University of Georgia’s partnership with the Minas Gerais State Agency for Research Funding receives NAFSA’s 2018 Senator Paul Simon Spotlight Award

The University of Georgia’s partnership with the Minas Gerais State Agency for Research Funding received NAFSA’s 2018 Senator Paul Simon Spotlight Award, recognizing them for their outstanding international research efforts and innovative approach towards cross-cultural learning.

Founded in 1948, NAFSA, or the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers, is the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to education and exchange across nation borders.

The partnership between the Minas Gerais State Agency for Research Funding (Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de Minas Gerais) and the University of Georgia started in 2015 and focuses on pursuing new research collaborations between the two institutions.

The University of Georgia was one of three awarded the Paul Simon Spotlight Award in 2018, an award given to emphasize specific programs that were innovative in their international outreach.

The award’s title pays respect to the late Illinois Senator Paul Simon, who advocated for international partnerships and education during his lifetime.

Through initial seed funding received, researchers are able to obtain preliminary data that can in turn be used to make cases for larger grants and funding to continue their research.

“Some of the most important challenges facing researchers today are global in nature,” said Brian Watkins, director of international partnerships in the Office of Global Engagement at UGA. “To rise to the challenge, we must bring together international researchers with overlapping strengths and provide them with the support they need to launch new and exciting collaborations. That is what the program in Brazil was designed to do.”

Since the start of the UGA-Minas Gerais partnership, collaborations have been made in almost 20 fields. One seed grant allows Courtney Murdock, assistant professor with a joint appointment in the Odum School of Ecology and the College of Veterinary Medicine, to work alongside Tiago Mendes from the Federal University of Viçosa to study the impacts of temperature on the spread of the Zika virus among disease-carrying mosquitos.

Pillar Chamorro Fernández, an assistant professor in the both the Departments of Linguistics and Romance Languages, utilizes the partnership to document Tentehára indigenous communities in order to preserve their native language. 

Alongside international research collaborations, the partnership also provides vital experience for graduate students on both sides to participate in student research and expand their international outreach.

UGA has also developed strong relationships with Minas Gerais through their Portuguese Flagship program. The program, sponsored through the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute (LACSI), acts as the first flagship program in the nation dedicated to Portuguese. The U.S. Department of Defense’s National Security Education grant funds the program, which commits itself to teaching critical language to undergraduate students.