Fairfield University Environmental Science program in Brazil part of wider plan to increase number of U.S. students studying abroad



A new study abroad program in environmental science, coordinated between Fairfield University and the Universidade Estadual do Norte Fluminense (UENF), in Campos, Brazil, is being supported with a $300,000 grant from the Department of State.

Dr. Brian Walker, chair of the Biology Department at Fairfield, who recently returned from an eight-day trip to UENF with Fairfield University President Jeffrey von Arx, S.J., and Dr. Dina Franceschi, associate professor of economics, said the federal grant is aimed at increasing the number of U.S. students who study abroad. Presently about 250,000 American students take part in study abroad programs. The Department of State's goal is to increase that number to one million.

During their visit, Fr. Von Arx and Drs. Franceschi and Walker met with the Brazilian Program Manager, Adriana Daudt Grativol, and faculty and UENF officials to discuss their ongoing efforts to broaden and diversify the options for U.S. undergraduate science majors and ensure that students traditionally less likely to study abroad begin to do so in greater numbers. This international grant award is the first of its kind in which Fairfield will manage an overseas contract.

UENF, located in the state of Rio de Janeiro's most important commercial cities, Campos do Goytacazes, was established as an innovative model with interdisciplinary laboratories and research centers and is one of Brazil's most highly ranked universities. Dr. Walker and the staff of Fairfield University's study abroad office have been working with faculty and administration at UENF to increase the capacity of UENF to host undergraduates from the United States and provide credit-bearing courses, both short-term and semester-long.

Science majors traditionally have had difficulty studying abroad, said Dr. Walker, in part because of the demanding course requirements that can include two semester sequences or specific laboratory work. But study abroad is important, he says, because it "immerses students into a different culture and provides them with a different look at their own country. Students are exposed to diverse opportunities that are not otherwise available and it gives them a well-rounded experience."

Students will be able to enroll in five to six undergraduate courses, each with a strong research component that pairs them with graduate students or faculty, providing a unique opportunity to form lasting relationships with future Brazilian scholars. Among the courses are Conservation and Management, Urban Evolution, Land Reform and Regional Development, Environmental Ethics, and Study of Lakes and Rivers.

Four weeks before regularly scheduled classes, all students take part in an intensive-Portuguese language immersion course. While science majors will find the program of special interest, students who want to study the Brazilian language and culture will find the program fulfilling as well. Students have the option of living in shared rooms with cooking facilities or with host families.

In addition to the semester-long program, Dr. Walker and other Fairfield University faculty are working to develop three stand-alone courses related to environmental sciences that will allow students to do coursework online, combined with a two-week study abroad in Brazil.

This is not the first time that Fairfield University has worked with UENF on a grant project. For the past 10 years, under the guidance of Dr. Dina Franceschi, Department of Economics, Fairfield and UENF have participated in a grant-funded exchange program between two American universities and two Brazilian universities allowing for rigorous research projects on topics such as the environment or social justice.

For more information on the program, please contact Dr. Walker at bwalker@fairfield.edu.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on June 29, 2011

Vol. 43, No. 327