Lucas Ramos is a long way from home. The 21-year-old chemical engineering student hails from Santos, Brazil, a metropolitan area with a population of about 1.5 million, located about an hour southeast of Sao Paolo.
At the University of Maine, Ramos is on a mission that is both personal and civic. He arrived in the United States in January, one of about 650 undergraduate students selected to participate in the first wave of the Brazilian government’s new Science Without Borders program, announced in August 2011. In an ambitious campaign to advance Brazil’s economic standing and its technological expertise, the program eventually will place 100,000 promising students at participating colleges and universities in the U.S. and abroad for a full year. The program will cover all the students’ expenses as they study in the fields of science, technology,engineering and math, and participate in a professional or academic internship.
And in exchange?
“My official commitment is that I have to stay in Brazil for two years after I graduate,” Ramos says. “But my personal commitment is to take everything I learn here at the University of Maine and go to graduate school in Brazil. I want to continue my engineering research through the doctorate level and maybe become a professor.”
Such aspirations are rare in his country, according to Ramos, since most engineering students are hired at good salaries as soon as they complete their undergraduate degrees. A growing number of the world’s largest corporations have a presence in Brazil, including Monsanto, Cargill, ADM, Chevron, Texaco, Nestle, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Tyco International, Ford, DuPont, Dell, IBM, Verizon and many others.
Ramos has been studying chemical engineering at the Federal University of Sao Carlos and will return there to complete his undergraduate work after his year at UMaine. All the Brazilian students selected to participate in the first round of international placements have been conducting research at the undergraduate level, he says. His own research interest is in biofuels production and wastewater treatment.
In Brazil, Ramos says, vast quantities of sugar cane are cultivated and processed into ethanol. Wastewater from the process is loaded with organic compounds that can be decomposed by bacteria, producing methane as a secondary biofuel while also making the water safe for reuse in irrigating cane crops.
In Orono, Ramos plans to continue his research through the UMaine Forest Bioproducts Research Institute and its partnerships with Old Town Fuel & Fiber and other corporations. He expects to serve a summer internship related to this interest.
“I would like to work on a project here producing ethanol from wood, because it is similar to the work going on in Brazil,” he says.
Ramos, who has not traveled outside of Brazil before, is living in a residence hall on campus and says he has been pleasantly surprised by the openness and warmth of the UMaine community, both socially and academically.
“People have been very friendly and helpful,” he said. “It’s been great.” Still, the cold Maine weather has been an adjustment, and he misses the familiarity of his friends and family.
Ramos’ father recently became an attorney after starting college at age 40, and his mother works in an administrative role for the civil branch of the state police. His grandmother cooks for the family of the retired Brazilian soccer hero Pele.
The Science Without Borders program is being administered through the Institute of International Education in New York. Another 1,500 Brazilian students are expected to arrive at academic institutions in the U.S. later this year. Karen Boucias, director of the Office of International Programs at the University of Maine, applied to the program on behalf of the University of Maine and says UMaine is eager to host more students like Ramos.
Over time, a projected total of 100,000 scholarships for graduate and undergraduate students will be provided through Science Without Borders.
IIE attempts to match students in the program with host universities that offer strong STEM coursework and research opportunities, demonstrate strong support services for international students, and have a track record of helping students secure internships.
Contact: Meg Haskell, (207) 581-3766
Image Description: Lucas Ramos