Living Carnegie Mellon University Through the Faculty Exchange Program

The Faculty Exchange Program is on its seventh year and the balance thus far could not be more positive. Since the Program started in 2009, more than 56 faculty members from 11 Portuguese universities and research institutes have already benefited from this pioneering initiative provided by the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program, funded by the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia. Experiencing the atmosphere and culture of a top university, while engaging in teaching and research activities, and having an opportunity to broaden contact networks, are just some of the Program’s positive points highlighted by the participants.

The goal of the Faculty Exchange Program is to allow faculty members to share and discover best practices through cultural immersion. While at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), faculty members are exposed to the same environment and working conditions as any colleague at CMU. There, the visitors have the opportunity to join research groups, teach courses in a specific area of interest, at undergraduate or graduate level, and participate in various activities. And the same applies to Carnegie Mellon faculty who stay at a Portuguese university.

According to João Claro, national director of the CMU Portugal Program, the strong participation of researchers from several Portuguese universities is a reflection of the important benefits that both researchers and institutions see in this initiative. But even more expressive of the program's success is the positive feedback of the participants on their experiencesand the impact that they can have back home.

One of the main goals outlined by faculty members who spent at least one semester at CMU is getting to know new the educational practices and apply them in Portugal. José L. Valente de Oliveira (Assistant Professor, Universidade do Algarve, 2012) stated: “Accompanying two courses allowed me to learn the several differences and similarities in the organization and pedagogical practice of different course topics, level of theoretical detail, student projects and homework. Based on this experience, and on my own research in the field, I’ll be proposing a graduate course on Machine Learning in my home faculty. The research environment is truly inspiring. This visit was a great experience that I fully recommend to other colleagues, and I would like to repeat it in the future.” Fernando Morgado Dias (Assistant Professor, Universidade da Madeira / Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute, 2013) shared the same opinion: “During my stay at CMU my goals were to attend and participate in at least one course to experience the CMU culture, to understand the methods used and possibly apply them in Portugal, and to develop a professional connection with colleagues at CMU in order to foster future collaborations. I wanted to expand my knowledge in areas that are relevant to my research (…). Both courses I attended are project based and the approach followed at CMU will certainly influence the next edition of this course at the Universidade da Madeira.”

According to Alberto Rodrigues da Silva (Associate Professor, Instituto Superior Técnico of the Universidade de Lisboa, 2012): “When I originally planned this stay at CMU I had two main goals: attend one or more courses from the Professional Masters of Software Engineering to have a better understanding of the dynamics of these courses and programs; and to develop a professional relationship with faculty members and researchers that can lead to joint projects in the future. This period was also a great time from a social and cultural point of view, as I have met friendly people and discovered nice places in Pittsburgh.” Ana Barros (Senior Researcher, INESC TEC, and Adjunct Professor, Universidade Católica Portuguesa, 2012) also added: “Upon conclusion of my faculty exchange visit at the Carnegie Mellon University I feel very optimistic and enthusiastic about nurturing the collaboration seeds initiated within this program. While at CMU, I participated in two reading groups (…) where the goal was to create a common understanding of the fundamental principles surrounding global competitiveness and technological change. I believe that these reading groups are a very healthy way of fostering common understanding, learning and collaboration between research teams, and therefore I will encourage similar initiatives in my home institution.”

Most faculty members also see the stay at CMU as an opportunity to broaden contact networks and to promote future partnerships. This is confirmed by Diogo Gomes (Assistant Professor, Universidade de Aveiro, 2012), who stated: “I wanted to expand my knowledge on cloud computing infrastructures by contacting directly with the several ongoing projects taking place at the Parallel Data Lab (PDL) at CMU. In the future, I expect to continue collaborating with the PDL in Cloud Computing through new projects and eventually co-supervise Ph.D. students. All the experience gained will allow me to include new topics on cloud computing in the M.Sc. courses at DETI, in Portugal. Overall my stay at CMU was very fruitful and enriching. Several areas of joint work have been established, and results are expected in the near future.” For Pedro Brandão (Assistant Lecturer, Faculdade de Ciências of the Universidade do Porto, 2012), “During my stay, (…) the interaction with the Sensor Andrew group led to a better understanding of the platform in its current form and originated some opportunities for collaboration. I also had the opportunity to contact with researchers in my field. Overall, the experience was very rewarding (…) and the possibility of future collaborations is definitively a positive outcome.” 

Most faculty members also stress that the experience has been fulfilling, both personally and professionally. Mónica Cameirão (Postdoctoral Researcher, Madeira-ITI, 2013), for instance, stated: “Participating in the CMU Portugal Faculty Exchange Program was a very enriching experience. With my visit to CMU I wanted not only to learn content, structure and teaching methodologies of specific courses, but also to collaborate in research activities in the domain of interactive technologies for stroke rehabilitation at the Quality of Life Technology Center (QoLT). Both goals have been fully accomplished and even surpassed my initial expectations. Spending four months at CMU was a very exciting experience that allowed me to grow as a researcher and as a teacher.” João Barros (Associate Professor, Faculdade de Engenharia of the Universidade do Porto, 2012) believes that “This was without a doubt a very productive and successful stay. Other than helping to push further research and education activities, which I will continue to carry out with colleagues and students at CMU, this stay allowed me to reflect more deeply on how to build institutions that can really make a difference, both locally and internationally.”

João Costa Seco (Assistant Professor, Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, 2012) said that while at the Computer Science Department (CSD), João Costa Seco was able to interact with several faculty members, other visitors and post-docs in fruitful research discussions. He "attended seminars, participated in reading group sessions and observed teaching activities at different levels.” For João Costa Seco “this visit was a very fruitful and enriching experience personally and professionally, and the rich and dynamic environment at Carnegie Mellon, both in terms of teaching and research, will certainly influence my future activities.” 

Ian Oakley (Assistant Professor, Madeira ITI, 2012) admitted that he “benefited substantially from the rich academic environment at Carnegie Mellon. I was invited to speak at the annual HCII town hall (…) and I believe such public presentations do much to raise the profile of the international partnerships – putting faces to names – and I hope they are enabled and encouraged in future iterations of the faculty exchange program. During my time at Carnegie Mellon, Professor Jodi Forlizzi of HCII also invited me to serve as an associate chair for ACM CHI 2013, the largest and most impactful conference in my field. This invite is at least partly attributable to the power of the relationships that can be built up through mobility initiatives like the Faculty Exchange Program. In sum, my visit to Carnegie Mellon allowed me to develop my research, refine my teaching and participate meaningfully in academic service. It was inspiring both practically and culturally and I strongly recommend the experience to other faculty members.”

April 2014

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The article was written with excerpts of the public reports submitted by each participant on the Faculty Exchange Program. The reports are available at: http://www.cmuportugal.org/tiercontent.aspx?id=2636.