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March 17, 2013

Returned students love the USA

Front Yard flowers 

We are traveling around Brazil to talk to students who returned from SwB scholarships.  Our first group was in Sao Paulo at USP.

The group was positive overall. The first young woman to speak was eager to let us know how satisfied she was. People were so nice to her, she said, from the time she applied, through the special visa day until she got back to Brazil. The woman next to her also voiced her approval, but added that in her case it was particularly important that the program reached into the interior, where she was studying. One of the goals of the Science w/o Borders program is to reach into previously under-served populations. The geographical part seems to be working.

Both the ease of the program and the reach became themes. U.S. universities are uniquely suited to welcome students from around the world. We have experience in our own vast country of people coming to university from far away. Our universities have dorms, which is not a common characteristic worldwide, and we have teams in place to help students adjust. A couple students spoke up about the quality of the dorms. Like hotels, they said. They were impressed by the luxury of college campuses, with their gyms, theaters and swimming pools. Perhaps these kids should talk to our kids to let them know what a great thing we have going.

Some kids who had gone to the University of Nebraska actually expressed their gratitude for not having much choice of where they would go. They were unfamiliar with Nebraska and would never have chosen it, give a wide choice. But they thought the program was excellent and they loved Nebraska because of its friendly and welcoming people.

One thing that struck several students was the big difference between the feeling on American campuses.  In Brazil they have lots of class time and less homework. In the U.S. they have less time in class but expect to study more.  They come to conclusions themselves and praised the open atmosphere. Our surveys indicate that SwB kids did well in U.S. universities and that among many their grades improved. A few kids explained from their own experience in the U.S. that classes were more challenging and more rewarding. They got better grades because they became more committed. Study was their choice and they reveled in it. It may also be that they do better because the trip to the U.S. represented a clean break with the past. They were free from many of the old strictures. The improvements in performance were most noticeable among the students who did less well in Brazil. Again, this is subject to interpretation. It could just be that they had more upside potential, but it obviously didn’t hurt that motivation improved.

They didn’t know whether to characterize American punctuality and attention to deadlines as a positive or not.   It was harder.  One young man commented that you get your assignment and everybody is expected to have it done on time.  Excuses are ignored for the most part. The same young man mentioned the downside that pot-smoking was more common on campus in the U.S. He didn’t really say that he opposed it, but he did say that he was afraid to do it since the stakes were high for him and Brazil is he was caught messing up.

This led to a discussion of quality of students. Our first group of Brazilians was high quality, but there was some discussion of the future. The bigger challenge, they thought, was not academics but maturity and temperament. A SwB visit is often the first time a Brazilian young person will have been away from home. Some will be sorely tempted by the vices mentioned above, or maybe they will just cut class.  Or maybe they will suffer from melancholy and homesickness. Maybe all of these things in some measure.

There were few negatives in these shouts of hallelujah. Most recognized the program was started only a short time ago and rolled out quickly. Paradoxically, there were complaints of too much and too little communication. I guess the general idea was that there was some confusion. Much of this is now cleared up.  Another complaint was in the nature of internships. It is hard for some people to get them. I don’t think this is a completely solvable problem. It is hard to get internships for Americans too. There is a lot of competition sometimes. There is little that we could and even less that we should do to help Brazilians out compete Americans and others.  Schools are making information available and the Brazilian authorities are working with firms. This is as good as it will get.

Many in the group were happy to learn that they could apply to the program again in graduate school.  This is also what many American schools want.

The first round of SwB was a success. We have seen a mutual enchantment. The Brazilians love the American schools and the American schools love to have them. So far, so good.

I have to caution that focus groups are not a statically valid way to measure opinions. They are good for generating ideas and making impressions, but we need to be careful that we don’t fall victim to availability bias, i.e. crediting information more because it is easy to get. But in this case, the ideas from the focus group tracked with survey data, so I feel confident in my impressions. 

My picture up top is my front yard.  I have not mowed the lawn since May of last year. Instead, I have been gathering seeds from flower beds I passed and tossing them around. This is what I have. I like it better than the manicured lawn.

March 07, 2013

Michigan visit

Vera and I met a University of Michigan delegation and accompanied them to meetings at CAPES.  CAPES told the University of Michigan folks that CAPES asked IIE to respect existing MOUs, i.e. if universities have pre-existing agreements IIE will channel students toward them related to the terms of the MOU.   This, he said, is another good reason to come to Brazil and make agreements.

He explained how SwB is working now.  Most undergraduates are assigned through IIE.  Graduate students require a more granular process.  Laspau is administering the graduate programs and will make the selection of programs if prospective students do not have a place in mind.  However, with a conditional letter of acceptance from an American university, students can go to CAPES and receive SwB funding.  CAPES may also issue conditional letters of acceptance.  There is a kind of chicken & egg problem here.  Sometimes students cannot finish their applications and get conditional letters of acceptance w/o conditional letters of support but they cannot get conditional letters of support w/o conditional letters of acceptance.   

CAPES pays stipends of $1300/month.  This is enough in some cities but not everywhere.   There is a $400 addition for high-cost cities.  This is not a finished process and there is still a lot of fluidity.  Some universities supplement stipends.

CAPES is getting good cooperation with firms.   There is a shortage of science and engineering talent in Brazil.  Firms are eager to tap into a potential source of the best and brightest applicants.   Sometimes they are very specific.  Petrobras, for example, is interested only in PhDs.  CAPES mentioned Boeing as a good partner.  Boeing sponsored fourteen students in the first group of SwB students.  CAPES didn’t need the money for scholarships this year and instead asked Boeing to sponsor internships.  Boeing will sponsor thirty-one interns this year.

Currently, there are more scholarships available than there are qualified applicants at the graduate level, i.e. every qualified applicant succeeds.  The Michigan folks asked how they could increase their numbers.    They would like to get 15-20 Brazilians a year in the graduate programs.   They said that they were more interested in getting top Brazilian students than in getting money.  CAPES suggested some common sense ways to get more students.  An obvious target market consists of students already at the school, i.e. undergraduates in science and maybe even SwB undergrads.  The challenge is finding them in a cost effective way.  CAPES has lists, but for privacy reasons cannot share them.  Michigan will have to use the old fashioned ways of meeting and greeting.

Applicants to PhD programs at Michigan do not require an MA, but those starting right out of UG will probably require five years to finish their doctorates.   CAPES will pay for only four years.  Michigan did not see this as a problem.  They can fund the fifth year, if needed.   Michigan guarantees support for all graduate students, conditioned on their continued good grades etc.  Michigan has admissions twice a year, although fall semester starts are much more common and graduates around 260 engineering PhDs each year.

The Michigan folks explained what they see as the strength of U.S. engineering students in general and Michigan in particular.   American schools are very welcoming to foreign students.  Michigan has a Brazilian student association and a Brazilian-American professor on the Michigan delegation assured At Michigan, students get lots of hand-on experience.  Michigan students and professors are well integrated with businesses.  There is lots of cross-fertilization, with academics providing brain power and theories and firms contributing money and a practical reality-check.  Making Brazilian education more like this is a goal of the SwB program.  Brazilian universities tend to have a more hands-off and even a vague dislike of working too closely with business.   Michigan has a research budget of $1.27 billion; the engineering departments have “only” $190 million.

CAPES asked the Michigan folks to send more students and especially PhD scholars to Brazil.  They want Brazil more connected to the bigger world of science and engineering.  They are not very worried about Brazilian students going overseas and not coming back.  This could happen sometimes, but Brazil is offering so many opportunities these days that they expect to provide good jobs for all Brazilian technology grads and then still have a labor shortage.  

In the interests of internationalization, CAPES, which evaluates and certifies all university programs in Brazil, is considering adding an international exchange component to its evaluation criteria.  A structure change like this is a big deal.  It will alter the incentive structure and so the reality of how the system works.

March 06, 2013

O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us to see oursels as ithers see us!

We had an interesting discussion with a Brazilian student recently returned from a Science w/o Borders scholarship at the University of Nebraska. When we set these kids off to places like Nebraska, I wondered how they would adapt to the cold. There is no place in Brazil that ever gets as cold as Nebraska does on a typical night in February or March. In fact, summer in Nebraska is cooler than winter in most of Brazil.   But they evidently liked the cold or at least didn’t mind.

He talked about the differences in our countries. Little things count. Brazilians hug on the first meeting, Americans not so much.  Brazilians and Americans like bean. But the Brazilian black beans and rice is very different from our pork & beans that Brazilians call sweet.

On the plus side, people are similar in both countries in their general goodness. Our Brazilian friend cautioned his fellows not to mistake Americans’ more distant body language as a sign of distance of coolness.  He said that the people of Nebraska were almost uniformly friendly and welcoming. I felt proud of my fellow Americans.

One big surprise for our Brazilian friend was how sparsely populated were the “big” cities of Nebraska.  Nebraska is not the most densely populated of American states, but American cities are fundamentally different from Brazilians ones.   Brazilian cities are much denser. You are driving through mostly empty territory until suddenly you see a city. It is almost like looking at a wall of tall buildings rising out of the soil.  American cities have extensive suburbs. You begin to drive into the city long before you get to the center.  And when you get to the center, it is often not very densely settled.  I have noticed this difference myself when driving and flying.

When flying over the U.S. at night, you see lights spread out over wide areas.  There are houses and streets down there.  In Brazil there cities are areas of very bright light surrounded by darkness.

February 24, 2013

Science w/o Borders update

It has been a little more year since the first (approximately) 600 Brazilian students arrived in the United States under President Dilma Rousseff’s innovative Science without Borders program.  According to our Brazilian friends 5,028 Brazilians have now gone on SWB program.  Mission Brazil has integrated education as a top priority, focusing efforts to create opportunities and leverage partnerships in direct support of this game-changing initiative for all of our interests as we build the 21st century partnership with Brazil. This cable reflects at the success our Brazilian friends and we have enjoyed since the official announcement of the Science without Borders program (now officially called Brazil Scientific Mobility Program in English), by President Dilma Rousseff in July 2011. 

Chaotic” Decentralized U.S. higher education system delivers first with the most

When President Rousseff announced in July 2011 that the GOB intended to fund the study of over 100,000 Brazilian students overseas, many of the diplomatic missions in Brazil, notably the United Kingdom, Portugal, France, Spain, Australia, and Canada, indicated their strong interest in attracting these students to their respective higher education institutions.  However, the United States was the only country with a strong (and flexible) education exchange program already in place, and, as a result, received the very first students less than six months after President Rousseff’s announcements and has maintained our inherent advantage ever since.  In this, we contradicted some of our own fears and the expectations of other countries, particularly France and Portugal, that the decentralized nature of the U.S. higher education system would suffer in competition with ostensibly more centralized educational systems in Europe and elsewhere.    Indeed, some European countries were quicker off the mark with bold offers and audacious plans, but the first organized group of students ultimately put their feet on U.S. soil a full nine months before other countries even got started.   It turned out that the decentralized, competitive and seemingly disorganized nature of the U.S. higher education system actually represented a diversity and flexibility that much more easily accommodated the rapid placement of Brazilian students. 
 
Accomplishing great things through great relationships

Mission Brazil’s goal in working with Brazilian partners was to make choosing the United States the most logical choice and getting qualified Brazilian students placements in U.S. institutions as easy as possible.  To that end, we immediately engaged with two Brazilian federal agencies linked to the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, CAPES and CNPq, respectively, both charged with implementing Science without Borders, to identify areas of common interest where we could cooperate and problems that could be anticipated and solved.  The Mission had long standing relationships with both CAPES and CNPq and had worked on exchange programs before, but nobody had ever done anything on the scale proposed.  The initial (2011/2012) problem consisted mainly of identifying a diverse range of potential U.S. institutions that had the requisite strength in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields as well as the flexibility to take large numbers of Brazilian students on short notice.  Helping our Brazilian partners with this required a paradigm shift on their part, as their experience and understanding of U.S. universities or colleges had been limited to just a small number of these institutions in just a few states.

