When Mariana Morris, Ph.D., returned from her most recent trip to Brazil, she was accompanied by seven Brazilian students who said goodbye to their parents and teachers at the Sao Paulo airport and arrived in Dayton, Ohio, on Sunday, August 18. They are the first participants of a new student exchange program between Wright State University and three universities in Sao Paulo, Ribeirao Preto, and Porto Alegre, Brazil. The students — undergraduate, medical, and graduate — will study at WSU until December 2002, taking classes and participating in ongoing research projects.
Developing a research-oriented exchange program between Brazilian and Wright State University students has been a dream for Morris since her appointment as professor and chair in Wright State University School of Medicine Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in 1997. This idea was shared by Michele Wheatly, Ph. D., then chair of Biological Sciences who already had an established NSF-funded international collaboration with scientists at the University of Sao Paulo.
Together they were successful in garnering support from the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) in the U.S. Department of Education and CAPES, the Brazilian equivalent, for a new student exchange program focusing on biotechnology. The program, entitled USABRIO (U.S.-Brazil Bio Tech Training Consortium), was selected out of a competitive field of 57 applications last year. The exchange program is one of ten programs nationally and the only one in Ohio to receive funding from FIPSE for collaborative U.S. and Brazil efforts. It is also the only funded program that focuses on biotechnology.
The program is directed in the U.S. by Drs. Mariana Morris (Pharmacology and Toxicology), and Michele Wheatly and David Goldstein (Biological Sciences) working in close association with Dr. Douglas Nord, and Maricy Schmitz in Wright State University's Center for International Studies. The lead researcher in Brazil is Lisete Michelini, PhD., professor of physiology, at the University of Sao Paulo Faculty of Medicine.
Morris has had a continuous international research connection with Brazil since the 1980's and travels frequently between the two countries studying, pursuing, and promoting her research interest in hypertension and salt sensitivity. Wheatly has worked for several years employing Brazil's rich biodiversity to provide insight into evolution of physiological processes. Both have enjoyed a stream of Brazilian scientists as visitors in their laboratories and saw the need to extend this opportunity to scientists in training.
The goal for the student exchange program is to promote student interest in research, biotechnology training and scientific literacy; advance research techniques; and further international cultural exchange opportunities for both North American and Brazilian students.
"This experience," says Morris, "will expand the perspectives of both faculty and students. Considering the serious environmental and health problems facing the Americas, we are preparing tomorrow's scientists to deal with global issues and to tap into global resources."
Interconnectivity has changed the nature of the scientific enterprise. A decade ago researchers toiled on a specific problem in their independent laboratories, meeting occasionally at professional meetings to exchange information and ideas. Today, the scientific community is globally linked through computers, database repositories, and international travel. Early last year, Wright State University School of Medicine and the University of Sao Paulo signed a formal agreement of association. "Through our established connection with scientists in Brazil," Morris states, "we have been able to demonstrate the extreme value of scientific international collaboration."
Academic partners in the program also include the University of Iowa and the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul. Procter & Gamble, Inc., in the U.S., and the InCor Heart Institute, in Brazil, are associate partners who will provide additional training sites for the students' research experience.
The students are the first residents of the new international dormitory recently constructed on the WSU campus. Here they will be able to interact with students from the U.S., Spain, China, Sweden, and other countries. The students' program of study will include laboratory research alongside faculty mentors in the Departments of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Biological Sciences, and Emergency Medicine. They will take classes in biotechniques, English, and scientific writing and evaluation.
The USABRIO program is also soliciting Wright State and University of Iowa students to study in Brazil for the 2003 spring semester. Their course of study at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil will be similar to the U.S. program. Information on the requirements and the application forms are available on the Biomedical Training for Underrepresented Minorities Program website.