STEM Students Explore Engineering in Brazil

Cultural Enrichment, Career Options, Networking Among Benefits

Durin her recent study trip to Brazil, civil engineering major Yuliana Carrillo presented her research project, which focuses on the impacts of rainfall in triggering landslides in Southern California.

Durin her recent study trip to Brazil, civil engineering major Yuliana Carrillo presented her research project, which focuses on the impacts of rainfall in triggering landslides in Southern California.

Studying abroad in Brazil during the Thanksgiving break from classroom studies at Cal State Fullerton, Yuliana Carrillo saw what is possible for her career and more. The experience opened her eyes to opportunities she never thought of pursuing and exposed her to a culture and to welcoming people who uplifted her.

It was the first time the future civil engineer had traveled to another country outside of North America. She made new Brazilian friends, toured a beverage manufacturing plant, attended a lecture on recycling technologies and visited an orphanage, where meeting a young girl was a heartwarming encounter.

The learning experience also introduced Carrillo to different career opportunities within the engineering disciplines, including those abroad.

“I also met professionals who inspired everyone to do well in school and follow their career goals,” she said.

Carrillo, who is fluent in both Spanish and Engish, was among 15 undergraduate and graduate-level engineering and computer science students from CSUF who traveled to the state of São Paulo to the Universidade Estadual Paulista, Sorocaba campus, for the International Symposium on Engineering Research. The Nov. 21-25 program was funded, in part, by a “100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund” grant, with support from the CSUF College of Engineering and Computer Science and the Office of International Programs and Global Engagement.

“The biggest benefit for students is that it broadened their horizons of engineering practice and engineering education in a global context, which is often difficult to visualize in a classroom setting,” said Beena Ajmera, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, who co-led the group of students.

“Programs like this have a substantial impact in helping students improve both their technical and soft skills, increase their success as professionals in a world that is becoming increasingly collaborative, and in communities that are very diverse.”

Faculty co-leader Binod Tiwari, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the International Symposium on Engineering Research, added that collaborating with peers from another country broadens not only students’ knowledge, but also their insights about the world.

“Moreover, understanding culture of another country is always important for students’ personal growth,” he added.

During the weeklong program, CSUF students presented their research projects to their Brazilian counterparts, while getting the chance to attend research presentations made by Brazilian professors and industry leaders on various sectors of STEM education.

“These presentations not only exposed our students to different branches of engineering, but also how these branches are interconnected and co-dependent,” noted Ajmera. “They also learned about the challenges that are faced by the country, as well as globally, and what is being done to address these challenges in the context of the available resources and strengths.”

Students also toured large-scale manufacturing companies — including a plant that makes parts for windmills to generate energy — to help them to understand the globalization in manufacturing industries, and attended lectures on such topics as sustainability and Brazilian energy sources.

Other activities included exploring popular sites and visiting a local orphanage, where the students planted trees with children and taught them the importance of caring for and protecting the environment.

Mathematics major Trini Bao Chau Nguyen, who is pusuing a minor in computer science and aspires to become an applied mathematics professor, said the experience gave her an insightful view to careers she hadn’t considered.

“Aside from learning how the rest of the world operates in your field, participating in study-abroad programs allows you the chance to go outside your comfort zone and learn what you are capable of doing,” said Nguyen, a scholar in the university’s Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) program.

$3M in Emergency Funds Headed to Illinois Community Colleges

CARTERVILLE, Ill. (AP) — The Illinois board in charge of community colleges has approved distribution of $3 million in emergency funds to help schools across the state that are in need.

Illinois Community College Board chairman Lazaro Lopez said during Wednesday's meeting in Carterville that Illinois community colleges will continue to struggle until there is a stable budget in Springfield. The state hasn't had a budget for 18 months. A partial spending plan expires at the end of the year.

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan reports ( ) state law says the Illinois Board of Higher Education must consult with the community college board for financial emergencies. The higher education board last month reserved $3 million for community colleges.

Community college board members say the exact distribution of the money will be determined after a "yes" vote from the higher education board.


Information from: Southern Illinoisan,


Hispanic Adults with Diabetes Could Benefit from Peer Support Interventions

MU study finds peer support interventions effective at improving blood sugar levels of minority patients

Sonal Patil, M.D., assistant professor of Family and Community Medicine at the MU School of Medicine.

Sonal Patil, M.D., assistant professor of Family and Community Medicine at the MU School of Medicine.

COLUMBIA, Mo. ― Diabetes is a global health problem that disproportionally affects individuals of ethnic and racial minorities. Minorities are more likely to experience complications from the disease, and the death rate from diabetes among Hispanics is 50 percent higher than non-Hispanic whites, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health.

In the study, researchers at the University of Missouri School of Medicine examined the effectiveness of peer support interventions, where diabetic patients received support from a person who had knowledge from their own experiences with diabetes or someone who had been affected by diabetes, but may not have the disease themselves, such as a caregiver or family member. The researchers found that the interventions were effective at improving the blood sugar levels of participants from minority groups, especially those of Hispanic ethnicity.

“Peer supporters can help diabetic patients better manage their disease by providing advice on diet and exercise regimens, monitoring blood sugar levels and coping with the new diagnoses,” said Sonal Patil, M.D., assistant professor of Family and Community Medicine at the MU School of Medicine. “Peer support interventions have been suggested by the World Health Organization as a way to improve self-care behaviors of diabetic patients, but an adequate review of the effectiveness of such interventions has not happened.”

Patil and her colleagues analyzed results from 17 randomized control trials on diabetic peer support interventions conducted from 1960 to 2015. The researchers compared blood sugar levels of patients who received peer support to those who received similar care, but did not participate in peer interventions. Patil found that peer support interventions modestly improved patients’ blood sugar levels, with the most significant improvements found in studies with predominantly minority participants. 

“Previous research has found that when culturally appropriate health education is provided to people with diabetes who belong to ethnic minority groups, their glycemic control and knowledge of diabetes improves,” Patil said. “Our findings suggest that peer health coaches might provide more culturally appropriate health education in ethnic minority populations, particularly Latino ones.”

Patil said that peer support interventions not only help diabetic patients, but also provide benefits to the peers delivering the support.

“Previous research has found that being a peer supporter to others actually increases one’s own self-management of the disease,” Patil said.

More random control trials are needed with African American participants before she can determine the effectiveness of peer support for that specific community, Patil said.

Additionally, Patil noted that peer support interventions should be done in conjunction, and not in place of, regular visits with the patient’s health provider.

Patil’s study, “Peer Support Interventions for Adults with Diabetes: A Meta-Analysis of Hemoglobin A1c Outcomes,” recently was published in the Annals of Family Medicine. The study was funded with internal funds from the University of Missouri Department of Family and Community Medicine.