Taking advantage of the grand diversity of U.S. options
 
Indeed, in the original Science without Borders formulation, Brazilian authorities had wanted their students to go to only the “best” American universities, with “best” defined by Brazilian authorities primarily in terms of a relatively small number of universities with widespread international name recognition.  Mission officers worked hard to show our Brazilian partners the depth and diversity of the U.S. higher education system and network, explaining that excellent programs could be found in many places in the United States and that some of the most outstanding science and math programs were found in institutions not as well known outside the United States.  For example, Mission officers had great success in raising the awareness among GOB officials of the U.S. network of large land-grant universities and Historically Black Colleges and Universities, because of their long commitment to pragmatic research specifically in the practical sciences Brazil was seeking.   

To help us explain, we took advantage of visits by U.S. universities as well as alumni networks, but perhaps the biggest single initiative was a program organized by PAS, in cooperation with CAPES, CNPq and dozens of Brazilian universities, to take twenty-eight Brazilian education leaders to the United States in February 2012.  We divided these Brazilian education leaders into three groups, visited scores of U.S. universities, big and small, public and private.  All the Brazilian academics then gathered in Washington to discuss their findings with each other and with U.S. officials.  The entire group returned to Brazil with new perspectives regarding the U.S. higher education system and full of enthusiasm.  It is not just a coincidence that the Brazilian institutions represented on the visit contributed many more of their students to the second round of students going to the United States.  Post repeated this successful program in November 2012, with an emphasis on graduate studies, taking twenty-eight deans of STEM departments from key Brazilian universities, keeping a similarly ambitious agenda and pace.  This second round, there was no longer the need to explain the program’s rationale or convince either side of the value.  In less than a year, both U.S. and Brazilian higher education leaders have realized the mutually beneficial and symbiotic advantages for building more institutional links.     

After these Mission efforts, it was relatively simple to explain and greatly expand the pool of potential colleges and universities acceptable to Brazilian authorities beyond the “elite schools.”   Without this change in mind-set, sending such large numbers of Brazilian students in a sustainable fashion to the U.S. on Science without Borders program would have been impossible.   There simply were not enough places available at the elite schools, and basing the program primarily on these would not have taken advantage of the great diversity and power of the American nation. With the whole American nation opened up to them, full of possibilities and options.   Evidence of the American nation now opened up and full of possibilities and options has been the non-stop, revolving door of visits by American universities to Brazil, including the unprecedented August/September 2012 delegation of 66 American universities, led by Under Secretary of Commerce Sanchez, coming to Brazil for the annual EducationUSA fair.

Overcoming Logistical challenges
 
The next serious obstacle we had identified early-on and were committed to resolving was logistical and organizational.  Neither CAPES nor CNPq had sufficient staff experienced in placing large numbers of students overseas nor staff enough for managing the process and paperwork in the U.S.   They could not easily outsource to a U.S.-based organization because of particulars of Brazilian government rules about making advance payments to foreign-based entities.   This is where Fulbright Commission played the pivotal role.   Fulbright’s unique binational character plus its long experience in managing similar albeit smaller numbers of exchanges coupled with its excellent reputation and contacts in Brazil and the U.S. allowed the Commission to play a vital intermediary role.   Fulbright, in fact, was probably the most important factor in the U.S. ability to act more quickly than other countries to receive Science without Borders students.  Working with IIE and later Laspau, Fulbright gave Brazilian authorities the help they needed to get the job done.
 
The Mission’s network of 24 EducationUSA offices spread at major cities in Brazil also spun up quickly at critical moments to respond to the imminent demand. EducationUSA’s critical role in advertising the program to U.S. universities so they could register with IIE in time to receive the first cohort of the Brazilian students and in conducting an outreach campaign in Brazil to guide SWB applicants in person and through online tutorials on how to fill out the Common Application and how to take the TOEFL, the two ongoing needs.  Our PA and Consular teams have joined forces with EducationUSA to help counter the perceptions of visas as an obstacle for all exchanges.

The first Brazilian selection process (Fall 2011) yielded around 700 qualified candidates, a respectable number considering the 3-month, tight time line and the fact that the program was off-cycle for U.S. academic programs.  IIE placed them in appropriate U.S. schools and completed all the paperwork with remarkable alacrity.  In order to address the potential problem of getting visas issued in time, as well as to call public attention to the program and our commitment to supporting Brazilian educational aspirations, the Mission held pre-departure orientation sessions and visa days at the Embassy and the three Consulates.   Brasilia’s December 2011 program, dubbed “Burgers without Borders,” featured Mission officers, including Ambassador Thomas Shannon, frying hamburgers on a Weber grill to feed hundreds of students while they got their pre-departure briefings by Mission officers, CAPES, and EducationUSA advisers, and waited for their visa interviews.  The visa days were covered by media Brazil-wide  and the events are still talked about a year later.  In December 2012, the Embassy and three Consulates held similar events to send off the third group of Science without Borders students.

English competency: the continuing weak link, prompts other ambitious exchange programs
 
With the first hundreds of students successfully placed in American universities  our Brazilian partners needed help to find, place and send thousands more.   A few new obstacles were revealed.   Some were simple but very serious.   For example, there were simply not enough TOEFL test seats offered in Brazil and those available were often not in the places where students most needed them.   One of the goals of the Brazilian program was to reach out to underserved students in underserved places.  The existing testing network did not reflect this, nor was it big enough. The Mission worked with Education Testing Service (ETS) to increase both the numbers of tests offered and the diversity of locations. EducationUSA helped ETS find new testing centers at major Brazilian universities. The problem has since been addressed definitively.  Brazilian authorities bought rights to 500,000 TOEFL ITP.  This test can be and generally is used as diagnostic test and is acceptable for non-degree programs, such as Science without Borders.   Again, Fulbright played an instrumental role to make this happen.  This acquisition essentially eliminated a testing bottleneck.  But TOEFL was in many ways only a symptom of the bigger problem of low levels of English proficiency among potential SwB students. 

English competency turned out to be the major constraint on the pool of applicants and the problem became more acute as the recruiting reached farther into the pool of potential applicants.  The number that could score high enough to qualify for study in the U.S. was low, especially in underserved communities who were important targets of the program. Brazilian authorities committed to funding three to six-month intensive English courses at U.S. institutions.  There was no shortage of American universities and community colleges willing to provide such training and the Mission, especially the Regional English Language Officer (RELO) helped identify a wide variety of them, but even this boost presupposed some intermediate level of English, which was often not available.  Building English proficiency is a long-term challenge. Experts say that it takes years to build a competent English speaker.  This means that anybody who will be going on a SwB scholarship in the next three years is already studying English and has at least a basic competence. There is no such thing as destiny, but demographic facts like this come close.
 
Adequate command of English makes it much easier and more likely that Brazilians will interact with Americans and improving English competency was a Mission goal before the creation of Science without Borders.  The Mission has long had an ongoing commitment to English teaching and learning through the activities of our RELO and our network of Binational Centers (BNCs) and we had already geared up our programs to some extent in anticipation of large international events to take place in Brazil, such as the Olympics and the World Cup, where basic English competency would be helpful to Brazilians.  But there is a considerable challenge in exponentially ramping up our successful programs, especially since we could not expect significant increases in resources or increases in personnel to run the programs.  The Mission offered resources and expertise to develop courses specifically geared to helping students with nearly sufficient English get over the threshold and our BNC network eagerly accepted the challenge.  Together we developed a program called “English Cubed” that offered classes in BNCs throughout Brazil.   Using year-end-money from Washington, the Mission funded scholarships for low-income students, which several BNCs matched dollar for dollar.  This program was successful in helping dozens of students not only make the grade (i.e. the primary objective to achieve at least a 79 on the TOELF), but for some to go above and beyond the ‘grade’ of 79, by up to 30 additional points to score in the low 100s.  English teachers and students remarked that E3 was the best course they had ever used/taken, and Post is considering how it supports those BNCs that want to continue the program, but this notable success was not big enough in the face of the truly massive numbers our Brazilian partners were hoping to get.  Beyond that, what is essentially a mass education initiative is well beyond our abilities and exceeds our writ, but our partnership for the 21st century depends on our helping to address this challenge with Brazil.  In this context, as with education, Mission Brazil continues to be intensely focused on bringing more English opportunity on this larger scale.  

Reaching really big numbers – English without Borders

Brazilian authorities are addressing the need and the Mission is helping to the extent possible and appropriate. Our Brazilian friends announced “English without Borders” in December 2012.  It is designed to be a comprehensive program to give large numbers of Brazilian students English competency needed to participate in Science without Borders and generally in the wider world.   It is a very ambitious project, which is expected to assess 54,000 university students in early 2013 using the TOEFL IPT as a diagnostic tool.  Brazilian authorities expect English without Borders to benefit seven million Brazilians within the next four years.  The program has already started accessing students’ English language skills at 59 pilot universities, and will: fast-track students with good English skills into the mobility program; provide those at near passing levels with intensive English instruction, in classes of no more than fifteen students per instructor, and offer instruction in a combination of in-person and online courses for those who need more preparation.

The Ministry of Education, along with a committee formed by representatives from 10 universities from all regions of Brazil, has just developed a call for proposals for universities to apply for funds to put together these specific language courses and pay for instructors (approx. 10 per university), who will be identified from their pool of pre-service English language teachers.  This prep-course should cover: English language, Academic life in the U.S., TOEFL preparation (the same three elements in RELO/Post-developed English3 program).

 The Minister of Education, flanked by the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation and others made the announcement of English without Borders on December 18, 2012.   Representatives of all English speaking countries plus others involved with English teaching and Science without Borders were invited, but only the U.S. Mission got a seat at the main table with the Ministers, recognizing the key role we played in helping develop the program.   The Brazilian Secretary of Higher Education, agreed to take a a Senior English Language Fellow within the Ministry to help design and implement English without Borders.  While final recruitment for the Fellow is complete, a post-funded, interim specialist will start working on the project February 25 to design data collection tools, identify best practices of English language teaching, and support the development of the course at Brazilian universities.  In the meantime, Post is diligently identifying a Senior Fellow who will undertake this job on a longer term.  This ensures that the Mission is not only present at the creation of this big program; we are taking part in the creation of something our Brazilian friends expect to reach seven million Brazilians within the next four years. 

We look forward to continued success working with Brazilian colleagues in the mutually synergistic fields of education, English teaching and youth programs. For example, the Mission and CAPES implemented an intensive English language program at the University of Oregon for 20 public school teachers in 2011.  Program success led CAPES’decision to increase its share to cover 40, for a total of 50 participants in 2012.  With English without Borders the Brazilian government expanded this initiative again, funding 540 scholarships in January 2013 and another 540 going in July 2013. 

Our Cultural Affairs and RELO team have been working closely with CAPES, CONSED (the Association of Brazilian state secretaries of education), and Fulbright to expand these opportunities for Brazilian Public School English teachers throughout Brazil.  PA has been guiding CAPES in its decision, helping to identify potential programs which can accommodate and meet expectations, and to ensure geographical diversity.  The inaugural group traveled to the U.S. in January 2013 for their respective six-week intensive programs at 18 different higher education institutions.  There are 1651 applicants for the July 2013 program currently being assessed. 

A chance of a lifetime

We are experiencing a wonderful and unique time in Brazilian-American relations.  Our interests in linking American and Brazilian education systems and networks coincide with those of our Brazilian friends.  In addition, Brazilian officials have access to resources that allow them to fund some of their aspirations in a way that was not possible in the past. Beyond all that, changes in Brazilian demography and the rapid growth of the middle class is creating a burgeoning demand for all sorts of quality education and for related items such as English teaching.  Building on many years of work, we are enjoying spectacular relations with Brazilian authorities in the education field at many levels: federal, state and local.  In this auspicious time for public diplomacy in Brazil, the Mission has taken full advantage of the opportunities and expanded on them.  We intend to continue down this path, which will influence Brazilian-American relationships for a generation.

December 09, 2012

Advancing education with Fulbright

Falls in Goias 

Our biggest tool in SwB and education involvement in Brazil in general is the Fulbright. It was Fulbright that made possible the Brazilian use of IIE and Laspau, without which SwB just would not have worked for us.  It is Fulbright that is administering the 1080 Brazilian English teachers travel to the U.S., the U.S. Community Colleges  & the Humphrey Program, among many other things.

We don’t think about Fulbright much of the time because it just works. But clearly, if we didn’t have a Fulbright Program, we would have to invent one to do the many things we want done.

