When Alexis left for Brazil she expected to encounter many new experiences and challenges, but she never expected such a profound change in her understanding of Brazilian culture, language and how to work with communities without access to drinking water.
“After only six weeks I was having full conversations with Professors about my research in Portuguese, and now I want to share this amazing Brazilian culture with anyone who will listen. Learning through immersion is truly the most fulfilling kind of educational experience.”

During the course of her undergraduate studies as a Mechanical Engineering student concentrating in water and energy systems engineering, Alexis had the opportunity to research a wide variety of water and energy generation technologies. However, almost all of this research had focused on developing water technologies for industrial applications in the developed world rather than focusing on communities most in need. But Alexis selected this field because of its potential to make impactful change for communities in the developing world. Using her previous research experience, she set out to design a simple system for purifying drinking water that would be operable with no technical expertise. Aware of the grave need for affordable water technologies in this region and having a basic knowledge of the Portuguese language, she decided that rural Northeast Brazil would be a perfect place to begin to implement this project.

Alexis realized the reality of water infrastructure was very different from what she had imagined so she realigned her work to understand the culture and habits regarding water use. This was achieved through immersion in the local culture and conducting interviews with local residents.

Beyond the research that she conducted, Alexis taught English at the Ninota Garcia Center, a free, private elementary school for talented low-income students. She also gave a number of print and television interviews in Portuguese to bring attention to important issues such as children’s education and water scarcity in the poor Sertao regions of the state.

After this MISTI experience, Alexis hopes to stay well connected to the culture and to continue working in Brazil in the future. Based upon the research she conducted in Aracaju, she hopes to make modifications to her water system to better fit the actual needs of the people. She is applying for a US Fulbright Scholarship to continue studying the ways that water access in these regions can be used. Back on campus, she will resume her Portuguese studies and will carry on with her connection to the MIT-Brazil program.

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  • Internship
  • MechE