lectures back in Bluefield, they earned four credit hours toward graduation, but far more than that from their experiences in the Amazon. “These students learned so much about the ecosystems of Brazil and about Brazilian culture and history,” said Dr. Martin Offield, a professor of biology who led the students on the study abroad. “We saw many interesting research projects that are being conducted at UFPA, both in ecological studies, as well as other biology research projects.” And with his background, Dr. Offield is the most fitting professor to lead the BC students in their biology study. He holds a doctorate in cell biology from Vanderbilt University, where he also worked as a research scientist, studying the many aspects of embryological development and the creation of new technologies for studying growth. In fact, his work led to the discovery of one of the chief genes, PDX-1, that directs the growth of the pancreas and regulates insulin production. This work has been continued by others as a possible way to cure diabetes. “The study of nature just shouts, ‘glory to God,’” said Dr. Offield, “especially in the area of biology. The more we look into it, the more we are struck by awe and wonder at what God has made.” While in Belem, Allen and Garland toured biology labs at UFPA and spoke with researchers on campus about their work. Garland shadowed a physician at the university hospital, while Allen spent time in the school’s herpetology labs, examining reptiles and amphibians. But, it was their exploration outside of the UFPA classrooms and labs that left the most influential impression on the students. Both ventured into the jungles of the Amazon Forest with UFPA faculty to study its unique ecosystem.

Both Allen and Garland also explored the Amazon River and trekked inland to Bragança in northeastern Brazil for additional environmental studies. They toured museums and natural parks and even traveled to Gunma in the southern part of Pará for two days of study at the Gunma Ecologic Park. In addition to their biology studies, Allen and Garland took part in language and culture courses, earning certificates in those subjects from UFPA. “This trip helped the students see the world from the perspective of a different culture and how the scientists of Brazil are tackling some of the questions addressed in the field of biology,” said Dr. Offield. “It also gave them the opportunity to see some of the unique animals and ecology of the Amazon region.” The partnership with the Federal University of Pará was made possible through the assistance of Liaison America, a Bluefield, Virginia-based company that provides international education services and facilitates opportunities for study abroad for high school and college students. Founded by Sandra Lima Argo, a native of Brazil, Liaison America has arranged a variety of camps and visits to Bluefield College for Brazilian students and organized a number of study trips to Brazil for BC students — all designed to support the college’s overall Global Education initiative to promote a greater understanding of and appreciation for global cultures, languages, issues, and traditions.

“Going to Brazil was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Garland. “The Amazon culture has its own identity making it unique. I would like to go back when I receive my medical degree to make a difference in their medical field.”

Sandra Lima Argo (left), founder of Liaison America, with biology student Rutger Allen (second from left), biology professor Dr. Martin Offield (second from right), and biology student Jarrett Garland.


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