I chaired the Fulbright Board meeting Thursday, and would like to share some notes. The Fulbright Board meets four times a year. It is a binational board with Brazilian and American members. I am the ex-officio president and I have a counterpart appointed by Itamaraty. The Brazilian and American governments jointly support Fulbright activities. Given the GOB emphasis on education in the last couple years, Fulbright has become more important, but most of that growth has been as a facilitator of programs. Another crucial role Fulbright has been playing is that of connector. Our board includes influential people, among them reps from CAPES, Itamaraty and academia. These connections have proved extremely valuable in coordinating Mission contacts with Brazil.

As SwB came on the scene, we decided to move Fulbright efforts for Brazilians going to the U.S. more into the social sciences and humanities.  The logic was that Fulbright could not compete and should not compete with SwB and, besides, this need was being met.  This has turned out to be a good decision.  We are getting many good quality applications for the scholarships, more than three candidates for each one.   Far from taking away from Fulbright, Science w/o Borders has helped Fulbright by raising its profile.  We have more quality applicants than ever.

Among the expanding less traditional programs is Foreign Language Teaching Assistants (FLTA).  We will have 45 grants, funded by the Brazilian government.   These FLTAs will work in U.S. universities to increase interest and competency in Portuguese among U.S. students.  U.S. students also come to Brazil to help at teachers' colleges. They are spread all over the country, currently at eighteen host institutions. More and more American schools are offering Portuguese and interest is growing. 

I learned that the University of Georgia is the flagship of Portuguese learning, i.e. received a big grant from the National Security Education Program (NSEP) to establish an Undergraduate Flagship Program in Portuguese.  It is a program of intensive language instruction, one-on-one tutorials, Skype partners in Brazil, and other innovative curriculum. Flagship students will also spend a year in Brazil where they will reach professional-level Portuguese proficiency through language and content courses, as well as an internship experience. UGA is partnering with São Paulo State University (UNESP). This program started in 2012.  Pardon the digression.

To me the most impressive thing about Fulbright was the scholarship it sponsors.   You can find more about what Fulbright offers at this link, but let me list them.  Fulbright Commission in Brazil sponsors programs for Brazilian scholars.  There are two main types: all field grants, which offer 3-4 month terms in all fields of study at U.S. universities.  There are twenty-five of these grants, plus several specialized “chairs”.   The chairs include: Dr Ruth Cardoso Chair in social science at Columbia, Distinguished Chair of Human Rights at Notre Dame, Distinguished Chair of Agricultural Studies at University of Nebraska – Lincoln, Distinguished Chair of Environmental Sciences at University of Texas – Austin, Distinguished Chair of Brazilian Studies at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, Distinguished Chair of Music & Musicology at Indiana University.  In addition, there is a new program that will offer five nine-month research awards.

For American scholars there are forty-nine grants for 2-4 months at Brazilian institutions.  Forty-five are regular grants plus five specialties including:  Awards in the humanities and social sciences,  Fulbright-Science w/o Borders awards in the STEM fields,  Distinguished Chair in American Studies at PUC-Rio, Distinguished Chair in Environmental Sciences and Engineering at UFOPA (Santarém in Pará),  Distinguished Chair in Oil and Gas sciences at. Fundação de Amparo a Ciência e Tecnologia do Estado de Pernambuco,  Distinguished Chair  in Visual Arts at Fundação Armando Álvares Penteado in São Paulo, plus Five nine-month post doctoral grants in any field.  

An important change we have decided to make is to move our EducationUSA coordinator from Rio to Brasilia.   We have a network of twenty-four advisors around Brazil. Until the revolution provoked by SwB, the system worked well.  Now the volume is greatly increased and we need to adapt.  For example, it is no longer good to let advisors wait for people to come. Rather we need boots on the ground all over the country.  We also need them to help with “simple” things like helping Brazilian students fill out the common application.   In any case, we think a more proactive stance is needed and that Brasília is that place to base our efforts, since it is the nation’s capital and is centrally located.  Brasília has the best connections of any city in Brazil. You can get a direct flight from Brasília to any of the state capitals except Macapá and Boa Vista.  For those you need to hop via Belém and Manaus respectively. 

Otherwise there was the usual business.  We are moving ahead on our SwB facilitation, our English teachers and our school principal program. Lots to do and lots being done.   As I learn more about how Fulbright is connected and my role, I see more possibilities.  It really is a great program and I am so proud that I can be a part of it.  

My picture is an from when Mariza visited.  It is the base of Itiquira Falls near Brasilia. The spray is exhilarating. It keeps it constantly wet and green.

November 30, 2012

Bright educational future

Big live oak tree in New Orleans 

We are often told how bad things are. This is good if it makes us strive to be better, but not if it leads to despair. I have been working on education for the last year & I am here to remind you that we have a superb higher education system and it is adapting and getting better all the time. I am particularly impressed by the community college system, which will, after all, help train the bulk of our future labor force.

I was reminded of the Morrill Act of 1862 and the follow up in 1890. You may not have heard of these things. These are among the greatest contributors to America that you have never heard of. or maybe don't know much about. The others, IMO, are the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the Homestead Act of 1862 & the GI Bill of 1944. The Morrill Act granted land to states to build universities that would teach useful things like science, mechanics/engineering & agriculture and research the same. Their mission was the Hatch Act of 1887, which established agricultural experiment stations. Our big research universities are land grant. Most are public, the exceptions being Cornell and MIT. But I digress.

I am impressed with the system. I find that it is much better than I understood it was before the visit. My earlier understanding was simplistic and outdated. I still thought in terms of a university or a school as the unit of analysis. I knew that schools created and maintained connections with other schools and the outside community, but what I didn't really understand was the extent that all these entities have effectively merged. This is why the ecosystem analogy is apt. The parts of schools are not only interacting with other parts and outside actors; they are dependent and cooperative with entities well removed from their own cooperation. It is like the bird that eats berries on top of a tree in interacting with soil bacteria that allow the roots to take advantage of minerals many steps removed.

The coordinating mechanism is a kind of distributed decision making process. All the various actors are responding to the changing circumstances, incentives and opportunities. The mature educational ecosystem provides lots of shared services or at least opportunities that all can use. This makes the power of big institutions less overwhelming and empowers smaller institutions. It levels the playing field when everybody has access to resources that once were concentrated only in well-established institutions.

All this means that we are on the threshold of a new age of higher education. This is the same revolution experienced by big industry in the 1970s and 1980s. That was when the advantage of the big and established organizations eroded. You didn't need to have in-house services when such things were available by outside vendors cheaper and more efficiently. The education establishment hung on a bit longer providing full services. In fact, the positions of the majors strengthened as customers moved to prestige providers. There were few alternative products and it was hard to unbundle them. The value of the name was strong.

I think this is changing rapidly. Educational wealth has been distributed wider. You can get a great education all over America and sometimes you don't even have to enter a prestigious university program or a university program at all. The connections are all over the place now.

In my old world, you went through different stages. I remember one book I read called them "boxes of life." You didn't skip them and you rarely went back. You graduated HS; some went to college; you got out four years later and went to work for the next thirty or forty years and then retired. You were done with formal education for the most part the day you graduated. Today things are different. You have to keep learning. Students of various ages and occupations are mixing. Now you might go back to school or at least formal training many times during a working life. This education can be delivered in a variety of ways, at a variety of times by a variety of providers. The traditional four-year institution enjoys no advantages and the paradigm that brings people in at the bottom, processes them through a set program and graduates them at the end may in fact be a liability.

The new paradigm is much more customized. No two people take exactly the same coursework. Their needs are not the same. No one institution can satisfy all the needs. The expertise will not be available at any one institution. The expertise may not be available at all. It needs to be created in the process of the interaction of learning and teaching. It is an interesting new world.

My picture is just a big tree in New Orleans. I suppose I could think of a connection, but I just like trees. 

November 27, 2012

Finishing up my U.S. university trip

Ferns on trees at University of Louisiana 

We traveled around the Louisiana and then to Washington.  As I wrote a few posts ago, much of what I learned was similar to what I learned before.  Educational exchanges require trust and relationships.  I will not repeat that analysis again, but I do what to share some of my pictures and notes.  Above are ferns on trees at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette.  Many trees are covered in them.

 

Biomedical building at Louisiana Tech 

The U.S. has lots of great universities.  I am fond of the more out-of-the-way state institutions.  There is a lot of excellence in these smaller centers and lots of people get their educations there.  We visited Louisiana Tech in Ruston LA.   It is a long way from New Orleans.  The Louisiana environment is a lot like southern Virginia, pines and mixed forests.  It was familiar.  Above is the biomedical building at LT.  Below is an interesting type of store.  I never saw a store devoted to irrigation.  It is especially surprising in Louisiana, where it rains a lot.

Irregation mart 

Below is a statue of Mike the Tiger at LSU.  They have a real tiger too His home is behind the statue. I took a picture of Mike, but he was just laying there.  The current Mike the Tiger is number 6. 

Mich the Tiger 

We also visited Tulane.  It is a beautiful university full or tradition.  It is long and narrow, only a couple blocks wide but about a mile long. 

Tulane University 


November 13, 2012

Louisiana: LSU1

Oil Rig 

Our first top was Louisiana State University Petroleum Engineering Research & Technology Transfer Laboratory (PERTT Lab) Well Facility, long name.  They have working equipment and study how rigs really work under pressure, literally under pressure.  They bring in various types of mud and oil to simulate real conditions.

LSU is a leader in oil and gas because this is so much oil & gas in Louisiana.  Much of this is conventional energy, but LSU is also gearing up to work on the unconventional new sources. Petroleum engineering is a growth industry as the new technologies have essentially created vast new sources of energy. Our friends at LSU told me that their students have 100% placement rate.  This is caused by the great demand surge plus a generational change.  Fewer petroleum engineers were minted after the 1980s. Many of those working today are near retirement. There is a shortage developing at the same time that the U.S. is expected to become the world’s largest oil producer within this decade and may become a net energy exporter within my lifetime. What a change!

LSU folks believe in hands-on experience.  With that in mind, they have their own simulation well.  This is a real oil well, but it has lots of equipment that can simulate conditions that students might face in their future.  They even have a hands-on test.  Students are uneasy about these tests because they happen in real time, and they have to make quick decisions.   LSU professors tell the students that it is better to create this kind of time pressure in the lab. You don’t want to have your first test in the real world.

The equipment is used by firms as well as students and academic researchers.  These firms, such as BP and Chevron, pay for the service and their work with students and professors helps everybody learn while pushing the frontiers of knowledge.   There are not many intellectual property issues involved, since much of the research is testing existing technologies and often involved with health & safety and environmental protection issues.  Firms want to share experience about health & safety and environmental protection, since they know that any well that causes trouble hurts all players in the industry, no matter who owns the rig.

Redundantly repeating myself

There is a lot of repetition in my notes from the Science w/o Borders visit.  That is because people are saying many of the same things.  It seems that the consensus is that the best way to build connections is through faculty exchanges and relationships.  There seems to be consensus that one of the best ways to do this is to work on joint research projects where both sides contribute and both sides benefit.  One of the ways to get this ball rolling is to hold workshops where potential participants can get to know each other and who has what expertise.  Finally, there seems to be a consensus that this system of relationships takes time to construct.  It is robust, but decentralized and grows organically.  We (outsiders) can help fertilize this process, but we cannot really rush it. 

Anyway, my plan is to write notes about what I hear, try to treat each one like the first time.  I understand that that many of the reports will look like many others.  Instead of being a problem, I see this as a confirmation that we are onto the right ideas.  Consensus is not always the way to go.  We all like to imagine that the few mavericks have it right and everybody else is wong.  Experience indicates, however,  that this is usually not true.

November 11, 2012

Houston: University of Houston

The work I have been doing in higher education this last year has been a real eye-opener.  The good news is that the American system of higher education is simply the best. This includes our universities community colleges and training. My appreciation of the system was last updated in 1984, when I graduated with my MBA.  I got to know a little more about it when the kids were applying for college, but the experience was limited; the application process doesn’t give you the kind of inside knowledge I have been getting lately.

The “bad” news that there are so many great opportunities and so many permutations and they are so widespread that it is hard to understand and hard to know what to do. It is the proverbial kid in the candy shop story. The other problem is that our higher education system is a protean as it is ubiquitous.  (I love to use the phrase, but opportunities are few.) It is our great strength that our system adapts very quickly.  My observation is that even the people ostensibly in charge at most institutions have only an awareness of most of what is going on. This is by no means a criticism.  In fact, I am impressed by their wisdom. Good leadership trusts people to innovate and imagine better things and then make them realities. I see a lot of spontaneity, serendipity and self-organizing ad-hocracies. Excuse me if I wax whimsical, but the picture is so complex and beautiful that no one can comprehend it in its entirety. Fortunately, no one has to. The parts work together autonomously and organize themselves.  

