efforts. After a series of lectures and visits with academic researchers and to the Brazilian space agency INPE, the students spent four days in Amazonia for firsthand observations.

Inez Hua, a civil engineering professor and Global Engineering Program associate director for Latin America, is leading a College of Engineering initiative to develop research and education collaborations in Brazil. Hua and Nicholas Carpita, a professor in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, led a Purdue delegation to universities, industry, and government agencies in Sao Paulo state.

"Our meetings were very productive, and I’m confident that we’ll develop long-term collaborations with our university and corporate partners in Brazil," Hua said.

Prezzi and Salgado, who are Brazilian, began developing their study-abroad course two years ago, and the other two courses were added later.

"This is something that’s natural for us," Prezzi said. "Being from Brazil, we have a network of connections there. We know the geography and the language, we know how institutions and government agencies work, we know the university system. This familiarity enables you to provide the best experience possible for the students."

Of the 26 undergraduate students in the Brazilian course, 12 were women.

"This is unusual because engineering courses typically have lower percentages of female students," Salgado said. "Even more interesting is the fact that we have students from a broad representation of engineering disciplines, including chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, industrial engineering, and aeronautics and astronautics. There are many opportunities for jobs in a broad range of industries in Brazil, and there is a well-developed university system. Our students need to better understand how business and institutions work there. This program will help them to establish interactions with other students, professors and private industry in Brazil."