Monday, July 30, 2018

Engineers in Brazil: A Student's Perspective From Experience in Rio de Janeiro

Noelle Vargas - May 2018
By Noelle Vargas

“People change people: that is the secret of life.” – Mark Blutman

Who are we? What impact do we want to leave on our world? The definition of “our world”- what does that encompass? As an OU student, our eyes stretch from the residential towers down the South Oval to the engineering quad. However, there is more to our world than the twenty minute hike across campus. It is easy to claim that as a student “our world” is focused on improving ourselves academically and climbing organizational hierarchies. However, there is more to our world and there is more to what we can offer. Our brain for nine months in a calendar year, is focused on increasing knowledge to pursue a career in our desired field. But what world do we desire to impact through our career? Our world is bigger than OU’s campus - bigger than Norman - bigger than Oklahoma - and even bigger than the United States. This seems statistically obvious: a world is bigger than a country. However, how many times do we actually take a step back and consider the entirety of our world? We, especially myself, get too caught up in our own lives that we do not know about the lives experienced elsewhere.

Studying abroad provides the opportunity to widen our horizons and have another culture seep into our character. “Engineers in Brazil” is unlike any program. From the beginning of the program, our professors, Dean Mike Stice and Dr. Robert Huck ingrained in us, the students, that we were taking part in more than just the courses of Engineering Professional Development and Introduction to Petroleum Engineering; we were also actively incorporating culture into the classroom. We were opening our minds and hearts to the world and its reachable possibilities. Education is not a four-year journey - it is a lifetime of learning. We were encouraged to observe and analyze the similarities and differences between our United States culture and the Brazilian culture, rather than categorizing in our heads which is better. Before traveling to Rio de Janeiro, there were many precautionary statements about pickpocketing, diseases, infections bugs, and questionable safety. Rather, I found the areas we traveled to within the state of Rio de Janeiro – including Rio de Janeiro (City), Leblon, Ipanema, Copacabana, and neighboring cities – to be safe with locals who showed the utmost care and openness to help. English was definitely not a spoken language in the state of Rio de Janeiro, but the locals that we met, truly tried to help us when we were lost or confused tourists. There are many assumptions made about other places of our world. However, it is only when we become bold and take the risk to come face-to-face with the new place that we can make our own conclusions about a country and become global citizens.

Realizing we had the opportunity to engage with the local citizens excited me even before heading onto a plane for Brazil. We met Brazilian engineering students from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio) and high schoolers from the American School of Rio de Janeiro. They gave us their own insight on their Brazilian culture while sharing their respective aspirations in the engineering field. What I thoroughly enjoyed even more was how easy the flow of conversation was. We were all either in our twenties or late teens who had the same interests and passions as we shared the Millennial culture. They shared with us things to do, places to go, and food to eat in Rio de Janeiro while we told them vice versa the things to do in Oklahoma and the United States. Accompanied by the PUC-Rio engineering students, we traveled across the state to Halliburton, Baker Hughes a GE company, INMETRO, Enel, and many other engineering companies. There, we learned about the work of the professional engineers in their respective companies living in Brazil.
Traveling to a new continent, not speaking the language, and not knowing the other OU students and faculty members defines chaos for me. Honestly, I was scared about how I was going to connect with the 14 others on this study abroad adventure. However, it is at the very edge of chaos where one experiences the finest learning. We were 15 people who were on a new experience and territory, which led us to seek a “home” within each other. What amazed me was how we were able to trust each other enough to be raw. We were all living together for two weeks and every emotion was experienced. We saw each other in our hypest of times, groggiest of times, and all other emotions in between. This is what makes studying abroad so unifying - we trusted each other and felt secure enough to be open and show the deep layers of our character. I never thought I would grow to appreciate and become greatly fond of a group of people so quickly.

As students, this two week summer program taught us to embrace culture. It is important that we incorporate the positive aspects of another culture, the Brazilian culture, learned elsewhere into our own culture and lives in the United States. Through observing the Brazilian culture, I learned to always keep an open eye and hand to those surrounding me and recognize when they need help. I learned that the United States culture is not the only culture in our world and that we cannot think it is better than the rest. I learned that the competitive culture and thoughts of “How can I be the best, be on top, and beat everyone else?” is the wrong perception. Through studying abroad in Brazil, I was quick to learn that not everyone in our world thinks about their own personal progression in life, but instead looks around and seeks assisting others in the progression of their lives. One day, we will become professional engineers who will work with colleagues who could be from any of the continents in our world. In any engineering company, one will always recognize that engineering is a profession that has racial diversity. “Engineers in Brazil” taught us that world peace will be achieved through interpersonal relationships. It taught us that in order to leave an impact in anything we must become global citizens and combine leadership, culture, and positive change together. We left Rio de Janeiro with a broader insight to the world and the urge to meet more of it. We left with desire burning in us to impact our world, create those interpersonal relationships, and create world peace. We departed Brazil with the possibility of questioning the unquestionable. The best part is that as a student, you can see in the eyes of both professors the belief they had in us, the students and our generation. They believed in the capability of young, bright engineers who when posed with an issue will strive to fix it.
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Friday, July 13, 2018

Colen James Selected as Jesse Jackson Fellow – Toyota Scholarship Recipient


It all started with an email forward from Regennia Johnson, director of the AT&T Summer Bridge Program and staff member in the OU Engineering Diversity & Inclusion Program.