We did Rice University in the morning. I didn’t know much about Rice (discussed in my last post), but I did know there was such a place. I didn’t even know that the University of Houston existed.  This is the complexity part.  But I was greatly impressed with the people I met there.  They told me that they are awarding 300 PhDs a year and they want to expand that to 400.  This is no easy task.  It is possible to grow too fast and, as I have learned to my sorrow, scalability is a problem when you try to rapidly increase quantity while maintaining quality, even when you are rich in resources. It takes about five years to make a PhD and you lose about 30% of them. That means that you have to take in more than 500 a year and you can expect to have more than 3000 in the system at any time. 

This is a challenge. The Houston folks were interested in talking to the Brazilians, since they saw some synergies and ways to share resources.  They also pointed out that they were the country’s largest Hispanic serving institution in the U.S.  They quickly pointed out that they understood that Brazilians were not Hispanics (a frequent cultural gaffe) but that they simply meant that they had lots of experience in cross culture communication and, after all, Portuguese speakers can usually understand lots of Spanish, even if it doesn’t seem to be a two way street. (I don’t know why this is true, but I have seen it enough to know that it is. I can understand most spoken Spanish and can read it fairly easily, even though I have never studied it.  Spanish speakers tend to look at me blankly when I speak Portuguese at them. I would attribute this to my bad accent, except I notice the same thing when native Brazilians are doing the talking.)

University of Houston is strong in health care and energy, as you might expect given its location is the world’s energy center and top health care complex. They also said they were good at getting innovations to market.  One guy said that lots of academics know how to invent but they don’t know how to innovate. He claimed that they were separate skills.  Lots of inventions just are not useful or not useful in their original form. Sometimes the inventor can take his product successfully to market. Often they need someone else to help or do it. 

I think the above is the big take away lesson. Few people possess the requisite combination of stills to be master the technical details, implement them, understand potential uses and how to bring them to market. Even the few people who have all these things often lack the flexibility to change their great ideas as necessary. There really are no great individuals; only great teams. When you look at great people closely enough, you always notice that the team around him plays a big role. Often when the great man fails, we see something has happened in the team around him before the problem was manifest. 

November 09, 2012

Houston: Rice University

Live oaks at Rice University in Houston 

We spent the morning at Rice University.  It is a beautiful place, a university in an arboretum. They told me that when this place was built a hundred years ago, it was marshland w/o many trees. The trees are mostly live oaks.  They line the streets and fill the space between the buildings. Live oaks have that spreading aspect with branches extending almost horizontally across streets and paths. 

Rice is strong in engineering and sciences, especially in the ones that come naturally to an institution in Houston: oil & gas and medical services.  Rice is already cooperating with Brazil and has Science w/o Borders students.  They have working agreements with USP to share supercomputers and there are people to people exchanges. Our Brazilian friends expressed their interest in doing joint research with people at Rice.

Big gate at Rice 

Rice takes Brazil very seriously. They have even established an office called “Brazil at Rice” just to take care of the Brazilians, SwB and others.

Rice is working on a joint PhD program in American studies with Campinas.  Students would spend two years at their home institutions and then a year at the partner.  They would get degrees from both institutions. Campinas has signed onto the agreement and there are currently two Brazilian PhD students at Rice.   Rice is still pushing the agreement through its bureaucracy.

They are have also recently made an agreement with PUC-SP to have Rice students go to Brazil for eight week Portuguese training. The idea is that they would do this in their second year. They told us that eight weeks in country is worth a year in the classroom in Texas.  They like PUC-SP because they are a reliable partner and can provide housing for the students with Brazilian families. Eight students will go from Rice this next year.  Our Rice interlocutors were very interested in FLTAs.  I promised to send more information. 

Nobel Prize ChemistryWe talked about the challenges of exchanges.  The biggest problem is course articulation, i.e. figuring out which courses at one university are equal to those of another. It I not just up to the universities in question. They have to answer to their accreditation boards. The challenge of cooperation is tough.  It is hard enough even with close partners and two-way.  It gets nearly impossible when we start talking about multilateral partnerships.

I heard again at Rice what I hear all the time. Universities are decentralized with lots of autonomous sections. The best programs are done professor to professor. These things grow organically and it takes time to build relationships.  People have to learn each other’s strengths and weakness and they have to learn to trust each other.  This produces a flexible and robust system, but not one that can be quickly scaled up.

Short term exchanges are much easier.  Students just make their own deals; actually it is usually professors who make the deals for their students.  What could be done to make things work better?  The best thing to do is to facilitate relationships thought joint projects and workshops. 

Rice professor Richard Smalley won the 1996 Nobel Prize in chemistry, shared with Rice colleague Robert F. Curl, Jr. and Sir Harold W. Kroto of Great Britain for the discovery of 60 carbon structures shaped like soccer balls, nicknamed Buckyballs. They said that these Buckyballs have application in chemistry and engineers. I don’t know about such things but it must be important. I got to hold the Nobel Prize.  It is bigger and heavier than I thought.

Rice University chow hall 

After that, it was time for lunch at the truly beautiful chow hall you see in the picture.  It as a useful and good visit that I believe will result in stronger ties between our Brazilian friends and American universities.  The relationships are up and growing. 

October 30, 2012

Internships for Science w/o Borders

AmCham pannel 

I spoke at an AmCham sponsored meeting in São Paulo that brought together American firms in order to talk about connecting internships at their firms with Science w/o Borders students.  Also on the panel were Jorge Guimarães from CAPES, Glaucius Olivia from CNPq, Allen Goodman from IIE, Nelson Fujimoto from MDIC & Luiz Loureiro from Fulbright.  

The representatives of the firms (around sixty were there) seemed interested in the internship possibilities. The idea is that they get to test drive the best and the brightest while they are in the U.S. and then they can use them when they come back to Brazil.  In talking to them after the meeting, I learned that the major challenges will be logistics and communication.  They have some communications/coordination disconnections between U.S. headquarters and their Brazilian operations.  Even when everybody agrees, things don’t always work perfectly.  But the goodwill was there.

Glaucius discussed the successes already manifest in the program.  He mentioned the good results of going overseas to learn a generation ago in relation to aerospace, oil & gas and agriculture.  He also shared a recently developed program that plots each of the SwB participants on Google Earth.  When you click on the point, you are shown information about the student, including resume and interests.  This should greatly facilitate the placement of interns, as firms can rapidly identify potential candidates and find contact information.

May 25, 2012

Community Colleges in Texas

Houston Community College 

Community colleges are one of the great innovations in education. I wrote about them in an earlier post.  While in Texas I took the opportunity to visit community colleges in Houston and San Antonio. Both are working on programs in Brazil.

Houston  

Houston Community College, Jackson Community College (MI), and Red Rocks Community College (CO) are cooperating in the US-Brazil Connect consortium.  They will send a group of students to Salvador, Bahia next month to tutor in English.  Brazilians are expected to come to these schools in the U.S. this fall.  Read more about it here.  I know our Brazilian friends are enthusiastic about preparing their workforce to the needs of today and this will be well received.  Meanwhile, our American community colleges can deepen their international profiles, a win/win.   I told the Director of International Initiatives at HCC, that we would visit the students in Salvador, either I will do it myself or ask our colleagues in Rio to do it.   It will be good to see what is happening and maybe we can be helpful.  I also met the woman who will actually lead the group in Brazil.

Houston Light rail 

The next day, I drove to San Antonio to visit Alamo College.  I became familiar with Alamo last year when we helped a group of student from Rio Grande do Sul get visas for an exchange with Alamo. 

Houston Downtown 

I am always astonished by the breadth and depth of connections that Americans and Brazilians make on their own.   We at the embassy and consulates try hard to make connections, but most of it happens w/o our help and much of it happens even w/o our awareness. The American nation truly is greater than the American government.  But we do try to facilitate these things when we discover them and I believe we do add value.   Alamo chancellor will make a trip to Brazil next month.  I told him that we could help and asked that we go along on some of the visits.  This is a win/win too.  We help each other make connections.  I also met the woman who is honchoing the connections and who has worked with Marcia in the past.   You can read more about Alamo here.

Tranquility Park Houston 

The Alamo people are interested in taking part in the MEC program for English teaching. They told me that they already run an intensive course on ESL for Mexican teachers and can do a similar one for Brazilians.

Building 

My pictures are from Houston.  I will add some from San Antonio tomorrow, but I want to get some sleep and don’t feel like editing today, yet I want to post this now. You can see from the pictures that Houston is a modern city, lots of glass and steel.  There is still some green and many nice live oaks. The top picture is the HQ of Houston Community Colleges.

March 12, 2012

Evaluating Our SwB Expedition

Group photo Science w/o Borders Eastern  

We invested a lot of time and money in this recent trip by Brazilian leaders of higher education and I think it was well worth it. An early indication of this was the Brazilian willingness to be partners. It is always better if both sides have some skin in the game. The Brazilians paid for all air travel and per diem for their participants, a big investment. Beyond the cash outlay is the commitment demonstrated by the willingness of so many busy leaders to take three weeks out of their life – sacrificing their Carnival holidays, BTW, to take part. This not only indicates that they value the enterprise up front but also that they will be more committed to worthwhile results to make sure they justify the investment. 

It was clear to me that the Brazilian side took this very seriously. Our own commitment of money and attention of our own high-ranking personnel made it clear to them that we were fully onboard. The visit would have been  a success if all we accomplished was confidence building, but there was much more.

All three of our groups received warm welcomes everywhere they went, which with few exceptions ranged from enthusiastic to very enthusiastic. American institutions clearly think it is time to get involved in Brazil and this program is a fantastic opportunity for them.  Our groups got enough firm commitments from American institutions to absorb all the students that Brazil could reasonably send their way.

On the Brazilian side, this visit and deepened their growing understanding that Brazilian students should be spread across in many institutions and that excellence exists in all fifty states. The original formulation was to send students only to the so-called top-ranked institutions. Meetings during this visit confirmed that depending on the subject a University of Nebraska can be better than a Harvard. I believe that most of the Science w/o Borders students will end up going to large public research universities, like the land-grant institutions, mostly because they demonstrated the capacity and interest to accept relatively large numbers integrate them into their academic communities and help them get practical expertise thorough existing intern or co-operative arrangements that they have with local firms.   

Our Brazilian partners also came to a better understanding of the role that community colleges play in developing and maintaining a 21st Century workforce. Because of this visit, at least some Science w/o Borders will spend time at community colleges, principally to give them intensive instruction in English and acclimatization to the American system. Community colleges already play a role very similar to what the Brazilians need, bringing immigrants and first-time college students up to speed to benefit fully from the educational system. A potent collateral benefit was to convince there influential Brazilian education leaders of the usefulness of extending their nascent network of community college equivalents. I am certain that this will encourage links between community colleges in the U.S. with Brazilian partners in a ground floor opportunity that will enrich both sides.

We cannot overestimate the importance of the contacts made and the excitement generated. The program touched key decision makers. The Brazilians who participated are in strategic positions to make changes in Brazilian higher education. The Americans they met are in similar positions in the United States. Their collaboration will bear fruit in ways we can only imagine. I believe that scores or even hundreds of future linkages among Brazilian and American institutions of higher educations will trace their provenance to this two-week crucible.

The Brazilians are making a big investment in their future and tangentially in ours. We are lucky to be present at the creation of this wonderful program, which means that we have been able to help our friends shape the program’s initial form, which in turn will have follow-on effects for many years. This visit is helping us all benefit of this opportunity of a generation.   

Follow this link to the PowerPoint presentation on Science w/o Borders

March 10, 2012

ACCESS to a Better Life in Taguatinga

English Access students in Taguatinga Brazil 

It is always an honor to meet kids that are so hard-working and a pleasure to share in their aspirations.  This is what I got to do yesterday at the Casa Thomas Jefferson branch in Taguatinga, a satellite city near Brasília, when I met this year’s English ACCESS students and presented them with their scholarship certificates. 

