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Most spring breakers don’t think much about the airplane that gets them to and from their destination, they simply see it as a means to an end. This wasn’t the case for 10 UCF students who spent their break getting an inside look at the aerospace industry.

This past spring, students in the aerospace, mechanical and industrial engineering disciplines set course for São Paulo, Brazil, an ideal location as the Brazilian aerospace industry is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. The program is part of a three-credit hour honors class, Contemporary Projects in Aerospace Engineering and Manufacturing, that uniquely provides students with a low-cost experience integrated into their studies.

The study abroad program is in its fifth year and was designed by Professor and Associate Dean of Graduate Affairs Ali Gordon with the goal of offering students an international perspective on aerospace design.

In preparation for their trip abroad, the class received a lesson from Associate Professor Sandra Sousa in Brazilian culture and the Portuguese language and manufacturing lessons from Pradip K. Saha, author of the course’s textbook. The students also took weekly excursions to different industrial facilities along Florida’s east coast, including to the Northrop Grumman facility in St. Augustine and to Embraer Executive Jets in Melbourne.

“We covered numerous different lenses of aerospace manufacturing, including general aviation, military, sport and commercial,” says industrial engineering student Brett Layun. “All of these experiences solidified our understanding of the processes we would see in Brazil.”

Once in Brazil, the group toured four different aerospace laboratories, including Embraer, the leading representative of Brazil’s aerospace industry. The all-day visit to Embraer included exploring model airplanes and touring various assembly lines.

“I felt like I had won the golden ticket in Willy Wonka to be able to walk around and see how the most beautiful commercial aircraft are built,” Layun says. “I even got to fly in a flight simulator that is used for procedural training for Embraer pilots. There is no other way to experience something like this, and it was once in a lifetime.”

Students were able to better immerse themselves in the cultural experience thanks to Rodrigo Lenartowicz, a staff member in the College of Sciences and a São Paulo native who also served as their translator and local guide. The group visited a variety of locations in Brazil, beginning with São Paulo, the largest city in the Americas and Brazil’s cultural capital, where they visited malls, street markets and Japantown.

“For most of the students, this is their first trip to Brazil,” Lenartowicz says. “For many, it’s their first trip abroad. I would hope that they not only enjoyed the overall trip but that it was also a cultural learning opportunity as well as academic. It’s important to see how people live in other countries, learn about their culture and try different foods.”

The trip ended on Camburi Beach, a favorite destination amongst students, despite a difficult stormy night spent in a hotel without power. The small town provided a relaxing change of pace from the industry tours, with green mountains and gorgeous beaches acting as a picturesque backdrop for the students to bond and reflect on their experience.

“I felt that this trip just reinforced my belief that industrial engineering is a critical job that is necessary for complex systems like manufacturing,” Layun says. “This class revealed that industrial engineers must soundly be able to understand engineering processes in order to improve them.”

Each year, the College of Engineering and Computer Science selects up to 10 students to participate in the program based on academic achievement, campus and community involvement, initiative taking and commitment to engaging in the experience. The program provides participants with a competitive advantage, providing them with a global awareness that better equips them for careers in international organizations.

“I have made strong connections with a couple of the other students, friendships that will last,” says aerospace student Juan P. Roldan. “I have seen opportunities open directly because of connecting with Dr. Gordon. Research sites before visiting them, come prepared with questions. You will make a good impression on your tour guides, and this will elevate the experience. Anything you do, do well.”