STEM Revolution in Brazil


I recently had the honor of working with Harvard University’s non-profit affiliate organization, Laspau, and the Brazil STHEM Consortium to conduct a STEM Revolution workshop in Lorena, Sao Paulo. The Brazil STHEM Consortium focuses on innovating Science, Technology, Humanities, Engineering and Mathematics education in Brazilian higher education. It was an incredible opportunity and a fascinating look into Brazil’s education system.

We were initially contacted by representatives from Harvard because Brazil has an intense desire to close the knowledge gap between K-12 and college. From my limited time there, it was clear that participants – who were 150 professors and administrators from 47 universities across the country – are motivated to make the necessary changes; they are just looking for the best way to do it.

The group participating in the workshop was very interactive – even despite obvious language barriers, but technology is the great equalizer. Headphones worked very well for translation! And they were very impressed with the STEMBus, but believed for the time being, STEM Revolution camps and workshops likely made the most sense.

There are obviously challenges in Brazil – some unique to the country, some that occur across the world. Many of their universities are funded solely by tuition; little to no government support or grants are made available to Brazilian private colleges and universities. If these schools do not recruit more students, it’s a big financial hit. Brazil’s economic turmoil over the last few years had led to a large scaling back of education loans and grants for students to access a college education. Therefore, outreach and engagement is key. And many students have jobs while going to school. Unsurprisingly, the load often becomes too much, leading to a very high dropout rate.

I see a real opportunity for business to engage with universities and their students, especially since these students will be the workforce of tomorrow. Government should also be involved to ensure the country has a vision for the future to lift people out of a lot of poverty through a 21st Century education system. This is absolutely critical in a country in which unemployment, for example, is “the worst in 20 years.”

From my view, Brazil could really benefit from expanding startup initiatives to engage young people and create economic opportunity. In that respect, a focus on STEM and project based learning from grade school through university could be tremendously beneficial. Business can and should be a part of this effort, ideally with the help of the government. Dubai recognized a similar need and along with the US could offer an example for Brazil to follow with respect to STEM education.

 

Dr. Lorna Finman

A former NASA astronaut candidate with a passion for inspiring students to pursue careers in STEM fields, Dr. Lorna Finman established an award winning STEM Charter School, engineering summer camps in multiple cities and STEMbusUSA.org, a high tech non-profit that reaches 40,000 students per year with its mobile discovery lab, and high energy STEM demonstration at their school. A recipient of the Innovator of the Year award for her selfless volunteer work with students, Dr. Finman recently kicked off a new venture as a technical director and mentor for the NASA Project DaVinci Cubesat for global outreach in STEM education. Dr. Finman, a Master’s and Doctoral graduate of Stanford University in Physics, took her passion for encouraging students to a new level when she established the Governor’s STEM Action Center where she remains a founding board member and active advocate for STEM outreach. With one patent to her credit and multiple awards from the United States military for innovation in troop safety, and strategic defenses, Dr. Finman is the CEO for LCF Enterprises, a high-tech engineering firm in the Northwest USA. In her accomplished career, she was program manager for the Sunshield corporation, and technical director of Raytheon’s multi-million-dollar Research and Development Program.