Fifty-four new students got ACCESS scholarships, which gives them two years of English study at our BNC (We cover the cost of fifty; CTJ adds in four more.) The kids are all low income and from disadvantaged backgrounds. English will give them a big boost and will help boost their communities.  Being involved is also good public diplomacy for us.  It helps build and maintain the web of relationships on which our good relations ultimately depend.

English student and me  

Relationships are why I think it is so important for us – for me – to be part of these things.  I was talking to my colleague Marcia about that on the way to Taguatinga. Since I just got back to Brazil the morning before, I had a lot of work to catch up, lots of paper to push.  I was really “too busy” to take the time out for this ceremony. But we work through Brazilian people. My job is relationships. Paper pushing is only a means to that goal. Our program CAN go by itself.  We can pay the money and forget about it. But that is like planting a garden and not taking advantage of the fruits and flowers.

Taguatinga Brazil street 

An American diplomat is sufficiently rare in the lives of these students that I believe that they will long remember that I shook their hands, called them by their names and gave them their certificates.  It gives their program an American face – literally.  Of course, I also had the chance to renew my acquaintance with school leaders from Brasília and our friend at the BNC. This is what public diplomacy is about.

Marcia wrote my comments, which I have included below for reference. I still don’t trust my Portuguese to completely.  Besides, at official events it is important to hit the main points but not to talk too long. W/o prepared remarks, I tend to ramble on too long.  I ad-libbed a few comments at the end. I thought it was important to tell them a little about their own importance for the future of their country. Talented people have the privilege and a duty to develop their skills for the good of their country and the world in general.  We need to remind ourselves and others of that. I find that most young people are receptive to that message.  They want to be part of something bigger than their daily lives. I also wanted to remind everybody about the Science w/o Borders initiative and the opportunities and responsibilities that it brings.

The CTJ in branch in Taguatinga teaches around 1,250 students. Among them are 250 who get their instruction at a local High School – Leonardo Da Vinci – after school. CTJ pays the school 10% of what they get in tuition. It is easier for students just to stay a little longer at school than it is to fight traffic to get to the CTJ facilities. This is a good partnership that benefits all around.

CTJ people tell me that there can be significant differences among the students they attract in different locations.  The Lago Sul campus gets mostly upper and middle class students.  They often spend a long time at CTJ and learn to speak English almost flawlessly. Taguatinga is not much like Lago Sul. Most of the students there are poor and many come from single parent households. It is harder for them to continue their English educations, but it is a tribute to them and their parents that they continue to show up. 

The ACCESS program in Taguatinga has an excellent retention record, despite the challenges of its students.  Of the 54 students who entered the two-year program in March of last year, 52 have returned for the second. CTJ staff is active in creating this happy result. The CTJ teachers and administrators take it personally. I heard one story about a young woman from last year’s class who was going to drop out. She was getting married and her prospective husband thought that she had better uses for her time than to study English. The CTJ director called the future husband and explained what a rare opportunity this was and that he should not take it away from her.  The young man relented and the young woman returned to class to finish what she had begun.   I wonder what changes this intervention will make in her life and the life of her community.

In all there are 1,147 students in the ACCESS program in Brazil, in Recife, Sao Paulo, Salvador, Porto Alegre, Manaus, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte and here in Brasilia.

My picture up top is the class picture. You may notice that most people seem not to be looking at the camera.  This is because there were multiple cameras. The picture taking can take a long time; everybody wants a photo.  The middle picture is a student from last year's class and me. She had the scary task of giving a speech in English to the new students. She did very well. The bottom picture is the street outside the BNC.

Remarks below, FYI:

- Muito obrigado, Ana Maria!  

-  Muito obrigado à Casa Thomas Jefferson, à Secretaria de Educação do Distrito Federal e à Diretoria Regional de Ensino do Recanto das Emas pela importante parceria na implementação do Programa ACCESS.

- Bom dia, alunos do programa ACCESS e PARABÉNS pela bolsa de estudos!  

- Vocês agora são alunos ACCESS da Casa Thomas Jefferson e participantes nesse importante programa de ensino de inglês, cultura americana e responsabilidade social.

- Sintam-se orgulhosos!  Vocês fazem parte de um grupo de aproximadamente 1,150 (mil, cento e cinquenta) bolsistas Access espalhados pelo Brasil em cidades como Brasília, Manaus, Recife, Salvador, São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro e Porto Alegre. 

-  À medida em que o Brasil cresce no cenário internacional, surgem muitas oportunidades e é muito bom ver que vocês já estão começando a se preparar aprendendo inglês.

- Além de abrir portas no mundo profissional, o inglês também permitirá que vocês busquem interessantes oportunidades de estudo no exterior, com programas como o Jovens Embaixadores, o Ciência sem Fronteiras e muitos outros que existem.

- Sejam curiosos, perguntem, participem e aprendam bastante.  Da próxima vez que eu me encontrar com vocês, conversaremos em inglês,

- Novamente, parabéns e muito sucesso para vocês!

-  Muito obrigado!

March 09, 2012

Better to Light Many Candles

Constitution Hall in Philadelphia I was impressed generally with the American system of higher education. This really was a journey of discovery for me. I have more information than I can currently digest and will have to spend a lot of time just thinking about everything I learned and how to use it.  

I know we like to wring our hands and talk about how we are falling behind. From what I have seen and recently learned about our colleges and universities, I can say with conviction that this is not true. What is true is that others are catching up and we are actually helping. That is a good thing for us. For too long a time the task of creating knowledge and innovation has been over-concentrated in our country.  

We can use the help of others and all will benefit if we work in partnership. Science is a social process. It builds on the work of others and thrives best when the best minds are linked with others. Science w/o Borders will help Brazil forge links with the world of innovation and Brazil will benefit. I have grown to love and respect my Brazilian friends and I certainly wish them well, but I am American. I have to ask what is in it for America. I think there is a clear benefit for America when we have the opportunity to work with more minds and take advantage of more innovative imaginations.  These connections are two-way – multiple-way – exchanges. Helping innovators in Brazil will help innovators in America and innovation is what secures our hopes in the future.

What our great thinker-scientist-president Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1813, nearly 200 years ago remains true. In the 200 years since then it has been proven again and again. Jefferson wrote, “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lites his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.” It gets better. In the world of ideas, when you share your light, your own gets brighter, better and longer lasting. To extend the fire-light analogy, when you are building a campfire, the flames that are separated die out, but those that are able to feed each other grow warmer and stronger. This exchange is a marvelous idea.

My picture shows Constitution Hall in Philadelphia. Our Constitution was the first to address science. "Congress shall have the Power to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." The system gave inventors the right to benefit from their discoveries for a limited time on condition that they share the knowledge that went into it.  This kind of idea is one of the reasons why we went progressed so fast since. Our political heritage is also a scientific one.

March 08, 2012

Best Prospects

North Carolina State University 

We had excellent meetings at several universities. A few stand out. One of the last we visited and a good example is North Carolina State University.  I can be a case study of what we want.    If you want to find out more about Science w/o Borders in English, the NC State webpage is a good place to start.

Whenever you find something working really well, you should look for a champion, somebody just pushing the program, fixing the problems and making all the good luck just seem natural. At NC State that person is Michael Bustle.  Having a practical champion is rarely sufficient to make a successful program but it almost always necessary.  It is an interesting leadership question. Organizations need champions but you cannot really designate one and it is sometimes difficult to recognize the person involved, but you recognize the energy in the operation. It is usually the presence of one or more of these champions that makes an operation “lucky”.

Fermentation Lab at NCSU 

There is more. NC State is a land grant institution.  Land grant institutions and their like have traditions and advantages to draw on.  Schools like NC State have experience with bringing in non-traditional students, educating them and adding value to citizens and society, as well as the mandate to work on practical sciences.  They are, IMO, the places that will take most of the America-bound Brazilians.

Another advantage is the integration with local firms and government.I wrote about this in an earlier post.  One of the biggest plus in American education today is its flexibility and connections.  NC State is closer than some others. Some private firms are actually located on campus, actually a new one called Centennial Campus.

Gold Leaf firms at NCSU 

Centennial Campus sits on 1300 acres about a half-hour drive from the main campus. Private firms pay $35/square foot for places on campus, significantly higher than they could get farther away. They come for the proximity to students, researchers and professor. Many of the buildings were constructed by private firms for their own use.  After 30 years, they will become the property of the university.  I won’t try to describe all the specifics. You can read more details about Centennial Campus at this link. You will be impressed.

My top picture is the North Carolina State University main campus. Below that is a fermentation lab on the Centennial Campus, where students can work in real-world facilities. Bio-manufacturing is a technology which will grow in the future, but initial investments are high and risky. A competitive advantage in the future will be the capacity to transfer innovations from university environments to real-world applications. The bottom picture shows some of the firms that are participating on the Centennial Campus.

March 04, 2012

The Internationalization of Brazilian Education

Science w/o Borders delegation Brazilian Embassy in Washington 

My perception of Science w/o Borders evolved during this visit. At first I saw the simple practical task of moving thousands of Brazilian kids to American universities in order to improve their educational opportunities. Of course, this is still the key task along the critical path, but it is not the big picture or the ultimate destination. The final destination is the internationalization or the re-internationalization (as I wrote in an earlier post) of Brazilian higher education. 

Meridian House in Washington 

Their American experience will indeed change and enrich the lives of the individual students.  But the experience such a large cohort brings back to Brazil will also change Brazilian education. In addition to its size, this is a well-targeted program. The Brazilian students will be chosen from all over the country. They are already in place to become future leaders of the country. Their already sunny prospects will be further brightened by their international experience, the things they learn and the connections they make, not least of which the connections they make among each other, the Pygmalion effect at work. 

They will bring greater internationalization to Brazilian education. For each one that travels in the first waves, dozens will follow along the paths created and widened.  Beyond that, they will come back with new habits and different expectations.

Our Brazilian friends liked the flexibility of the American system. Brazil still uses something much more like the old inherited European system. There is not a lot of flexibility and tends to be less cooperation among departments than there is today in the U.S. This is true even within universities, not to mention among institutions or with outside private firms. American universities were like this but they had to change to adapt to the new realities, as I wrote in an earlier post.

We couldn’t keep the doughboys in their old habits when they came home after seeing Europe. The popular song “How ya gonna keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree” reflected this.  Science w/o Borders affects nowhere near as many people and is nothing like the intensity, but it does have the advantage of concentration.  Smaller numbers will have high leverage in the relatively rarefied, if rapidly growing, Brazilian higher-education environment. This is also a time of maximum leverage. Brazilian higher-education is in a transition, as is the country. 

I understand that I am repeating many of the same themes. Maybe I should sometime combine related posts and make them more coherent, but I am writing day-to-day.

My picture up top show the SwB group at the Brazilian Embassy, where we were invited to give a readout of our various visits. We had a reception at the residence that evening.  The second picture shows the entrance at Meridian House.  Meridian House organized the program and we did a discussion there.

March 03, 2012

Reunited

Chrysler Building in New YorkOur groups of Brazilian education leaders went East, West and Center to learn about Americans higher education and to explore opportunities for linkages, especially Science w/o Borders. Then we came back to together, gathering in Washington to discuss our experiences. We went all over the country, but we seem to have had remarkably similar experiences. I suppose that is because the ingredients were the same: Brazilian & American higher education folks talking about their interest in internationalizing their programs. There were some variations. 

One significant difference evidently was the fame of Science w/o Borders. In the Eastern campaign, we had to explain details of Science w/o Borders, but most of our interlocutors already knew a lot about the program.  Our Western group reported less general knowledge of the program. I can think of several reasons why this might be true. I also have considered the possibility that it might simply be a perception difference on our part or self-fulfilling, i.e. we got what we expected. But I don’t think it much matters. One of the central goals of our trip was to inform and persuade. In this we succeeded. Whether it was explaining details to the already reasonably well-informed or bringing new information to the erstwhile benighted, they’ve got it right now.  

We found almost an embarrassment of riches. The American higher-education system provides more opportunities than can be exploited. A welcome challenge is the choosing among the many opportunities, but we should not believe that the beguiling number and variety of choices is not a serious challenge.  Two extremes must be avoided.  Our Brazilians friends are aware that they need to take care not to concentrate too much on a few places or dissipate their resources and people across to broad a spectrum.

