UMKC Fosters Collaborations with Brazil

The potential superpower is bolstering its education system

Monica Mingucci was sitting alongside speakers from across the globe. The Director of UMKC’s Applied Language Institute, Mingucci was recently selected by the Brazilian National Research Institute to speak at a symposium about the U.S. educational system.

The weeklong meeting took place in Parana, Brazil.

That news alone is significant, but it’s just one piece of a much larger story. Over the past year, the University of Missouri-Kansas City has developed a strong, mutually-beneficial relationship with Brazil. As Brazil’s government increases its investments in higher education, universities like UMKC are actively seeking collaborations with a country that has become one of the world’s largest economies, and a potential superpower.

These collaborations are happening all over campus. Earlier this year, UMKC was selected as one of 18 U.S. universities to host Brazilian teachers on a two-month English teaching program.  This past fall, Provost Gail Hackett – along with other UMKC administrators – traveled to Brazil as part of a contingent of educators from across Missouri. Over the next few years, School of Computing and Engineering Professor Deep Medhi will travel to Brazil as a Special Visiting Researcher in the Brazil Scientific Mobility Program.

Together, these campus-wide connections give UMKC a powerful partnership with a member of the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China – widely recognized as the globe’s emerging powerhouses for their rapidly growing economies and their potential future influence.

UMKC Selected to Host Teachers from Brazil

UMKC’s Applied Language Institute was one of just 18 university based ESL programs selected to host teachers from Brazil, as part of the Institute of International Education’s new Brazil English Teachers Program. The program brings 1,080 teachers per year to the United States for intensive English language and teacher training.

The inaugural group of high school English teachers arrived in the United States in January for a six-week professional development program.

On the final day of the program, the 40 teachers gathered in UMKC’s Haag Hall. For the past six weeks, they’d stayed in local homes for a more intense cultural and linguistic experience. They received formal instruction, participated in various social and cultural activities, and visited local schools to observe best practices in the field of language instruction.

They used their final day together to share ideas, talk about their experiences, and ask questions. Mingucci, director of the Applied Languages Institute, led the discussion.

As the teachers talked, a few themes became clear: They get limited time with students. It’s difficult to keep students engaged. Proper pronunciation seems almost impossible to attain.

Mingucci urged the educators to focus on the big picture.

“Can they be understood?” Mingucci asked. “We can work for years on pronunciation. It’s more realistic to focus on comprehension.”

Mingucci’s point drew nods and murmurs of approval.

From there, the group focused on getting their students engaged and excited. One teacher suggested incorporating English music in the classroom. Another said he makes maximum use of class time enforcing an “only English” rule. Struggling a bit is fine, he said, as long as the students are making an effort.

When the group left Kansas City, they took with them not just best practices, but a better understanding of the culture and language they teach.

The program is a collaboration among IIE and Brazilian sponsor CAPES, a foundation within the Ministry of Education in Brazil whose purpose is to improve the quality of Brazil’s faculty and staff in higher education through grant programs, the Fulbright Commission in Brazil, and the U.S. Embassy in Brazil.

The Brazil Scientific Mobility Program Gets a UMKC Researcher

Deep Medhi has his head in the clouds. Or, more accurately, the Cloud.

Medhi, a Curators Professor with UMKC’s School of Computing and Engineering, will participate in the Brazil Scientific Mobility Program as a Special Visiting Researcher. Over the next three years, Medhi will spend a total of five months with the State University of Campinas, in Campinas, Brazil, where he’ll work with two host professors.

Together, they hope to address two main issues with the cloud. Cloud computing entrusts remote services with a user’s data and software. As a Special Visiting Researcher, Medhi will work to make the Cloud function more quickly and with greater energy efficiency.

The work will be difficult, but solutions are badly needed, as more and more people come to depend on the Cloud.

“The Cloud is essentially a huge data center, with lots of computers that are all interconnected. The data center network is becoming more complex as more people use cloud services. Because of that, I’m examining how we can structure the network so that the information flows more quickly for users,” Medhi said.

Meanwhile, Medhi will also delve into what many are calling Green Computing or Green Networking. He and fellow researchers will explore ways to make the Cloud more energy efficient, but keep the user experience satisfactory.

As a Special Visiting Researcher, Medhi is part of a much larger effort to enhance Brazil’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) community.

It’s not a one-way street. For the spring semester alone, UMKC enrolled 48 Brazil Science Mobility students, according to Sandy Gault, director of International Student Affairs. UMKC was one of the first universities in the US selected to participate in this program when it began three years ago, Gault said.  The Brazil Scientific Mobility Program aims to send 100,000 Brazilian students to study STEM fields at universities across the world, and to bring international leading researchers in STEM fields, like Medhi, to the country.

UMKC Officials Visit Brazil

Representatives from roughly a dozen Missouri colleges and universities traveled to Brazil last October to meet with Brazil’s top university and education policy leaders.

Among the delegation were UMKC’s Provost Gail Hackett, School of Computing and Engineering Dean Kevin Truman and Director of the International Academic Programs Office, Linna Place.

“A lot of doors were opened that we were grateful to move through,” Place said.

Those doors were as much literal as they were figurative. Over five days, the group met with leaders from nine different institutions in Brasilia, Recife and Fortaleza, and Recife.

The delegation was organized by Governor Jay Nixon’s office to help foster a needed and mutually beneficial partnership: Brazil’s Science Without Borders program aims to send 100,000 Brazilian students to study STEM fields at universities across the world, and universities like UMKC, specifically UMKC’s SCE, have a lot  to offer.

“Any kind of international connection can benefit us, but Brazil in particular has one of the nation’s strongest economies. This partnership can benefit both parties, not only academically, but culturally and across diplomatic lines as well,” Place said.

For Truman, cultural opportunities are particularly important. As the SCE continues meeting the region’s need for a STEM-educated workforce, Truman says that local students will benefit from learning in a diverse, culturally enriching environment, particularly because many of the big engineering firms headquartered in Kansas City are global in scope.

“Our students are getting a top-notch education, working alongside students from all over the globe. That combination makes our students more competitive in the global workforce,” Truman said.

Photo Credit: Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications.




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