PCER offers unique immersive international student experiences and research opportunities. In partnership with the JER and several University of Michigan departments, PCER has supervised and run five abroad programs in the summers of 2010 and 2011. The programs have ranged from one to fourteen students, staying between four and eight weeks. These included an individualized for-credit architecture project, a GIEU trip, and three for-credit design-build-test engineering projects. Each program has implemented or helped to implement a sustainable system at PCER site. PCER also offers opportunities for volunteers to teach in educational programs or help with other tasks.
Past projects have included the construction of the building, the implementation of a bio-sand (slow-sand) water filter, the building and testing of a bio-digester, and the set-up of a solar power system. Members of each program also have the opportunity to learn Portuguese and the Brazilian cowboy culture, and to engage local people of every ilk, from ranchers and builders to bureaucrats and business owners. Housing is at PCER itself or at local home-stays, including ranches and city homes. Food is simple local cuisine. Students spend most of their time at PCER in the rural Pantanal, an ideal place to view everything from jaguars to rare macaws to the world’s largest rodent, the capybara. Most important, however, is the tangible change that students effect while at PCER. Students work through the challenges of implementing an idea with a team, and reap the rewards from perseverance on their projects through seeing their efforts improve the lives of others.
An enormous part of PCER is the research component. In 2010, 2011 and 2012, PCER has been the testing site for engineering projects and research. However, PCER is not limited to only engineering studies. PCER is currently negotiating with the Brazilian federal government to facilitate more scientific research in the region. The Pantanal has many research opportunities, including:
- sustainable and environmentally-friendly technology design for rural off-grid living
- social and environmental factors and the ‘rural exodus’ of ranching and fishing families
- agronomics and sustainable agriculture, with a focus on cattle ranching practices
- the impact of anthropogenic development, including new hydroelectric dams, dredging, and pollution
- the cultural and ecological impact of ecotourism
- zoological, botanical and ecological investigations of the rich and understudied local flora and fauna