IMO the best options are in the land-grant colleges and similar institutions. They have long had the mission and the infrastructure needed to take in large numbers of students from diverse backgrounds and they have first-class research capabilities in practical sciences – the kinds of things you need to build a country.   

Duke University Quad
 

We were also mightily impressed by the community colleges we visited. They have the capacity to train large numbers in English and study habits. I believe that my Brazilians friends experienced a minor epiphany when the toured community colleges (our group visited Northern Virginia Community College and Montgomery College) and I did too, BTW. Before this visit They were not much interested in sending their students to community colleges, which they saw in the old paradigm as second-class or junior colleges. We were surprised by their connections with local firms and flexibility in responding to their training & research needs. Something along the lines of the American community college paradigm will be a key ingredient in Brazil’s development, especially in the integration of the new middle class into prosperity. Brazil has excellent universities to train the best-and-brightest. What they need is that bridge.

University of North Carolina Chapel Hil 

I was less enamored by the receptions we got at our elite universities. Maybe they are less hungry because they already have much more demand for places in their universities than they can possibly satisfy and maybe they think they have enough international connections, but the difference was palpable. We got enthusiastic receptions at the excellent middle ranked universities and community colleges; the elite universities were polite but we tended to get one or two officials explaining that it was hard to get in. This is no real problem. As I wrote above, there are more opportunities than our Brazilian friends can exploit. 

I believe, and told my Brazilian friends, that rankings are overrated. As a practical proposition, you can get as great an education at a big state school as you can at the elite institution. They understand this and are sophisticated enough to look to programs and department, not to the big name. If you want to study water resources, you are a lot better off at the University of Nebraska than at Harvard, for example.

So I think this trip succeeded in fulfilling all the expectations. The Science w/o Borders initiative will succeed and we helped.  

My pictures are from the recently completed trip. Most people will recognize the picture up top as the Chrysler building in New York with its art deco crown.  The middle picture is the quad at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. The bottom is the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.  It was our first public university.

March 01, 2012

Stay Hungry

Ben Franklin statue at University of Pennslyvania

One of the things about American universities that most impresses our Brazilians friends is the density and depth of outside connections. Most American universities work in a web of other universities, private firms and NGOs to a much greater extent than their Brazilian counterparts. Students at American universities often work as interns and in co-ops with businesses. Researchers at American universities mix freely with outsider.  American professors consult. Universities are not outside; they are fully part of society's fabric. (This may seem obvious to us, but recall that many universities traditionally have seen themselves as separate with separate norms and sometimes special rules and laws. In Europe, they were based on religious institutions with traditions of separation.)

Frankin statue at University of Penn 

In trying to explain this difference, one of our Brazilian friends credited relative insecurity among American academics.  He said that Brazilian academics are relatively well paid and secure in their positions.  They are not hungry for other things. They don’t need to look for outside opportunities. Only hungry wolves hunt.   American academics are hungry, at least in the figurative case.

This makes a lot of sense.  I am not sure the hunger metaphor is perfect, but I do think that American universities have a feeling of incompleteness. They need to partner with outsiders.  This makes the universities better and more robust as well as more useful to society.

Street at University of Pennsylvania 

This is not an uncontroversial idea. When I was in school lo those many years ago, there was a lot of gnashing of teeth that academics were getting involved with private business. There was a kind of chastity idea that universities should start apart from the hustle, bustle and especially the profit motives of the larger society.  This has weakened in recent decades.   Describing academics in an “ivory tower” – separate from society - is usually a pejorative description.  But we still see some of this idea.  There really is not much merit to the idea of separateness it, although it is resembles the valid idea that scholars should have some space for contemplation.  

The value of a scholarly pursuit is that it should allow the thinking person the space to think. You can be so involved in doing things that you don’t have time to think about what you are doing or why. This we should defend.  But a step back or a pause to think should not mean separation.

The irony for a scholar being separate is that separating yourself allows you to do exactly what scholarship should never do, i.e. isolating yourself from people and ideas that might challenge your own ideas.  We all look for confirming information and people who support us. We need to be pushed out of this comfort zone usually by needing to interact with people who might prefer to avoid.  

That is why it is good to be hungry, at least sometimes. It forces us to get out there, try new things, innovate and overcome.  Challenges lead to growth; comfort to stagnation.

My pictures are Ben Franklin at the University of Pennsylvania. He was a man who questioned, tried lots of new things and produced practical wisdom. He founded the University of Pennsylvania, an academic pursuit, but he also invented the Franklin stove, very practical, discovered the nature of electricity, very technical, originated lighting rods, very helpful and described the Gulf Stream, very much natural science. And he did almost everything he did in cooperation with others. He in his person formed a good template for what universities might be.  I also have a picture of a walking street at the University of Pennsylvania.

February 28, 2012

A Mature Ecosystem

New York Public Library 

The biology analogy applies to the complex interactions and niches in the American education establishment.  This is a good thing. A mature ecosystem can use inputs efficiently and accommodate many different needs.   It is robust and adaptive. 

I am impressed with the system. I find that it is much better than I understood it was before the visit. My earlier understanding was simplistic and outdated. I still thought in terms of a university or a school as the unit of analysis. I knew that schools created and maintained connections with other schools and the outside community, but what I didn’t really understand was the extent that all these entities have effectively merged.  This is why the ecosystem analogy is apt. The parts of schools are not only interacting with other parts and outside actors; they are dependent and cooperative with entities well removed from their own cooperation.   It is like the bird that eats berries on top of a tree in interacting with soil bacteria that allow the roots to take advantage of minerals many steps removed.

The liberty bell 

The coordinating mechanism is a kind of distributed decision making process. All the various actors are responding to the changing circumstances, incentives and opportunities. The mature educational ecosystem provides lots of shared services or at least opportunities that all can use. This makes the power of big institutions less overwhelming and empowers smaller institutions. It levels the playing field when everybody has access to resources that once were concentrated only in well-established institutions.

All this means that we are on the threshold of a new age of higher education. This is the same revolution experienced by big industry in the 1970s and 1980s. That was when the advantage of the big and established organizations eroded. You didn’t need to have in-house services when such things were available by outside vendors cheaper and more efficiently. The education establishment hung on a bit longer providing full services.  In fact, the positions of the majors strengthened as customers moved to prestige providers. There were few alternative products and it was hard to unbundle them. The value of the name was strong.  

I think this is changing rapidly. Educational wealth has been distributed wider. You can get a great education all over America and sometimes you don’t even have to enter a prestigious university program or a university program at all. The connections are all over the place now. 

In my old world, you went through different stages. I remember one book I read called them “boxes of life.” You didn’t skip them and you rarely went back. You graduated HS; some went to college; you got out four years later and went to work for the next thirty or forty years and then retired. You were done with formal education for the most part the day you graduated. Today things are different. You have to keep learning.  Students of various ages and occupations are mixing. Now you might go back to school or at least formal training many times during a working life. This education can be delivered in a variety of ways, at a variety of times by a variety of providers. The traditional four-year institution enjoys no advantages and the paradigm that brings people in at the bottom, processes them through a set program and graduates them at the end may in fact be a liability.  

The new paradigm is much more customized.  No two people take exactly the same coursework. Their needs are not the same. No one institution can satisfy all the needs. The expertise will not be available at any one institution.  The expertise may not be available at all. It needs to be created in the process of the interaction of learning and teaching. It is an interesting new world.

My pictures show the New York Public library up top and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia below. From the trip, but not much related to what I have written.

Shoulder-to-shoulder we make friends

http://johnsonmatel.com/2012/2_FebKnights_on_horses_at_Metropolitan_Museum.jpg 

We met dozens of Brazilian Science w/o Borders student during this trip. The American instructions that received them like to bring them out to talk to us and they like to talk about their experiences in America. I can say with conviction that the kids are all right. They are adapting well as enhancing the reputation of their country. 

The biggest challenge is an obvious one – the weather. There is no place in Brazil that has weather as cold as they are encountering in New York or even Virginia. Lucky for them, this has been an unusually mild winter in most of North America. Nevertheless, it takes a little while to get used to cold and to learn the art of layering.

A more pressing problem is time management. Students in Brazil spend more time in class, but have less homework.The SWB students mentioned that they have needed to manage their time and priorities more closely.Being a student in America requires more self-discipline, they said.On the other hand, if they manage their time well, they have time off on weekends or in the evenings.This is not a lesson only Brazilians need to learn, of course.I learned it the hard way in college and have to relearn it all the time even at my advanced age.

They didn’t think that it would much help to have some kind of course in time management before leaving Brazil. It is something you just have to learn by doing, they said. I suppose that is true. They also were not that enthusiastic about additional English before coming. They said that they perfect their English faster in the real world situation. The vocabulary they need is too specialized and only their fellow engineers actually can help them learn it. I have to qualify this statement a bit. The students we met are very good English speakers already. They came with TOEFL scores above 90. Many in the second and third waves of Science w/o Borders student may not have this level of proficiency. In other words, some additional training might be useful.

We don’t need to reinvent wheels that are already turning really well. Our Brazilian students praised the reception they received from the student services departments. American universities are accustomed to foreign students. They know how to help and have created structures to do it. They have already thought about, tested and implemented all of my bright ideas plus many more that I have not thought about. Sometimes you have to let people do the jobs they do so well, w/o second guessing them or substituting your own judgement for theirs. 

The students praised the hand-on project based approach in American education. I mentioned some of this cross-discipline teamwork in previous posts. Everybody seems to like this as a learning tool, a way to speak English and a way to see how and why what they learn is important. Americans working with Brazilians on common goals. This is great.

I am reminded of the old saying that you don’t make friends fact-to-face; you make friends shoulder-to-shoulder, working on common endeavors toward shared goals.

My picture is from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. I managed to get over there for a little while in  Sunday.

February 27, 2012

There is a Tide

Hermes at Rockefeller Center 

Our group of Brazilian education leaders has been getting a great reception everywhere we go and I understand that our partner groups on the West Coast and in the Midwest are enjoying similar results. No surprise really.  The Brazilians are spending $3 billion to send 100,000 of their best and brightest students overseas to enrich the educational environment.   

Demeter_at_Rockefeller_Center 

There is more, however.  This is the perfect time to be working with Brazil. The country is emerging as a cultural and economic power and is striving to have its STEM education match its new wealth and position.  American instructions, independent of the Science w/o Borders initiative, have decided that it is time to expand in Brazil. They want a bigger network of connections and alumni in the vast country that makes up half of Latin America.

New_York Rockefeller_Center_front 

There is also the matter of diversification.  Most STEM programs have lots of foreign students, but there is a great preponderance of Chinese and Indian students.  There is nothing wrong with this, but you lose the advantages of diversity if you have less of it.  

Having a larger number of students from a place like Brazil will bring in their unique experiences and talents, adding another ingredient to the powerful mix & besides those countries already sending large numbers of students (i.e. East Asia, India & some rich Arab countries), there are not as many sources as you might think.  Europeans are largely being absorbed into their own international system, i.e. a German student can very easily study in Italy or Spain, where the systems are more compatible and they have ERASMUS program that helps pay for their study and lets them work. Many other parts of the world do not have either large numbers of qualified students or cannot afford to send them. 

New_York_Rockefeller_Center_ice_ring 

Brazil, in fact, was a more difficult case until the Science w/o Borders initiative and a good case study for how it can be difficult. The older generation of Brazilian scholars (i.e. people like me and older) was actually MORE likely to have international experience than those a bit younger. This was the ironic result of improvements in Brazilian universities coupled with challenging economic times. Until the 1970s, many of the best and brightest Brazilians studied overseas because there were few alternatives at home. One of Brazil’s educational successes of the last generations was to create an excellent university system.  But this kept Brazilians at home.  Of course, they were also kept at home by the hard economic times of the 1970s and 1980s, the hyperinflation and the decline of their purchasing power. This situation has completely turned around.

Brazil is a country of continental proportions. Like the U.S., it could and did absorb the energy of most of its people.  So instead of an international experience, a Brazilian who wanted to go far from home could simply go to a different state, like a New Yorker might go to Wisconsin to study. Unfortunately, the system did not develop much capacity to attract foreign students.  Even in large universities in Brazil, you can often count the number of foreign students on your hands. Only PUC in Rio has a large contingent of foreign students.  This is also something that needs to change. 

