OSU ag exchange enhances student experiences, graduate-level programs
Brazil is a world-leader when it comes to alternative fuels, part of the reason that Jim Stiegler, an Emeritus professor in Oklahoma State University's Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, helped develop and received funding for a student exchange program with universities in Brazil.
Stiegler, who served as head of the OSU department of plant and soil sciences for many years, said a global bio-energy knowledge exchange project between the United States and Brazil makes perfect sense.
"Brazil is one of the leaders in ethanol production from sugar cane and OSU is one of the leading research universities in cellulosic ethanol," he said. "(The exchange) gives the students a tremendous learning opportunity."
The 3-year exchange is funded through a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education through Funds for Improving Post Secondary Education, which OSU received in September 2006.
Stiegler, along with other project partners from OSU-Okmulgee and the University of Arkansas, traveled to Brazil in December 2006 to meet with Brazilian partners, see their universities firsthand and get a feel for what the U.S. students would experience.
During the visit Stiegler was introduced to a Brazilian student who had an interest in paying his own way to study at OSU from January through March, as well as to work with division researchers. The 3-month stay turned into the student returning this past August to begin work on his master's degree.
"The grant has allowed us to do a lot more than just exchange undergraduate students," Stiegler said. "The exchange is a great way to expose international students to what we have to offer them; for OSU, the benefit is getting these students back here for their advanced degrees."
Three other Brazilian students have come to study at OSU for short-term internships since the project started. All but one plan to return for graduate work. Another student is scheduled to begin her undergraduate internship in January.
As part of the reciprocal exchange program, OSU must send students to Brazil during the summer semester and the Brazilian universities send an equal amount of their students the following semester.
The summer of 2008 was the first time OSU students traveled to Brazil to study. The students were at the University of Sao Paulo at Botucatu and Londrina State University. One of those students is Beau Hartline, who is still making the most of the experience.
"The program was one of the most beneficial opportunities that I have had here at OSU and in my life," he said. "Not only was it beneficial to furthering my knowledge, but also to the overall maturing that took place because of it. When you're in another country for 10 weeks around a language and culture that you're unfamiliar with, you are sort of forced to grow up and live in the 'unfamiliar' as opposed to the 'familiar.'"
OSU students take a semester to learn Portuguese before they make the trip and also gain awareness about some cultural differences. While Hartline did what he could before the trip to make it an easy transition, he says the true experience continues today, including making what promises to be lifelong friendships.
"Since being back at OSU, I have furthered my friendship with Romulo Lollato and furthered my understanding of Brazilian culture," Hartline said. "In a way, instead of it being a 10-week program, it has been a 10-week program plus an extra semester. He has already invited me to visit him in Brazil for a vacation at the beach and I fully intend to take him up on it."
More OSU students interested in the exchange program are submitting their applications. Selections will be made in January. Upon their acceptance, they will begin preparations for their trip south next summer. That, of course, will result in another group of Brazilian undergraduate students coming to OSU next fall, hopefully returning in the not-so-distant future to pursue and complete their graduate careers.
Stiegler said he is hopeful that the exchange program with Brazil will ultimately develop into a permanent relationship with the division, and also tap into other developing countries for agricultural graduate students.
EXCHANGE PROGRAM--It's O-S-U, Brazilian style as (from left) College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources students Paula Smith-Heisler of Tonkawa, Josh Blair of Pryor and Beau Hartline of Atoka showcase some south-of-the-border Cowboy spirit while in Brazil. (Photo courtesy of Jim Stiegler.)