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Brazilian students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's football field.

Courtesy of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

You may be hearing more Portuguese in the hallways on your campus this semester.

More than 4,000 Brazilian undergraduates will be studying at universities in the United States this fall through the Brazil Scientific Mobility Undergraduate Program (formerly called Science Without Borders), a more than twofold increase over last fall. The scholarship program, launched by the Brazilian government in 2011, has quickly become an important source of international students -- and revenue -- for many American universities.

“When the government of Brazil first started talking about this program maybe three or four years ago, there was a strong desire to get the flow of students to the United States healthy again,” said Tom Farrell, vice provost for global engagement for the University of Nebraska system. Nebraska’s Lincoln campus cracks the top three in terms of the total number of Brazilian students hosted through the Scientific Mobility program. According to numbers provided by the Institute of International Education, which administers the program in the U.S., the University of Nebraska at Lincoln has hosted a total of 91 Brazilian students (this includes students who are newly enrolled this fall). The Omaha campus has also hosted 27 Brazilian students through the scholarship program and the Kearney campus will enroll its first group of 23 Brazilian students in its English as a second language program this fall. (The numbers, current as of August 15, are preliminary pending fall enrollment changes.)

"I think this is strategically important for both countries, so I really appreciate the way the Brazilians are managing and developing this talent pool,” Farrell said. 

The scholarship program funds a year of overseas study for Brazilian undergraduates, primarily in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. The top fields of study are civil, mechanical, electrical and industrial engineering, followed by computer science, chemical engineering, architecture, computer engineering, environmental science and engineering, and biomedical science and public health. About 60 percent of the scholarship recipients have completed a summer internship either at a company or in a university research lab.  

New this year the scholarship will also fund six months of intensive English study over and above an academic year. Of the 3,913 new Brazilian students enrolling at U.S. universities this fall, 2,681 are starting out in intensive English programs while the remaining 1,232 have been placed directly into academic programs. In addition to the new matriculants, 440 scholarship students who started in the spring semester will be continuing their studies this fall. 

Nationwide, for the fall 2012 cohort, 56.9 percent of students had a grade point average of 3.5 or higher, 28.5 percent were in the 3.0-3.49 range, 10 percent in the 2.5-2.99 range, 3.1 percent in the 2.0-2.49 range, and 0.8 percent had G.P.A.s below 2.0. Another 0.7 percent – about 10 students – did not respond to the survey. 

A survey of 531 scholarship recipients who studied in the U.S. from spring 2012 until spring 2013 yielded 429 responses; asked whether they were satisfied, over all, with their U.S. host institution, 79 percent of students said yes. Another 15 percent said no; 6 percent did not respond to the question. To date, a total of 348 universities in the U.S. have hosted Brazilian students through the Scientific Mobility program, either for academic or pre-academic English programs or both.

Top Destinations for Brazil Scientific Mobility Undergraduate Program Students in the U.S.


Total Number of Students Hosted to Date

University of California at Davis


Illinois Institute of Technology


University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Western Michigan University


University of Utah


Arizona State University


University of Kentucky


University of Colorado at Boulder


Tennessee Tech University


Montana State University


Source: Institute of International Education. Numbers current as of Aug. 15.

The Brazilian government has a goal of sending 100,000 undergraduate and graduate students abroad through the scholarship program in order to enhance the country's competitiveness in STEM fields. Although other top destination countries include France and the United Kingdom, the U.S. hosts the largest numbers of Brazilian undergraduates.

"It is certainly the most exciting activity between Brazil and the United States at the moment that promises to create longer-term linkages between universities in the U.S. and universities in Brazil,” said Edward Monks, the director of academic and experiential learning at IIE. American universities have increasingly been turning to Brazilian universities with an eye toward forming partnerships. Brazil is one of four countries -- along with China, India and Turkey -- on which the University of Nebraska system has placed a strategic focus.

Beth Greenwood, associate dean of the Center for International Education at the University of California at Davis Extension, said the program "really has contributed to the globalization of UC Davis."

"Looking at the goals of this university and looking at the goals of the Science Without Borders initiative, I think it’s been a very successful match."

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