Brazilian researchers visit USF Sarasota-Manatee

L to R: Dr. Jenni Menon Mariano, Bonnie Silvestri, Prof. Ulisses Araujo and Prof. Valeria Arantes.

L to R: Dr. Jenni Menon Mariano, Bonnie Silvestri, Prof. Ulisses Araujo and Prof. Valeria Arantes.

SARASOTA, Fla. (June 24, 2015) – USF Sarasota-Manatee faculty on Tuesday heard from two Brazilian scholars about how freshmen at the University of Sao Paulo are learning problem-solving skills to benefit them – and the surrounding community – throughout their education.

Drs. Ulisses Araujo and Valeria Arantes met with faculty and staff for an hour to discuss “purpose-based learning,” an instructional form that has freshmen working in groups to identify real-world problems and solutions in neighborhoods outside the campus.

The groups venture into communities to collect data and interview residents. Working with professors, they delve into neighborhood problems then recommend possible solutions, even to the point of developing working prototype models.

Last year, for example, one group created a low-cost water filter to attach to a kitchen faucet. Water problems are endemic to Sao Paulo and the filter was devised to hold several gallons of water for cooking instead of having to rely on costlier bottled water.

In other cases, students have made a composting system for six Sao Paulo households as well as a prototype cistern and rain-collection system.

More than acquiring technical knowledge, the students learn group-solving skills to help them throughout their education and beyond into the workplace.

“The idea is to get people to work together,” Dr. Araujo told the group. “And they don’t get to choose who they work with, because that’s how life is sometimes. Let’s face it. You don’t get to choose who you work with.”

He spoke for about an hour. Afterward, faculty and staff members posed questions and made comments.

“The practical building of the prototype seems pretty amazing,” Dr. Jane Rose, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, said.

Dr. Araujo said that if students lack technical know-how to develop a prototype themselves, they must devise solutions in other ways, whether turning to professors outside their work group, other students or experts outside the school. The intention, he said, is for students to work together to identify and solve a problem.

Not every faculty member was on board 10 years ago when the program was unveiled, Dr. Araujo said. However, most have come around after witnessing the benefits to students and the community.

The researchers are in Florida for a conference in Orlando this week. They stopped by USF Sarasota-Manatee on Tuesday at the request of Dr. Jenni Menon Mariano, associate professor in the College of Education.

Dr. Mariano is involved in a study funded by the John Templeton Foundation through a grant to Clark University (Worcester, Mass.) that examines the benefits of purpose-based education. The multi-year study involves researchers from six countries, including, in addition to the United States and Brazil, China, South Korea, Spain and Finland.

“Universities are not separated from the communities they are located in,” Dr. Mariano said. “Education is about serving the economy, about serving local needs. That can be expanded by having commitments that go beyond the self, so that students learn how to use their talents and education to work in service.”

This benefits students by sharpening their problem-solving skills through real-world experiences outside academia, she said.

“You’re not just coming to college to learn something to benefit yourself but to learn how to solve and address community problems and needs,” she said. “What we learn needs to be useful to a community as well as meaningful to students. That’s why this study is all about using field experiences, like service learning, in university course work.”

To learn more about the USF Sarasota-Manatee College of Education, please visit, College of Education.