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Brazilian Student Has 'Awesome' Experience at SVC

Public Relations
Posted: Wednesday Nov 28, 2012

Nov. 28, 2012

Saint Vincent College senior chemistry major Joelso Ferreira of São Paulo, Brazil, has just one word to describe his experience during the past four years: “AWESOME!”

Ferreira, 25, left his native country to pursue higher education in the United States even though he didn’t speak a word of English. “I had attended, and later worked as a volunteer, at a school run by the Missionaries of Christ in Jundiaí. There I met many of the students from Saint Vincent who went to Brazil for the Campus Ministry service trips. Sister Maria de Lourdes Borges, the Mother Superior, asked Archabbot Douglas to consider giving a scholarship to enable one of their former students to attend Saint Vincent College. He generously agreed and, after some consultation, Mother Maria de Lourdes offered the opportunity to me. When I first arrived in the United States in March 2008, I only knew a few words of English, so I studied for nearly a year at a language center in Pittsburgh before I was ready to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and start classes at Saint Vincent in the spring of 2009. I was the first one to come to Saint Vincent through this initiative of the Saint Vincent Archabbey Foreign Mission Office called Project HOPE,” Ferreira recalled.

“I knew I wanted to study chemistry and so I met with Br. Norman W. Hipps, O.S.B., now the president of the college, who was dean of the Herbert W. Boyer School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Computing at that time. “He wisely advised me not to declare a major and start by taking some courses that I would later need to complete a degree. This would give me some time to become accustomed to campus and academic life. That was great advice. Later, I decided to major in chemistry, with minors in mathematics and Spanish. Spanish was less of a challenge, since it was similar to my native Portuguese; math was a bigger challenge, but I felt it was important for advanced work in the field of chemistry.”

“The Benedictine monks and priests are wonderful,” he commented. “And so are the lay faculty and staff. All the professors and staff know me and make time to assist, making this a unique community. I have made many friends among monks, faculty, staff and students. Archabbot Douglas and Br. Norman have been very kind, especially during vacation time and holidays.”

In addition to his regular courses and labs, Ferreira is pursuing a senior research project on the development of biodiesel fuel for use under cold temperatures. “I collect discarded cooking oil from the Shack snack bar and convert it to fuel that can power an automobile,” he explained. “In Brazil, biofuel is commonly used, but not so much in the United States. One of the reasons is that the temperature gets really cold here in the winter months and the fuel could freeze, causing problems to the engine. Based on this, I decided to conduct my research in the area called “cloud point” – also known as freezing point – and experiment with the effects of various catalysts and alcohols on the cloud point.” Ferreira will present the results of his research at the Saint Vincent College Academic Conference in March and at the American Chemical Society Conference in New Orleans in April. His paper is titled, “Analysis of Biodiesel Properties Over Different Catalysts and Alcohols.”

In addition to a rigorous academic schedule, Ferreira is also very active in extracurricular activities, campus work-study program and student life.

He enjoys participating in the activities of Campus Ministry, Chemistry Club, Visionaries of Hope, Spanish Club, Math Club, Zumba, Julie’s Power Workout and intramural soccer. He is also active as a member of the American Chemical Society and the Society for Analytical Chemists of Pittsburgh. A highlight of the year was his selection as Homecoming King during Family Weekend in October.

He works for the Information Services Department Service Desk as a technical assistant, as a residence hall prefect for the office of student life, as a Collaborative Learning Program Facilitator Assistant for the Boyer School, as an organic chemistry tutor and Laboratory assistant in the Chemistry Department, as a student assistant in the Annual Fund Office and as a student server at the cabaret during Saint Vincent Summer Theatre.

In his spare time, he loves fishing. “I love to fish and when I first came to the United States I thought I could just go out and fish whenever I wanted; then I found out I needed a license. I didn’t understand it, but I bought one anyway and now I fish in the Saint Vincent Lake on campus, or venture out to Twin Lakes, Keystone State Park and Donegal Lake. I fish for whatever I catch. I don’t eat the fish I catch because I don’t have anywhere to prepare it.”

Ferreira also enjoys playing soccer and talking to other students, faculty and Benedictine monks. “I like talking to people because I learn so much from them. But, sometimes it is a bad thing because I talk when I should be studying.”

When he visits his family in Brazil, he enjoys telling them about the campus and its people. “I love the architecture at Saint Vincent,” he noted, “particularly the Basilica.”

He also likes American food. “It is really different from Brazilian food,” he said. “I love hot dogs, hamburgers and French fries. I love when the cafeteria prepares rice and pasta. At home we eat a lot of dishes with rice and beans, meat and vegetables. There aren’t many places to get Brazilian food around here.”

Despite the distance from his South American home, he remains close with his mother and father, Dinalva and Joel, his brother, Renato, 15, and his sister, Beatriz, 9, and talks with them via Skype several times a week.

After he was born in Bahia, northeastern Brazil, his family moved south to São Paulo state when he was young. Their home is located near the Benedictine priory of São Bento in Vinhedo, where the monks operate the Siloé Retreat Center for youth, religious and married couples. He attended Bispo Dom Gabriel Paulino Couto, a public school there.

After his expected graduation in May, he wants to earn a Ph.D. in organic chemistry at Duke University, Old Dominion University or Virginia Commonwealth University. His goal is to pursue a career with a pharmaceutical firm.

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Photo: Joelso Ferreira in front of the Sis and Herman Dupré Science Pavilion at Saint Vincent. 

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PR2012-537