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Jefferson Silva, an international student who has been studying at Western Illinois University for the last year through the Brazil Scientific Mobility Program, with Rocky Leatherneck, WIU's mascot.
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Jefferson Silva's selfie during one of his adventures staying in the U.S. during his study abroad program with WIU. Silva is from the historic town of Ouro Preto in Brazil (see
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Jefferson and Marlene Forman, WIU's program officer for the Brazil Scientific Mobility Program. She helps students who come to Western through the program, which is part of the Brazilian government's larger initiative to grant 100,000 Brazilian university students the opportunity to study abroad at the world's best colleges and universities.
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Figuring for a Future: Brazilian Student's Time at WIU Solidifies Plans for Teaching Career in Math

July 12, 2016

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MACOMB, IL — For many people, math anxiety is a thing. This phenomenon is one that Jefferson Silva—an international student who has been studying at Western Illinois University for the last year through the Brazil Scientific Mobility Program (BSMP)—wants to work on in his future career as a mathematician and educator.

The BSMP offers Brazilian students the opportunity to study in the U.S., and according to the Institute for International Education (IEE), it has been part of the Brazilian government's larger initiative to grant 100,000 Brazilian university students the opportunity to study abroad at the world's best colleges and universities.

Thanks to Richard Carter, executive director of WIU's School of Distance Learning, International Studies and Outreach, and David Bell, director of Western's English as a Second Language (WESL) Institute, IIE approved WIU as a BSMP host institution in 2014.

"That was in time to welcome our first cohort for summer WESL courses," noted Marlene Forman, WIU's BSMP program officer. "Western is one of 522 U.S. universities to host students from the program to study in STEM fields, and we've hosted 86 students in total."

Through the program, Silva has been able to study math, as well as other subjects, at Western since Fall 2015. His program has also included a summer internship (with WIU Math Professor Boris Petracovici), which he began in early June and will conclude when he completes his program at Western at the end of this week.

"Even before people start a course in math, they often think it's too hard. They develop mental blocks. So, my ultimate goal is to get my Ph.D. and teach at a university. I want to teach people that math is not as hard as they think," Silva explained. "Before I arrived here last year, I was not 100 percent sure if I wanted to get my master's degree and Ph.D. in math after I complete my undergraduate degree. But after working with Dr. Petracovici in my internship and other math professors here in my courses, too, my plan now is to continue my education and eventually teach. Through their excitement about learning and teaching math, they have helped make me feel excited about learning and studying more."

Forman added that many entities at Western provide resources for the BSMP program.

"I would like to recognize the Career Development Center, University Technology and mathematics and physics departments at WIU for their participation and support of the academic training aspect of the BSMP. Several Brazilian students have expressed their desire to return to WIU for graduate degrees. Of course, we are very excited about the possibility of having them with us again," she said.

Creating Connections

While his TOEFL score enabled Silva to bypass taking English courses through the WESL Institute, he said there was a language-adjustment period after he first arrived in August 2015.

"My score was way better than I expected, because I have never had an English course. I learned English through watching movies and playing games, through things like that," he noted. "At first, while I understood a lot of what people were saying, it was still difficult to keep up, and it took me a bit of time to get used to expressing myself in the proper way."

Eventually, though, Silva said he became more comfortable with speaking and thinking in English and embraced the opportunity to learn and communicate in another language. His math courses, in particular, provided him with insight into the various ways people learn in different countries.

"I feel there are a lot of differences in the teaching of math between here and Brazil. I found that, especially in one real analysis course I started there before coming to Western. I was taking the course while I was planning my study abroad program to come here, which was very stressful, so I had to drop it. It was one of the hardest courses in all of the undergraduate courses I had to take; it was very theoretical," he noted.

After coming to WIU, Silva had the chance to take a similar course, which he said wound up being a catalyst for his internship project.

"When I had the opportunity to take the course here, I was really impressed with it, because I was able to relate to a lot of the examples. I could actually understand what was going on in the class, so my idea for my internship came from this course," he explained. "Through my internship, I am developing a workshop or course, and in it, I will teach what I've learned here. Not only that, but I also want to teach it in English, because it's something we like in Brazil. Through music and movies, there are a lot of influences in English, and often, we don't have the opportunities to learn and practice English. So that is my main goal—to not only to teach this advanced course for undergraduates in Brazil and make it as simple as possible, but also help students with their English."

When asked about other aspects (outside of his academic studies) of his nearly yearlong stay at Western, Silva shared some of his most memorable moments, which included such activities as playing Big Pink Volleyball (an annual breast cancer awareness and fundraising tournament for students, faculty and staff that features the use of a big, pink ball), as well as attending a Fighting Leathernecks football game.

"Watching the football games was a great experience! I had watched American football before, but I could not understand it, so I started taking my time to learn the game. At the end of the season, I remember being at a football game—it was really, really cold—and recognized that I understood much more about the game," Silva said. "Honestly, I think I would rather play football than soccer, because I'm really bad at soccer. I'm always the last one to be chosen," he added with a smile.

While Silva is excited to move on to the next stage of his life and head home to Brazil to finish up his undergraduate degree at Universidade Federal de Ouro Preto, he noted his time at Western will always remain special to him, not only because of the enjoyable experiences he had, but also because of the people.

"There is something here that makes a lot of difference—the connection of the people here at Western. I don't think could have gotten it elsewhere," he noted. "The people at Western make you feel like you're at home."

Posted By: Teresa Koltzenburg (
Office of University Communications & Marketing