Students from Brazil Make the Most of Their Stevens Experience Back Home

7/8/2014

With the entire globe currently gripped by World Cup fever, all eyes are on the host country Brazil. This South American powerhouse — known for soccer, samba and Carnival — is a nation on the rise. As part of the group of nations referred to as “BRIC” (Brazil, Russia, India and China), Brazil is undoubtedly one of the world’s most important emerging economies.

At Stevens Institute of Technology, the connection to Brazil has been felt since 2011 when the university was selected to participate in the Brazilian Science Mobility Program (BSMP). This initiative is part of the Brazilian government's larger effort to grant scholarships to a diverse group of emerging Brazilian student leaders for study abroad at the world’s top universities.

According to Ilona Castro, Director of International Undergraduate Admissions, visiting and incoming students from overseas help advance Stevens’ role as a global institution.

“When I started recruiting students internationally, very few educational partners and prospective students knew about us abroad," she recalled. “Once they learn about us, I always hear how we are a ‘hidden gem.’ The more we build our international populations and partnerships, the more of a household name we will be in all corners of the world.”

The students participating in the BSMP are the cream of the crop from Brazil. They study for one year at Stevens, including a summer or semester of work experience in their major, and then return to their home country. To date, approximately 66 students have come through Stevens through the BSMP.

Felipe Duque and Amira Annahas were two members of the first cohort of students back in 2012.

Duque studied electrical engineering at Stevens and completed a summer internship at Columbia University. Annahas studied management, and earned graduate certificates in Global Innovation Management and Project Management.

Today Duque is back in his hometown of Recife, working as an intern at a university hospital where he applies his electrical engineering background to his work with medical devices. His dream, he says, is to one day teach electrical engineering.

Annahas currently works at PepsiCo in Itu, a small city in the state of Sao Paolo that Annahas describes as the R&D capital of Brazil. She credits an internship program she secured while studying at Stevens for leading her to her current position.

“Stevens helped me to find a place in the food industry that I could work in, since I am a food engineer,” Annahas said, adding that the business and management principles she learned from her coursework at Stevens continue to help her perform her daily tasks.

Both Annahas and Duque found the Stevens approach to science and technology education to be quite different from what they were used to back home. At Stevens, Duque notes, coursework places a heavy emphasis on the real world applications of academic study, encouraging students to seek out interdisciplinary projects they could work on as a team outside the classroom.

Annahas says the close interaction with professors with extensive experience, not only in academia, but also in industry, was something that she had not experienced in Brazil. “I was able to be a teaching assistant for one of my professors, which also enhanced my academic experience,” she said, adding that the opportunity to attend graduate-level courses made networking with professionals easier.

As for campus life, they both agree that the proximity to New York City was a considerable benefit of the Stevens experience.

"It is only nine minutes from the city, which made it easy for me to go into the city every weekend!” exclaimed Annahas. “It was incredible! I went to several musicals on Broadway and off-Broadway, took advantage of the many restaurants and explored the parks and nightlife.”

Having never previously ventured out of his home country, Duque remembers the culture shock of the New Jersey-New York metropolitan area and its fast-paced lifestyle … not to mention the weather. Having arrived in January, the brutal cold and snow were new experiences for this visitor used to sun-drenched beaches and a tropical climate.

But both Duque and Annahas came to Stevens with the mindset to seek out a global experience and fully embrace their temporary home.

“I wanted to have the most American experience possible! So, I tried to make a lot of American friends and they helped me to adjust,” said Annahas.

Duque says he welcomed the opportunity to speak with native English speakers, and noticed significant improvement in his English proficiency as a result of his time at Stevens. In 2012, he also had the opportunity to witness a U.S. presidential election, which he describes as a great cultural learning experience. He even watched a debate between President Barack Obama and the Republican challenger Mitt Romney with some of his professors.

Back home in Brazil, Duque and Annahas are both experiencing the thrill of their country hosting the World Cup. In this soccer-obsessed nation, everything comes to a halt when the national team plays.

“It’s a national holiday and no one goes to work or school,” said Duque.

As one of the cities hosting the games, Recife is pulsating with energy and excitement. Duque says it’s difficult not to get swept away by the excitement of an event that draws the attention of the world.

When the excitement of the World Cup wanes, Annahas and Duque will once again focus on their professional pursuits. Looking back, Annahas and Duque agree that their Stevens experience was invaluable to their professional, as well as personal growth.

“I would recommend the program to anyone,” said Duque.

Annahas added that getting to know the students and faculty while at Stevens is the experience that will stay with her for “the rest of her life.” 

Stevens applies every year to participate in the BSMP, and looks forward to welcoming more Brazilian students in the future as part of the program.