Colen James, a sophomore computer engineering student from Pearland, Texas, followed through on that email about the scholarship opportunity. He’s glad he did, as he received notification in July that he is one out of 10 students awarded the $75,000 Rainbow PUSH/Excel Jesse Jackson Fellowship-Toyota North America Scholarship and CO-OP/Internship. James will be attending a celebration dinner and awards presentation ceremony this August in Chicago.

James is very thankful for this honor, as demonstrated by his thank you email to the following:

Regennia Johnson – Director of AT&T Summer Bridge Program, OU Gallogly College of Engineering
Ms. Regennia, first and foremost, thank you for sending me the scholarship opportunity information and encouraging me to apply.

Jabar Shumate – Vice President for University Community, OU
Mr. Jabar, thank you for writing a letter of recommendation to support my application. I really appreciated you not making me write it myself, and then you sign it like some people ask you to do. Your letter of recommendation let me and others know that you really knew me and my potential. My participation in the 2017 OU George McLaurin Male Leadership Conference helped me as an incoming freshman. I also benefited by volunteering with the 2018 Leadership Class. Those experiences really connected us.

Lisa Morales – Executive Director of the Diversity and Inclusion Program, Gallogly College of Engineering
Ms. Lisa, thank you and the entire Diversity & Inclusion team for making so many opportunities available for the D&I students. Those practice interviews, resume writing and group projects during the MEP Orientation and Freshman Engineering Experience classes were right on time! The STAR Interview and panel interview experiences gave me the confidence I needed. I had to go through two rounds of panel interviews using the STAR interview process with Toyota and Rainbow Push leadership over a two-day period.

Bushra Ashif, Global Engagement Fellowship and Fulbright Program Coordinator, OU College of International Studies
Professor Bushra, thank you for the Global Engagement experiences and scholarship. Fresh off my summer study abroad experience in Puebla, Mexico, prepared me to develop and present projects during the June Toyota two-day Interview Sell Event in Plano, Texas. I was able to step up and create the product idea. I led the group presentation with the elevator pitch during the group project that was a part of the judging process. I really slayed it! I'm sure my Global Engagement experiences listed on my resume set me apart from the other 22 finalists.

Crystal Garcia, Director of Diversity and Inclusion/MEP, OU Gallogly College of Engineering
Ms. Crystal, my freshman participation in the AT&T Summer Bridge Program provided me with the group experiences, technical references and situations to refer to during my STAR interviews. Having the opportunity to be a calculus 1 tutor and help students in this year's AT&T Summer Bridge Program is enabling me to pay it forward and make some money at the same time! LOL!

Nanette Hathaway, Director of President's Leadership Class and Crimson Club Coordinator
Ms. Hathaway, thank you for planning and coaching us during the weekly PLC networking and connection sessions. Through those experiences, I was able to make some great friends and contacts during my freshman year. Being a member of the PLC also helped set me apart from the other candidates.

C. Don Bradley, Associate Dean of Recruitment Services, Special Assistant to the Vice President, OU
Mr. C. Don, thank you for recruiting me during the OU Day in Houston. You kept your promise and stayed connected with me throughout my freshman year. I really want to thank you and Mr. Jabar for helping me get through the death of Granny Joyce the day before my finals. I don't know what I would have done without your support during one of the most emotional times in my life.

Matthew Hamilton, Vice President of Enrollment and Student Financial Services
Mr. Matthew, you were so right! There were so many opportunities for me to figure out and plan to ensure that my college expenses were paid for without taking out student loans. Thank for always remembering me by name when I see you around campus.

As a computer engineering student in the Gallogly College of Engineering, I was definitely a standout among the other candidates representing colleges and universities from all over the United States. My design engineering, digital design, physics and programming classes gave me the technical experiences, vocabulary and confidence needed during the interviews and group project discussions.

Walking into Toyota North America Corporation’s awesome new high-tech building was not as overwhelming and intimidating as it may have been for some of the other candidates. I was at ease in the new state-of-the-art building and was familiar with the technical equipment because I have those experiences every day at OU! Lastly, meeting Toyota Boomer Sooners in high-level positions and on the interview panels made me feel right at home.

Once again, thank you OU family members for preparing me for this incredible journey. Every one of my OU freshman experiences with you positioned me for this phenomenal opportunity with Toyota North America Corporation. I can only imagine what the next three years at OU have in store for me. I'll keep you posted!

Boomer Sooner!


About the Jesse Jackson Fellow – Toyota Scholarship Program
Toyota partnered with PUSH Excel to provide $75,000 scholarships to 10 deserving engineering and business college students through the Jesse L. Jackson Sr. Fellows Scholarships. In addition to the scholarships, Toyota offers these students the opportunity to work at one of their facilities across North America to gain valuable real-world experience, as well as be paired with mentors from Toyota management to help guide them through the next three years of college.

Students also had to demonstrate participation in community service and a financial need. The $25,000 scholarship is renewable each year for a maximum three-year period. In order to receive the award each year, the students must maintain a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 throughout the school year.

The selection process was both rigorous and comprehensive. A group of 22 student semi-finalists went through a structured selection process which involved written essays, letters of recommendations, and rounds of onsite interviews involving several members of PUSH Excel, as well as Toyota’s executive and management teams in Northern Kentucky.

As part of the selection process students took an in-depth tour of Toyota’s largest vehicle manufacturing facility in North America, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky Inc. in Georgetown, Kentucky; were guided through the various disciplines of running a local Toyota dealership; and through management and employee discussions learned about the local and global history of Toyota.