A second theme of our education mission, something that may become even more important than the actual Science w/o Borders program, is to create connections among Brazilian and American institutions, so that we get a two-way flow. Not only do Brazilians come to America, but Americans go to Brazil. We have a lot to learn from each other. 

I have been encouraged by the interest in Brazil among Americans but dismayed by the lack of practical knowledge.  Brazil seems a far off land of which we know little. Few Americans study Portuguese and an annoying number think that Brazilians speak Spanish. We should know more about the biggest country is South America. Relations between our two great democracies will continue to improve, but we need to know each other better. 

Science w/o Borders should jump-start this rediscovery. This is really something big and we are certainly not starting from scratch. Brazil is a fellow Western democracy, a partner in the Americas. We are old friends, who have just not kept up. The U.S. was the first country in the world to recognize Brazilian independence.  We have worked closely over the years. We were allies in World War II. Our scientist, leaders and people collaborate well. An American in Brazil recognizes familiar brands and American firms are present and making products in Brazil.  On the other side, Brazilian firms are present in the U.S. Budweiser beer is owned by a Brazilian multinational as are Burger King Restaurants, among others. It is just time to get to know each other better again and renew our wonderful friendship. The opportunity is now.

Maybe time for the Shakespeare quote:

"There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures." 

I cannot add anything more, except to write that my pictures are all from Rockefeller Plaza in New York. They are related to the text only in that I wrote this the same day I took the pictures. 

February 25, 2012

Stevens Institute of Technology

New York 

The Stevens Institute of Technology is a venerable institution founded in 1870 by a family of inventors who made their money and reputations making industrial machines, especially steam driven ones. The Institute goal is to be integrated into the community and into the needs of business.  We are hearing this all over.   Schools seem to have gotten the message. But a dean at Stevens put it nicely.  

He said that their goal is to connect innovation with business with technology as the catalyst.

Statue at Stevens Institution of Tech 

Stevens in fact partnered with Parsons on the Solar Decathlon and in many ways is the Yang to Parsons’ Yin. Stevens is an engineering school with a “design spine”.  They want to integrate design into their creations in the first year.  The students work on interdisciplinary projects from the beginning and – interesting for engineers – they must take humanities courses every semester.

The Stevens Institute has eleven Brazilians taking part in Science w/o Borders. I will write more about those impressions in a separate posting, as I have talked to Brazilian SWB kids at several places now.

The Stevens folks were talking about their illustrious alumni.  Among them was Frederick Taylor, founder of “Scientific Management”.  It is interesting. He was a true man of his times.  We can revere what he did to reform industry while understanding that it has been overtaken by events.  I wrote a post about that a couple years ago.

February 24, 2012

Capacity to Innovate

New York  

Parsons School of Design

We sometimes think of innovation as new discoveries, a new software or medicine. We still have the image of the lone genius building something new in the basement or the garage.  The basement or garage may still be part of innovation, but the genius is not alone. Innovation also and perhaps more importantly is the application of techniques and technologies in different ways that satisfy developing needs. After all, a new discovery that cannot be communicated or applied is as useful as … nothing. Innovation must always exist in a human society context.

I admit that I was a little confused when I saw that the Parsons School of Design at the New School in New York was on our list of visits. I was thinking in that narrow sense that design meant only something like making nice looking furniture, modern art or maybe high fashion. I was wrong. 

People at Parsons explained that they work on teams to embed scientific and technical innovation into systems, i.e. designs that serve human needs. Theirs is a multi-disciplinary approach of engagement with complex problems of art, design, science & technology all wrapped into something that works for people They started with the example of their work on the solar decathlon/empowerhouse, where their team designed and built a modular house that was functional, comfortable, attractive and produced its own energy using passive and active solar power. 

It was impressive as was the philosophy behind. You have to go where the problem is and help solve it for the people there with their cooperation of those affected by the problem and will be involved in implementing solutions, my kind of thing. Partnerships frame the definition of the problem and the solutions.  

Parsons already has two SWB participants who are doing well, BTW.

Mural of Lenin at New School 

The New School was founded in the 1920s, among others by people fleeing the tyranny of totalitarianism in Europe. You still get that feeling from the building, which was designed in the 1920s and by the decoration. Our room featured large murals by the Mexican artist Jose Orozco. It was a product of the times, featuring heroes like Gandhi and villains like Lenin and Stalin. I wondered why Hitler was not featured until I found out that it was pained in 1931, when Hitler was just a dark cloud on the horizon. A painting on the wall of the hall is from a bit later time, the Spanish civil war. You can see that below and it is self-explanatory. Let’s hope the world never has to go through a period that bad again.  It is useful to be reminded of such dark times; I hope the memory helps us avoid it. George Santayana famously said that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. But it sometimes seems that those who remember don’t fare much better.

Spanish Civil War painting at New School 

February 23, 2012

Historically Black Colleges & Universities

Morgan State University 

We visited two historically black colleges, Howard University in Washington and Morgan State in Baltimore.  These universities at one time were designed for blacks, who were often excluded from other universities.  Today they have enrollment of all races; hence the name “historically” instead of currently, but they still enroll relatively more African-American students on average.

Morgan State library 

The Dean at Morgan State explained some of the history. The Morrill Act in 1862 funded educational institutions by giving the states federal land to establish and endow "land-grant" colleges. These universities were supposed to concentrate on practical subjects such as agriculture, science and engineering. Many of our great public state universities are land grant colleges. Wisconsin and Minnesota are among them, but some private institutions such Cornell University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also started life as land grant institutions. While these institutions were not “white” few blacks could take advantage.  A second Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1890 specified that states using federal land-grant funds must either make their schools open to both blacks and whites or allocate money for black colleges.  Sixteen exclusively black institutions received 1890 land-grant funds, among them Morgan State. Howard is different. It is funded by the Federal government, one of only three institutions that get direct funds from the Feds.

Howard University 

Today these institutions maintain their commitment to sciences and practical arts, making them potentially good partners for the Science w/o Borders program.

The top two pictures show Morgan State University. The bottom is Howard. 

February 22, 2012

Micron in Manassas

Our Brazilian friends and I went to Micron in Manassas near Washington to give them an idea about how high tech firms are integrated into a well-functioning educational community. Micron makes computer memory.  This is a very complex business with a heavy capital investment and a lot of R&D. The Micron people told us that they absolutely require three things: uninterrupted electrical power, an abundant water supply and an educated workforce.  None of these things are as easy to get as they would first appear.  

Uninterrupted power means exactly that. Even a little hiccup in power can cost thousands of dollars when the very expensive processes are interrupted. I am not exactly sure how water is used in making chips, but it evidently is a large part of the production. The educated labor force is a little surprising.  There are not many people working at Micron. It would seem to me that you could import the relatively few people needed.  The Micron folks explained that they were really talking about a kind of social ecosystem and a strong social ecosystem requires educated workforces in various businesses that support Micron in direct and indirect ways, as well as a diverse population that brings a variety of ideas.  

Somebody questioned this idea, pointing out that Micron was headquartered in Boise, Idaho, hardly a big or diverse metro area. Our hosts admitted that this seemed to be an exception to the rule. They also explained how Micron came to be located in Idaho in the first place.  It was a semi-random event. A rich guy called JR Simplot provided the start-up capital for Micron.  Simplot made a fortune pioneering the production of frozen French fries and then made his fortune bigger by becoming the supplier to McDonalds.

Naval Observatory 

Micron spends a lot of time and money trying to shrink the size of the memory it makes. This won’t be possible very much longer with the technologies and materials available.  Some of the processors are currently only twenty atoms wide. That is 20 atoms. Think how small that is. They probably cannot shrink down to the subatomic level, so researchers are looking for alternatives to the flat silicon materials.  This is the current holy grain and Micron is helping fund research at Virginia universities in search of it.

Library at Naval Observatory 

PrincipiaLater that day we went to the Naval Observatory.  This is where my pictures came from. We could not take pictures in Micron so as not to potentially compromise proprietory information. 

The main duty of the Naval Observatory use to be to keep perfect time and write almanacs for navigation. The device up top used to keep track of the changes in the earth's rotation. The earth does not rotate at exactly the same time. There are a few seconds difference. Scientist are not sure why. 

The Observatory has an interesting library. You can see it in the picture. It has some race books, including copies of Newton's "Principia" (pictured) as well as Galileo and Copernicus.  Pictures of the other books are here and here

February 20, 2012

No Bright Boundaries & Never a Finish Line

NOVA campus 

The cost of higher education is through the roof.  Well … it depends on what you mean.

Higher education is going through profound changes that are changing the shape, but we are still seeing only the old beast in a kind of persistence of vision scenario. We still see clearly the old world that we know and loved, the great universities with the names we all know. But this is always a limited resource, one that cannot be expanded. There are only so many “Top Universities”. That is why it is getting harder and harder to get into them and more expensive for the happy few who make the jump.

Computer lab at NOVA 

But maybe the big names like Harvard, Yale, Stanford and even our own beloved UVA are analogous to big names like Cadillac, Lincoln, Packard & Rolls Royce – great old luxury vehicles. The best universities had all the advantages, including things like professors with great credentials, big libraries and prestigious pedigrees.  The only advantage that really remains is the pedigree. Internet has largely equalized the advantage of the libraries and we have trained up so many great professors in the last couple of generations that there really is not a significant difference among the top hundreds of institutions. The great old universities are the bright stars, but most of the educational universe is made up of the dark matter that we sometimes don’t see. 

Lots of learning is not university-based at all. We have options. If you live in a decent sized city, you can go to free lectures at think tanks & foundations. W/o leaving your house, you can listen to a wide variety of courses on I-pad and you have an interactive experience online with programs such as the Khan Academy. 

And then there are Community Colleges. I was mightily impressed by my visit to Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA). They have great facilities and faculty and they provide a quality education for only 25-33% of the cost of a public university and less than a tenth of the cost of a good private institution.   Beyond that, they have open enrollment. This I like. 

I dislike stringent entrance requirements. This wall you need to jump can determine your life chances and you have to jump this wall when you are too young to really know what is going on. Far better, IMO, is to have lots of chances, lots of options. After all, it doesn’t really matter what road you take to success if you arrive there.  All the matters is if you know the material or not. I like the idea that you get to try until you succeed or until you decide to stop.  Why be punitive?  When Edison invented the light bulb, nobody penalized him for his thousands of “failures.” 

Community colleges are flexible and responsive to the needs of customers.  In Virginia, almost nobody is more than a half hour’s drive form a community college course.  They take the courses to where the demand lies.   NOVA sometimes holds the courses on the premises of firms.

Chip maker Micron told us that they decided to stay in Manassas partly because NOVA was responsive to training needs in math, ESL, tech writing and other STEM and George Mason was there for research support. 

Our Brazilian friends seemed as impressed as I was and there are lots of places for cooperation on Science w/o Borders.  NOVA already has students from many countries. They can take some of the Brazilian students in their second year.  More importantly, NOVA has extensive experience in English teaching.  They can bring some of the Brazilian students up to speed in English. It may be the start of a beautiful friendship. 

All universities, especially public universities are supposed to contribute to the general welfare. This means educating the people, giving advice to firms and producing public intellectual goods. NOVA people told us that they have three sorts of students. Some are the traditional type who are preparing for a four year institution; other are non-traditional students and still others are in it to hone their job stills. The task is to serve the people in their various permutations. When universities become more exclusive, they cannot do this task well anymore. Open enrollment is something we used to have and now don’t in good universities.  That is why I like the idea.  We need to make it easier to go in and out of the learning environment. We cannot set up walls that hold people back or need to be jumped. 

We used to think that we graduated HS. Then we went to college. We came out four years later and we were done.  This is changed. We no longer have the easily discerned boundaries and there is never a finish line for education. If we ever think we are finished, we ARE finished in the other sense of the word.

The picture up top show part of the NOVA campus in Annandale.  Below is a computer lab where they teach development math. Students learn at their own pace. They have tutors to help, but much of this is programmed.  The people at NOVA say that it works a lot better.

February 16, 2012

Making Science w/o Borders a Reality

We are taking some of our Brazilian friends on the road, or maybe they are taking us. The bottom line is that twenty-eight leaders of Brazilian universities are going to the U.S. and I get to go with them along with the executive director of Fulbright in Brazil and one of my Brazilian Embassy colleagues. We will break into three groups going to the east, west and middle of the U.S.  The first goal is to sell leaders of American institutions on Brazil and sell Brazilians on American institutions. 

