Students of the Polytechnic School participate in research and internship activities at Rice University
Students of the Polytechnic School Júlia Toffoli de Oliveira (from the Chemical Engineering program), Rebeca Cristina Lima Gomes and Eduardo Pagnoncelli Lorandi (both from the Computer Engineering program) are in academic mobility at Rice University, Texas. During the months of June and July, they are developing research and internship activities at the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK) Summer Program aimed at solving problems presented by university clients and the community. The method adopted is Engineering Design, which helps design and implement solutions to engineering challenges in the real world. Students work in the fields of Global Health Technologies and Cinema.
The international experience began with learning about Design Kitchen through videoclasses and daily quizzes. Divided into groups, students participated in a small project in partnership with the Houston Zoo, putting the knowledge acquired into practice.
After the initial stage, students were again divided into teams and this time they could choose a project to work on during the rest of the summer. “My project involves mainly the areas of health and mechanical engineering. Our client is a physiotherapist at Texas Children’s Hospital, who treats cases of children with brachial plexus palsy, an obstetric injury. Appointments with the parents of these babies usually last about 15 minutes. The physiotherapist needs a quick and efficient way to show parents the exercises that the babies should perform, as well as the consequences of failing to have the child do the movements daily. Our goal is to create an anatomical model representing the shoulder of a baby, and meet all the desires and requirements of our client by choosing the solution that is most efficient,” says 20 year-old Rebeca.
Júlia’s group, in turn, has worked on the development of a 16-mm analog film coating machine with a specific photographic solution for students at Rice’s film school to have a more effective and interactive learning experience. “The experience we are having here is incredible, very enriching, full of challenges and achievements that make us grow and develop as people and future engineers. The OEDK team is very hardworking, dedicated and caring, and they are constantly inciting us to use our full potential by helping us, challenging us, and making us deal with unexpected situations, just like in the real world. In addition, their feedbacks are very instructive and help us think outside the box. It is very gratifying because these methods and lessons are very useful for our self-development as professionals,” she affirms.
The project in which Lorandi participates is for the enhancement of Kasupe, developed by the team of Rice 360 (Rice’s partner with healthcare solutions). Kasupe is a syringe pump used to infuse a dose of medication at a controlled rate. Such devices are widely used in hospitals, and they are usually very expensive and depend on the use of specific brands of syringe, which are also expensive. The aim is to lower the cost and be compatible with any type of syringe that may be used in the hospitals of underdeveloped countries (currently used in Malawi, Africa). “The current Kasupe is already four times cheaper than its main competitors, but still only works with specific brands of syringe. In this project, we want to improve the device, without compromising price, ease of use, and current precision,” he says.
Choice for Mobility
Many reasons have led the Engineering students to seek an opportunity in academic mobility. For Júlia, it was a chance to apply her knowledge on behalf of others. “The main reason that made me so keen on participating in this project was to use engineering as a tool to help and facilitate people’s lives in a more direct and interactive way. I love changing, traveling, meeting new cultures, getting out of my comfort zone and growing as a person, so I was sure that, if selected, this would be the perfect opportunity for me to experience all of this,” says the 22-year-old student.
For Rebeca, it was the possibility of working in projects that encouraged her to pack up to Rice. “Prior to this opportunity, her only experience had been with scientific initiation fellowships. It seemed interesting to me because some of the requirements were enjoying group work and wishing to learn new things. I identified myself perfectly with the profile they were looking for,” she says.
As engineering students, PUCRS students understand that this international experience can add a lot to their careers, especially for the challenge of working directly with clients, solving problems and developing solutions. “Here we have had the opportunity to experience a project where there is a real client with several desires and expectations. We had to analyze all this and develop from scratch a device for the problem presented,” explains Rebeca. “In addition, the group has complete autonomy to make decisions and changes, and thus we can have a unique learning that is very close to the reality of an engineer,” adds Julia.
This is Rebeca’s first internship experience, and she evaluates mobility very positively. She had the opportunity to learn how to use new tools, acquire knowledge from different engineering programs and, above all, improve her English.
“I had never used machines and tools like laser cutting machines, 3D printers, saw blades and drills. It was really exciting and new to use them. We participated in small workshops, which enabled us to use all these tools”, says Rebeca.
According to Lorandi, what makes a difference is the workload of eight hours a day devoted entirely to the project, with no lectures to attend. “Generally there is not much time left for sightseeing but, honestly, I prefer it that way, because my goal was to have the American worker’s experience and not necessarily the tourist experience,” says the 21-year-old student.
Life at Rice
The students tell that adaptation at the university of Texas was very easy and they felt welcome. They were met at the airport, instructed, and taken on tours at Rice, assisted by OEDK students. The first two days of work were an adaptation period, in which they had activities to get to know their work colleagues and share a little of their cultures.
“Since I got here, I have felt differences in the environment. Everything was so big and so similar that, at first, we used Google Maps, but then we quickly got used to the place. Everyone was very receptive and we had the opportunity to work with them all at some point of the internship, even if for short activity. Although far from home, this experience has been a unique opportunity that I will not forget. I had never spent such a long time away from home, but honestly, I could stay longer. I have been in the United States for a little over a month and I have adapted so well that it seems that I have been here a lot longer,” recalls Rebeca, who had already had an exchange experience during high school, when she studied English for three weeks at Bearwood College, in the city of Wokingham (England). “The staff is very caring and concerns about our well-being, so they made us feel at home,” adds Júlia.
Staying at the university, Rebeca and Júlia share a room in the Martel College dormitory, which offers bathroom, kitchen, laundry, dining room, TV room, and shared games. “The university facilities are incredible, they are first-class,” says Júlia, who had already participated in PUCRS academic mobility program in December 2016, at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (Surrey, Canada). “There are several environments for integration such as a games room and a cinema, kitchen, lobby and study room,” adds Lorandi.
In addition to work and all day-to-day appointments and activities, the friends got to know a lot of Houston, the city where Rice University is located. They visited museums, parks, malls and Nasa.
Agreement with Rice
The exchange is carried out through the project Student exchange between Rice University and Pontifícia Universidade Católca do Rio Grande do Sul focused on Engineering Design Processes, a winner of Competition #12: Promoting Study Abroad in Engineering, Physics, Geology, and Geophysics of the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund. It is funded by the US Department of State, Partners of the Americas and NAFSA, under the coordination of PUCRS professor Carlos Alexandre dos Santos and Rice professor Maria Oden.
The selection process took place in March and April 2018. There were 43 candidates, of which 10 were selected for interview and three were approved to participate in the exchange. The selection was based on coefficient of academic performance, curriculum analysis, English language proficiency and interest.