At Missouri University of Science and Technology, the idea of a student missing the annual St. Pat’s celebration is pretty rare. Missing that and spring break is unheard-of. But that is exactly what Dr. Daniel Oerther and three of his students are going to do. The group will spend the latter half of March conducting research and field work in Para, Brazil.
The group will be based at the confluence of the Tapajos and Amazon rivers. The students’ research will focus on measuring the effectiveness of the current clean-water filters that are already in place in the local village. Oerther’s research will center on understanding small-scale agriculture, black earth (terra preta, or terra prêta do índio, dark soils found in the Amazon Basin), and linking these topics back to the local community gardens in Rolla, Mo.
Joining Oerther on this trip will be Tommy Goodwin, a senior in biological sciences from Niangua, Mo., Andrew Schranck, a senior in architectural and civil engineering from Alton, Ill., and Lee Voth-Gaeddert, a graduate student in environmental engineering from Hesston, Kan.
“I really admire these students and their dedication to learning through experience,” says Oerther, the John A. & Susan Mathes Professor of environmental engineering and an Alcoa Fulbright Endowed Chair at Missouri S&T. “These guys are not only giving up St. Pat’s and spring break, they are giving up almost all their creature comforts to better the lives of others.”
This will mark Oerther’s second research trip to Brazil and his first with students accompanying him.
“I am very interested to get their perspectives of the location down there,” Oerther says. “It will be exciting to see how they integrate with the local community. None of us have any real background in Portuguese and I have a feeling that these students will wish they understood the language, not because they will be intimidated, but because they will want to really interact and learn from the people.”
Missouri S&T prioritizes undergraduate research opportunities and Brazil is a new experience for all of these students. Oerther points out that it is a fitting location for S&T students, seeing as it is one of the largest producers of the aluminum ore bauxite.
“Taking students on a study abroad trip like this is great,” Oerther expounds. “I am a big proponent of learning by doing, and this all ties into the university mission of experiential learning.”