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Student Reflection: Mary Glenn '13

Mary Glenn '13 is a Spanish and Latin American studies major, with a minor in human-rights studies. She is also one of Barnard's Global Symposium Student Fellows who will attend Women Changing Brazil.

Listening to Ambassador Vieira talk with President Spar about Brazil’s Scientific Mobility Program, I was struck by his determination and confidence in Brazil’s ongoing efforts and abilities to grow and improve in all sectors, particularly via international collaboration and learning from others. This, above all, stood out to me about the event: that improvement does not happen in a vacuum, and that a diversity of perspectives and partnership will always produce better results—in every field—than isolated, inward-focused initiatives, especially in today’s highly globalized world.

Ambassador Vieira spoke of the need to “give oxygen” to Brazil’s current higher-education model, which he described as “inner-centered” and based on a European model. As he spoke emphatically about the need to better Brazil’s model of higher education in general and its STEM sectors specifically, I was impressed by the humility of the approach he proposed: In order to become the best, there needs to be collaboration with and genuine learning from people who present different ideas and perspectives, based in different cultures.

Ambassador Vieira was neither shy nor apologetic about the ambitious scope of the Scientific Mobility Program. “We want to be the best,” he explained. “But we want to learn from others in order to become the best.” He acknowledged that the program’s goals are lofty, but emphasized that this type of approach is necessary when tackling big problems. Asked about the permanence of the fledgling program, Vieira responded: “I am sure that it is here to stay.”

While approximately 21 million American students are enrolled in colleges or universities, only 6.5 million students are enrolled in Brazilian institutions. Ambassador Vieira voiced his unwavering support for increasing GDP expenditure on education, from its current 6.3 percent to 10 percent in the next few years. In addition, Brazil’s Congress will be voting in the next few weeks on an act that would direct 100 percent of all royalties from the oil industry – 100 percent! – towards education. As President Spar noted the difficulties that passing such an act would present in the United States, Ambassador Vieira assured us that the same obstacles were present in the Brazilian context, but that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her administration would not waver.

Ambassador Vieira challenged those of us attending the Global Symposium to adopt a similar approach of learning from others’ perspectives, experiences and institutions: for example, President Rousseff has ten women in her cabinet (two of whom are speaking at Barnard’s upcoming Global Symposium). He encouraged us to learn and bring back female inspiration, specifically, female political inspiration, from Brazil.

I walked away from Ambassador Vieira’s discussion with President Spar reminded that in today’s world, we have not only the opportunity, but also the responsibility, to take advantage of the global links that are more readily accessible now than ever before.

Read more about Ambassador Vieira's visit to campus.