That will be the easy part. Enthusiasm for exchange is through the roof. The second goal is harder: we need to channel that enthusiasm into practical results with real-live students and scholars moving between our two countries.  

This is a Brazilian program; we are helping them and helping ourselves by making sure they get a good reception in the U.S.  Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff set in motion her plan, Ciência sem fronteiras or Science w/o Borders, to send 100,000 Brazilians to study overseas in the STEM fields (Science, technology, engineering & math).  Half should go to the United States.  President Obama’s 100,000 Strong for the Americas aspires to send students from the U.S. in the other direction.  

Currently around 9000 Brazilians are studying in the U.S.; not many considering there are more than 192 million Brazilians.  The Brazilians hope to get four or five times that number within the next few years.  We got the first couple hundred Brazilian on planes for the U.S. last month.  Now we have to do the same for a few thousand more.  Our presidents have given us the direction, but if it is really going to happen it is up to us.  Ringing in my mind is “If not us, who? If not now, when?”  Maybe I am given to a littler hyperbole, but only a little. 

We have the opportunity of a lifetime and what happens in the next couple of months will be crucial to the relations between the U.S. and Brazil for the next decades. This is not just hyperbole.  In the next couple of years, we will exchange tens of thousands some of the best and brightest of our countries.  If it works as I believe it will, this will create pathways and connections that become self-sustaining with a positive feedback loop. People and ideas will flow between the two biggest democracies in the hemisphere; friendships will flower.  

My group will be on the east coast. I chose the east coast because it is the part of the country I know best, where I can add the most value.  (I also am happy to have the opportunity to go home and will save the USG a little money on the days I can stay at my own house.) We will be in New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina.  There are many more places we should go and we have not forgotten about them, but we had to go where we could in the short time we have.   Our inability to reach a wider group is one reason I will write on this blog at every stop.  

This will be a journey of discovery for me.  I want to come back knowing more about the landscape of American higher education as pertains to exchanges. I want to understand the practical details of Science w/o Borders and the role that we can play to make it a greater success.  And I want to make a record of all this so that I can share what I think will be an important learning experience.  

So I invite you all to come along.

December 23, 2011

Burgers w/o Borders and PD Success

Me cooking burgers with cowboy hatI would call it a public diplomacy triumph & I don’t think it is hyperbole to say so. We held “visa days” in Rio, São Paulo & Brasilia for student going to the U.S. on Science w/o Borders scholarships. There were about 600 served today.  The Brazilian government estimates that they will have sent 1500 to the U.S. by summer and more from then on thousands more.

In Brasilia, we held a big event to talk to them about the U.S. and get them ready to go to the U.S. They will be spread out all over the U.S.  

We called our event “Burgers w/o Borders.” The Ambassador and other American officers cooked and served hamburgers, American style, on a fried on a Webber grill. (I cooked too, as you can see in the picture.) Our goal was to create an American style cookout.

Always I try to learn from our successes as well as our failures and so I have been thinking about this. Getting this first wave of Brazilians to the U.S. only a few months after the Brazilian president announced the outlines of the program is a definite success. In the midst of such success, we need to determine the role of our team. How different would be the outcome if we did things differently? We don’t want to be like the rooster taking credit for the sunrise, but we also don’t want to attribute to luck what was influenced or even shaped by our efforts. You cannot learn from experience if you take credit for everything or take credit for nothing.

Results are important, but the only way to improve is to study the process that went into the results. The challenge is when we study the process already knowing how the story ended.  Knowing the outcome, we work backwards, emphasizing events that seem to have contributed to what we know happened, but may not have done so, may not be duplicable or may not be recognizable in advance. Some people say that hindsight is 20/20, but this overestimates our ability to understand the real processes and underestimates our tendencies to tell good stories and create narratives even where they don't exist. Our stories usually overestimate deliberate actions of individuals involved, undervalue the importance of interactions among actors and neglect almost entirely the role of random events. We also tend to emphasize our own contributions. This is not only because we are egocentric, but also because information about our own actions is more readily available to us.  With those caveats in mind, I am thinking through the process.

I have written earlier about the larger program, Science w/o Borders. You can read about it here.  I won’t repeat. Let me talk here specifically about our visa days/Burgers w/o Borders, the reception we gave the students that made it an event, marked a transition, and created an impression.

Students at Science w/o Borders event at US Embassy 

First let me be open about what I think I can take credit for doing (caveats above applying).  I take credit for taking this program seriously and conveying the urgency to colleagues around Brazil.  I knew where we wanted to be. Leadership is intangible in many ways. Big successes or failures often look impossible before they happen, but then inevitable after the fact. By extension the person pushing it sometimes seems nuts before and irrelevant after. That was my role (yes - to seem nuts before & irrelevant after, and I did it well.)  I didn’t let things slip, pushed for success and let everyone know that I would back them up. W/o this leadership, I am convinced we would not have achieved this result. In the bigger picture, w/o the Mission's consistent, proactive support, I do not believe the students would have gone this semester. We would have had a trickle in the fall semester and it would have seemed to be the natural outcome.    

CAPES President interviewed by Brazilian media“My” biggest contribution was putting the right people in the right places and letting them do what they were good at doing. I have been teaching my Brazilian colleagues the use of the word “honcho” both as a noun and a verb.  I use it in a particular fashion.  For me the honcho, or the person honchoing, does what is needed to make something work. He/she doesn’t always have specific power he/she is working with in other cases and has to enlist cooperation through a variety of persuasion and power methods. 

I asked my colleague Lana to honcho the logistics of the program at the Embassy. She did a great job of coordinating the work of others. I think it is important that the big boss (i.e. me in this case) back the honcho, but not be in charge of details. This gives the actual honcho the ability to refer to higher authority and strengthens his/her ability to implement. You would think that having the ability to make the final decision would be strength, but it is often weakness. IMO, we in State often make decisions at too high a level and/or with too much consensus. My father told me that I should never spend a dollar to make a nickel decision. The honcho can make decisions with the cover of the big boss using the resort to higher authority if there are problems (i.e. can say "I would like to do it, but you know how the boss is.")

(It is very important that if we delegate responsibility, we also need to delegate authority for most decisions and freedom to make them. I hate it when someone gives responsibility and then comes back to second-guess or revisit all the decisions. Good leaders, IMO, add value by asking good questions and sharing experience when appropriate. Bad leaders subtract value by "taking charge" of details or "holding people accountable" while not giving them enough freedom to be responsible.  I am aware that I also suffer those faults and try tread lightly on working systems. I think of good leadership in forestry terms: know the environment; plant the right trees; thin and trim as appropriate; protect them from pests them; give them enough but not too much fertilizer to grow and let the system develop, all the time accepting that it is more complex in its details than you can understand.)

Students at Science w/o BorderAnother important “small” success was giving the program a catchy name. A project with a good name is almost always done better than one w/o one. We chose “Burgers w/o Borders” because it was a lighthearted parallel to “Science w/o Borders”.  It also had the advantage of fitting the program and the beauty of alliteration. In other words, it is easy to say; appropriate and memorable in the sense that it evokes a concrete image.

My colleagues had lots of ideas about making the event memorable in other ways. We had T-shirts and umbrellas to make the pictures memorable. Look at the picture down of the crowd with the umbrellas.  Now imagine it with just a couple people with ordinary clothes and no umbrellas. Look at my picture with the Burgers w/o Borders apron and the cowboy hat. Image makes a difference, doesn’t it?

On the day of the event, we put all hands on deck. There was some redundancy, but you need slack.  Better to have someone standing around unneeded than have someone needed not standing by.

Media was willing to cover the event because it was an event. Our press section colleagues were able to sell the it using the hook of the cookout event. They could promise good visuals and interesting stories from the student.  Of course, it didn't hurt that Science w/o Borders had been in the news recently. A good PD rule of thumb is that you should not create your own wave when you can catch and ride higher on one that is already coming your way. People are interested in "their" events, not ours. We also encouraged the students to bring and use their cameras and cellular phones. Young people are natural creators on social media, but you need to create opportunities for them. Since Burgers w/o Borders was not in the Embassy proper, security let them keep their devices.

Of course, much of the success was created by others. Our Consular sections all over Brazil were keys to success. They were fantastically cooperative. After all, visa day required visas. As I alluded immediately above, our security folks were also very helpful and flexible. This was a case where we were lucky, lucky to have great colleagues. I really cannot “analyze” that, except to say that keeping colleagues in the loop, showing them respect and understanding their needs is essential in any cooperative endeavor, and this category includes almost all human activities. 

Of course, our Brazilian friends will see it differently. From their point of view, WE are the support activity for their program and they are right. We are supporting their success. They are right too. It is a win all around, enough to go around. 

P.S.  Students arrived on buses and had to line up to get through security.  A line is a great PR opportunity, as all politicians know. You have a captive audience eager for some diversion. I worked the line on the way in, stopping to talk to forty or fifty Brazilians on as individuals. I think this made a great impression on the students. We spoke in Portuguese outside the Embassy and then English inside to show the transition. We joked about the quality of my hamburgers and generally made the personal connection.  I think this is something they will take with them and remember for a long time.  

More pictures at the Embassy Flickr site

September 30, 2011

What Can 100,000 Smart Kids Accomplish?

US Capitol Mall in rain 

I chaired my first Fulbright Commission meeting. This is a great honor & I won’t deny that I take some joy in bragging about it here, even if I didn’t do anything in particular to earn the honor. I take the responsibly seriously and I took the Fulbright course from FSI distance learning so I understand the history and the process. Ours is a binational commission, which means that the Brazilian side shares in the decision making and funding. It is a great asset to our two countries and to the world, since such encouragement of scholarship is good for everybody. 

Besides the usual business, we talked about Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s aspiration to send 100,000 Brazilians overseas to study in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Math & Engineering). We all have been thinking about that and the all the world’s universities have been beating a path to Brazil to try to get a piece of this action, especially since the Brazilians will fund the studies. Fortunately for us, President Dilma has said, and repeated on many occasions, that she wants at least half of the students to go to the U.S.  Today there are only around 9000 Brazilians studying in the U.S. Multiplying that by five will be a challenge.  

Our interests and those of our Brazilian friends correspond almost perfectly, but so do some of the challenges. Brazil is a big country like the United States and Brazilians, like Americans, are not among the most polyglot people of the world. Americans are lucky; our English, is the international language of business, science, education & entertainment. Brazilian leaders recognize that more Brazilians will need to know English at a higher level if the country is to continue to thrive in the wider world. Weak English will be one of the challenges in sending 100,000 Brazilians to studies overseas. It is not only in the U.S., the UK or Australia that English is necessary. Many Brazilians bound for places like China, India, Germany and even France will study mostly in English.   

English and Education are priorities of ours too. One of my goals is to make it easier for Brazilians to study in the U.S. I understand that just pushing harder to get more young people interested in the U.S. is not the answer. We need to smooth the path and remove obstacles. A problem with English proficiency, and the knowledge that goes with it, is the biggest hurdle, or at least the one we can most readily address. 

Fortunately, we have some solutions. I have written on several occasions about our BNCs. They already reach thousands of Brazilians and often exactly young people who might want to study in the U.S. So we are working with the union of BNCs to develop a course that would include intensive English plus acculturation to U.S. university culture. We would do this in cooperation with our EducationUSA colleagues. The courses would help in general with English and specifically with the TOEFL test of English proficiency. 

I don’t fool myself into believing that our efforts will determine the future of 190 million Brazilians, but I am certain that we will positively affect the lives of thousands of young Brazilian, enrich the lives of thousands of Americans who will become their friends & help American universities. This is no small thing.

The Brazilian aspiration is beautiful. As an American I feel proud that so many choose the U.S and American universities as their destination.  

As I have written before, we have been working in Brazil for generations (Fulbright has been here since 1957). We have structures in place that facilitate educational exchanges. Beyond that, the American nation is greater than the American government, and American universities, NGO and others have also been active. But our network has been carrying a relatively small number of mostly high level student and professors. What our Brazilian friends imagine now is a much bigger number with participants from all parts of Brazilian society. I think of this like the streets of São Paulo. The network is designed for a much lower level of traffic.  We need to figure out ways to make it work better.

My picture is left over from my recent visit home. It shows the book fair on the Mall in Washington.