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Ana Silva Pereira poses smiling in a Northwest Campus Lab

Finding a community away from home

From the shores of Sãn Luis, Brazil to Tucson, an international student’s path to Aerospace Engineering

by Kanika Samra, External Relations

Ana Silva Pereira exudes a friendly warmth and a genuine interest in things around her. Which is perhaps the reason for her success working with high school students at Pima’s Upward Bound program. But get talking to her and soon you’ll realize she’s almost as fresh off the boat as an international student can be. Ana hails from the city of São Luís, capital of the state of Maranhão, Brazil. Her long journey from the shores of Brazil to the Sonoran Desert started with a childhood wish – to study as an exchange student in the U.S. And that’s how instead of organizing a Quinceanera – a coming of age ceremony celebrating the 15th birthday of Hispanic girls, Ana’s parents sponsored her participation in a study abroad program. Not having chosen or set her mind on a specific location in the U.S., Ana said she is glad she landed at the Andrada Polytechnic High School, Tucson because that led her to Pima, altering the trajectory of her life.

Ana Silva Pereira poses smiling in a Northwest Campus Lab
Ana Silva Pereira
Photo By Tanner Grammar/External Relations

Choosing Pima over a 4-year institution  

As an exchange student, Ana wasn’t aware of the higher educational pathway offered by community colleges until a field trip to Pima’s East Campus for students with a 4.0 GPA from Andrada Polytechnic High School. While that tour did not necessarily lay out options for international students, Ana’s interest was piqued. She returned home to São Luis to finish high school after her time abroad and got to work applying to Pima.

Not only was she accepted at Pima, but Ana also received an offer of admission from the University of Arizona (UA). In the meantime, her father had been diagnosed with cancer which put an additional financial strain on the family. So, Ana said, she made the financially prudent decision to choose Pima or UA. This choice has paid off in ways she couldn’t have imagined. On comparing experiences with other classmates and peers who chose UA, Ana said she found that Pima’s class sizes made it possible for her to get more one-on-one time with instructors and faculty. The education has been more tailored to her needs with timely inputs as she’d needed them. Ana started in Spring 2019 and is on track to graduate with an Associates of Science, majoring in Engineering. She is currently working on her transfer to a four-year university program to pursue Aerospace Engineering. Her eventual goal is to get a doctorate and become a professor.

Creating inclusive, fun STEM experiences for highschoolers 

Ana’s interest in physics and STEM began at home – her father is a civil engineer. At Pima, she has applied knowledge from coursework and projects to inspire and engage high school students with science. From building catapults in the Pima Downtown Campus parking lot to introducing participants to the concept of pH; she has been a valuable team member at Upward Bound. Antonio Silva-Garcia, Program Manager, Upward Bound said “She brings a lot of creativity, which is great for kids that don't want to be inside a classroom during a summer program.” Ana is a role model for other students, but especially those who self-identify as Hispanic. Seeing high achievers in varied STEM fields is more likely to encourage Hispanic American students to engage with and pursue a STEM education (PEW Research, 2022).

On the universal language of STEM: "The concept I could absolutely understand either way in English, Portuguese, Spanish."~ Ana Silva Pereira

For Ana, it is also about being able to communicate with students through the language of science. As an international student who had to become fluent in English in order to communicate clearly with peers, she found that the logic of math and science is universal. Once she grasped a concept it was easy to continue working toward a solution, "if you're reading a problem, some words would catch me and I'm like, I'm not sure what this word is, but the concept I could absolutely have it either way if it was in English, Portuguese, Spanish." That is why she loves science – it's concepts are everywhere, vital and non-discriminatory.  

From São Luis to Tucson - building her community 

Ana credits the welcoming staff at Pima’s Center for International Education and Global Engagement for making her feel welcome and less homesick. Students from China, South Korea, Mexico – strangers from different cultures are now some of her closest friends. She met her now husband at an event organized by the center. Now firmly a Tucsonan, Ana has become a strong advocate for international education inspiring others from her home in São Luis to explore the world beyond their island.

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