The UD delegation to Brazil included (from left) Zach Ladin, Emily Alff, Tom Powers, Greg Shriver and Nicole Donofrio.

Brazil spring break

Professors, students travel to UFLA; interns selected for collaborative work

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2:52 p.m., April 24, 2012--Three professors and two graduate students from the University of Delaware spent spring break in Brazil, visiting the University Federal de Lavras (UFLA) campus, strengthening the academic and cultural bonds between the two universities and taking in the sites and sounds of the South American nation. 

In addition, four UD College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) undergraduate students have been selected for an opportunity to develop international teaching modules in conjunction with professors and students at UFLA and UD, and to visit this University in 2013.

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About the UFLA trip

During the spring break trip, the UD delegation spent its time meeting with faculty from UFLA, touring the facilities, teaching classes and taking trips to remote locations ranging from waterfalls to biodiesel factories. They were escorted by Eduardo Alves and Antonia dos Reis Figueira, both professors of plant pathology at UFLA. 

Greg Shriver, assistant professor in CANR's Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, said he found it to be a very informative trip and found that much of the research being conducted by entomologists at UFLA is similar to research under way at UD. 

Talking with Jùlio Louzada, the head of UFLA’s applied ecology department, Shriver said, “They actually have a forest fragmentation study going on in and around Lavras, which is a lot like the study we have going on in and around Newark.”

Shriver and Zach Ladin, a CANR doctoral student, were able to visit part of the Cerrado, a vast tropical savannah ecoregion near the UFLA campus where the study is taking place, and said that the two universities hope to collaborate on their studies regarding dung beetles. 

Nicole Donofrio, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, said she was impressed by the campus, noting that “the academic buildings are gorgeous and equipped with an impressive array of new research equipment,” and added that the trip was crucial in providing strong connections between the two universities for the coming years. 

“One of the goals was to make more connections and try to find additional links for people to have 'sandwich students' here in the next two years,” Donofrio said. Sandwich students refers to a program established between the universities in which UFLA doctoral students spend one year studying at UD that is “sandwiched” between their studies at UFLA. 

Donofrio and Emily Alff, a CANR master's student, taught a class on fungal transformation for the UFLA students. Alff said that being on the UFLA campus was a tremendous experience. “All the research they do is so applied,” she said. “It really makes you think about the bigger picture of research as a whole.” She added that the food and climate were perfect, saying, “Brazil is just a gorgeous country.” 

Tom Powers, assistant professor of philosophy in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and director of UD's Center for Science, Ethics and Public Policy, said he was impressed by a UFLA practice in which they try to “leave nothing behind.” 

Powers joined Donofrio and Alff on a visit to UFLA’s model biodiesel and bioethanol plant, located on the campus. “They use the water from the roof and the parking lot to run a lot of the processes," he said, adding, "They use everything from, or have the potential to use everything from, fish guts to waste from sugar cane and castor beans. So, in terms of using all of these materials for the production of biofuels, it’s really astounding. And then what they don’t make into biodiesel they make into soap and everything else. They’re really trying to find some use for every byproduct in the production process.” 

About the Brazil internships

Four CANR student interns have been chosen for an opportunity to conduct research and teach courses at UFLA.   

The four interns who have been chosen for the project are:

  • Sarah Thorne, a junior;
  • Sara Laskowski, a junior;
  • Jacqueline Hoban, a freshman; and
  • Melanie Allen, a junior.

The internship will run from April 2012 through June 2013, with the interns supervised by UD faculty teams. 

Hoban said she is looking forward to getting to travel to Brazil, and “excited about getting to work with a lot of interesting people and learning about a wide variety of research topics.” Hoban said that the internship “appealed to me not only because of the exciting travel opportunity, but also because it seemed like a really interesting way to apply the material that I have been studying in class.  The project gives me a different perspective on the subjects that I am interested in learning about. It also opens my mind to the educational aspect of my fields of study.”

Hoban added, “Everyone on the team seems like they have a lot of passion for their research and I cannot wait to work with them.”

The project is led by a faculty team from CANR and CAS and is intended to help build longstanding academic programs and research partnerships with UFLA that will enhance the international nature of curricula in areas of common interest, such as food security, bioenergy animal agriculture and biodiversity. 

The project will also aim to stimulate creative thinking in the students who participate about how to develop innovative solutions to complex global agricultural and environmental problems. 

There will be a curriculum enhancement portion of the internship, where students will assist faculty on both a part time and eventually a full time basis, and an experiential learning aspect, where the students will travel to Brazil for up to four weeks with UD faculty. 

The interns will be responsible for developing a minimum of two teaching modules per course, and the modules will consist of PowerPoint presentations or other innovative learning methods that provide detailed information on the course topics developed by the interns and their faculty advisers. 

This new research and teaching project is supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's International Science and Education Program.

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Emily Alff and Danielle Quigley

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