Students explore sustainable practices in Brazil

  • Transcript

    In one of many study abroad opportunities at Appalachian, 24 students traveled to Brazil to learn sustainable management practices—from indigenous tribes, universities and local communities. The trip was sponsored by Appalachian's Walker College of Business.

    Michael Skelton, Finance & Banking major: It's amazing. You're not going to get this at a Myrtle Beach or anything like that.

    Katie Schulz, Marketing major: Learn the ins and outs of the Amazon River, the Negro River. We have visited villages, done a couple of service projects. We have fished for piranha, swam with dolphins. This trip to Brazil has broadened my perspective in a way that... instead of learning about the culture of Brazil—you can learn and memorize—but I've really been able to immerse myself to where I want to use my marketing major in a different way. I want to learn sustainability to help the villages we've seen.

    Dr. Martin Meznar, Assistant Dean, Walker College of Business: If you're interested in the environment, if you're interested in business, if you're interested in international trade and other aspects, Brazil would be at the heart of those discussions and the lessons learned in Brazil will translate to other developing countries around the world.

    Joe Gill, Graduate student: I came here to Brazil as an MBA student who's interested in sustainability. Brazil is one of the emerging superpowers economically and they have a lot of sustainable practices that are going on and so I wanted to see what we could learn from them.

    JG: We've seen so many things on this trip. Starting off in the Amazon, looking at different sustainable practices that communal tribes are doing. We made our way into the cities and visited universities and businesses and see what they're doing as well, and ended up here, finally, at this wind farm. We're seeing how renewable energy is making a difference in Brazil.

    JG: We have 800-kilowatt turbines and to put that in perspective, the turbine next to the Broyhill is about 100 kilowatts. We're along the coast—there's tons of potential along the coast of Brazil for more turbines to help supplement their hydroelectric power.

    Ashley McNeeley, Accounting major: With the international programs that Appalachian offers, it's given us opportunities to come here and to experience things like this, so you can learn from different cultures the business and different areas. We can come here and learn from them and take something back with us that we can share and spread and have a great impact.

    KS: I would recommend this in a heartbeat to any student. It's something that I think everybody should experience—being international, really learning and visiting other cultures. You have the chance to immerse yourself, you have the chance to look around, visit with the people and I don't think that's anything you should be able to pass up.

Appalachian State University has its sights on Brazil, one of the world's fastest growing economies and one that can teach the U.S. about renewable energy and sustainable business practices.

"Brazil is the eighth largest economy in the world and will be growing at a higher rate than the United States, probably for the next decade," says Dr. Martin Meznar, assistant dean for international programs in Appalachian's Walker College of Business. "I feel it is vitally important that students be exposed to opportunities beyond the border of the United States, and that's why we launched our study abroad to Brazil three years ago."

The most recent group traveled to Brazil during the 2011 spring break—24 students representing business, appropriate technology and biology who learned about sustainable management practices. The study abroad trip was part of their semester-long coursework.

"Business opportunities in Brazil will be important for any business person looking to expand internationally. And there's the whole environmental issue—Brazil is at the heart of the debate over the preservation and sustainable development of the rainforest," Meznar said.

From the jungle to the city

The students toured three major parts of Brazil: the Amazon jungle, the northeastern coast, and the city of Rio de Janeiro. Their cross-disciplinary activities included:

  • Service-learning projects with indigenous communities in which they planted trees and helped clear plots for sustainable gardening, in connection with discussions of deforestation
  • A visit to a wind farm along Brazil's northeastern coast and a landfill where Appalachian's Energy Center is collaborating with the local government on recovering methane gas and converting it to electricity for economic development
  • A collaboration with students at the University of Fortaleza to train corporate social responsibility agents in local firms.

"We started in the Amazon looking at sustainable practices of different communal tribes, made our way into the cities and visited businesses and universities, and ended up at a wind farm to see how renewable energy is making a difference in Brazil," said Joe Gill, a graduate student seeking an MBA as well as a Master of Science degree in appropriate technology.

"I would recommend this trip in a heartbeat. It's something every student should experience," said Katie Schulz, a junior marketing major from Jacksonville, N.C.

Partnering for a better future

The study abroad in Brazil was part of Appalachian's sustainability-centered collaboration with three partner universities in the South American nation. The partnerships officially began in 2010 through a multi-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE).

The collaboration includes student and faculty exchanges, and a landfill gas recovery project involving the Appalachian Energy Center and the local government of Fortaleza in Ceará state, Brazil. As with similar community-based projects in North Carolina, methane gas created by decomposing material is recovered from the landfill and converted to electricity, which can then power businesses or industries.

"Methane causes global climate change and is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas," said Stan Steury, a program director with the Appalachian Energy Center. He has worked with the Brazilian people to start collecting methane gas. "Landfill gas is an energy source that's often ignored. It's good to eliminate it from the atmosphere... and there's a universal need to use this gas for jobs, energy and economic development."

"Brazil's economic growth suggests it will also be an important consideration in the future careers of our business graduates, and our partnership with Brazilian colleagues allows for a mutually beneficial exchange of ideas and resources," Meznar said.

  • Appalachian Abroad: Brazil 2011

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      Students visit the site of dozens of wind turbines during a visit to Tractebel Energia's wind farm in Beberibe, Brazil.

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      Students view large sacks of sorted recyclables at a Maracanau recycling center.

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      Large sacks of sorted recyclables sit amid piles of trash at a Maracanau recycling center. Appalachian is working with local communities in Brazil to see if landfill methane gas can be captured and used to power machinery in their recycling facilities.

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      Catadores gather recyclables from the Maracanau landfill as their way to make a living. While on the study abroad trip, the Appalachian Energy Center signed a formal agreement of intent with the mayor of Maracanau, a city of about 200,000 people, to form a community-based project in which landfill methane gas is captured and used to fuel economic and community development.

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      A trip to the University of Fortaleza's gallery was among students' activities.

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      Students stand near the famous statue of Corcovado mountain that overlooks downtown Rio de Janeiro.

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      Bryan Montgomery offers drinks to children during a service-learning project at Terra Preta village.

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      Students clean up a site for a community garden in the village of Terra Preta.

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      Appalachian Energy Center staff member Jeremy Ferrell discusses the growing patterns of the manioc root, which is a food staple throughout Brazil.

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      MBA student Brandy Hopkins paints faces during a service-learning project at the village of Jaraqui.

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      Brandy Hopkins gets a taste of the Brazil's wildlife as a spider monkey sits on her shoulder at Ariau Towers in the Amazon region.

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      Appalachian students and faculty plant açaí trees in the indigenous village of Nossa Senhora de Fatima in Amazonas, Brazil. The açaí tree grows wild along the Amazon River and recent international demand for its purple berry has bolstered many of the local economies and has encouraged many people to plant large stands of the trees.

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      Appalachian students and faculty plant açaí trees in the indigenous village of Nossa Senhora de Fatima in Amazonas, Brazil. The açaí tree grows wild along the Amazon River and recent international demand for its purple berry has bolstered many of the local economies and has encouraged many people to plant large stands of the trees.

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      Dr. Martin Meznar, left, and students meet with officials at the state legislature in Fortaleza.

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