Tropical Environmental Science: Study Abroad for Science and Non-science Majors in Brazil

Submitted by Anita Lee '11 on October 20, 2010

Interested in studying golden tamarins and bird population of the coastal rainforests in Brazil? Many students in the vertebrae zoology course instructed by Dr. Brian Walker, chair of the Biology Department, traveled to Brazil during winter break on an optional field study trip. The success of this short term program has led to developing a long term semester program abroad in Brazil. The primary goal is to increase the number of study abroad students in the sciences, while at the same time presenting a study abroad option in an underexposed area of the world.

The primary coordinators collaborating on this project are:

Awarded $300,000 from the Department of State for their project, “Tropical Environmental Science: Study Abroad for Science and Non-science Majors in Brazil,” the coordinators intend to cultivate a sustainable study abroad program for not only Fairfield University students, but also interested students across the country. It seeks to expand the opportunities for undergraduate science majors to study abroad, an option that is often times restricted due to course and lab requirements.

Why Universidade Estadual do Norte Fluminense (UENF)?

UENF is located in Campos do Goytacazes, Brazil, northeast of Rio de Janiero. This strategic location opens up many natural environments that serve as laboratories for students to gain hands-on experience. UENF is a public university and is one of the most competitive research universities in Brazil. The university has state of the art laboratories outfitted with the latest equipment, as well as direct access to many scientific journals that are hard to obtain.

Fairfield University has already established a long-term relationship with UENF in working on grant projects. For the past 10 years, Fairfield and UENF have participated in a grant-funded exchange program, in which 2 American universities and 2 Brazilian universities can cover the study abroad expenses of an individual from each university. The individual engages in a rigorous research project on predetermined topics such as the environment or social justice.

In addition, the students on the short term winter break trip assisted local researchers from UENF in gathering and analyzing data. These two projects serve as vital stepping stones in helping UENF develop infrastructures that are needed in order for the university to receive American students.

What is the importance of study abroad?

“Study abroad immerses students into a different culture and provides them with a different look at their own country, for better or for worse,” says Professor Walker, “Students are exposed to diverse opportunities that are not otherwise available and it gives them a well-rounded experience.”

Science majors traditionally have difficulty studying abroad. This characteristic is also true at Fairfield University, where students majoring in the sciences are required to complete demanding course requirements, many of which are two semester sequences or entail specific laboratory work.

The UENF study abroad program in Brazil allows students majoring and minoring in the sciences to study abroad without falling behind in their coursework. While many of the potential classes are science focused, there also will be Portuguese language and humanity courses available, making this a viable option for non-science majors as well.

The Fairfield University core requires that all students, no matter what major, complete 2 semesters of a science, which can easily be fulfilled through this program. Courses that incorporate multiple disciplines are being developed in order to meet the needs of all majors. For example, an economics of environmental science course at UENF will allow students to apply their credits to meet either a humanities or science requirement.

Fairfield’s professors are assisting UENF in establishing curriculum and setting criteria to ensure that their courses meet the standards of Fairfield University so that students who attend will receive credit toward their degree. Adds Professor Walker, “The importance of immersion and interaction during study abroad cannot be understated. It allows the individual to gain valuable insight on not only another culture, but also a greater understanding on how Americans are perceived in the global setting.”

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