Academics and Research

Electrical engineering major expands his horizons with fellowship in Brazil

Jake Sigmond, center, with his students in Brazil. Photo courtesy of Jake Sigmond

Jake Sigmond, center, with his students in Brazil. Photo courtesy of Jake Sigmond

Arriving in Brazil in July as a Global Fellow with education-based nonprofit US-Brazil Connect, University of Denver junior Jake Sigmond was faced with a huge challenge. He was in the country to teach English to a group of public high school students, none of whom spoke a word of English.

Sigmond, an electrical engineering major at DU, approached the problem as he would a complex circuit board, and soon he and his four fellow teachers from the U.S. were making significant progress with their pupils, using songs, chants and videos to help teach vocabulary and English grammar.

“We had a theme for each week, and we would learn vocabulary and watch videos that had to do with that theme, and we had to create a skit, a dance or a cheer by the end of the week to perform to everyone in assembly, in English,” says Sigmond, who spent a month in Brazil. “One of my students was actually translating Portugese to English by the end of the four weeks.”

Sigmond says his time in Brazil taught him a lot, too — including the traits of a good leader.

“I used to think a leader was someone who could take charge of a group when a situation was stressful, but now I think a leader is someone who can establish a form of communication when there’s a group that wants to reach a common goal,” he says. “He can help to create other leaders within the group, so that they can take over and continue to improve and grow with the group and the initial leader can kind of fade away. [Eventually] you don’t have a leader of the group anymore; you just have a bunch of people on the same page. I think that’s great.”

Sigmond says the personal connections he made on the trip will last a lifetime — already his students are texting him, asking when he’s coming back to Brazil, or if they can come to visit him in the U.S. He would love to return, but “I’d also like to explore different cultures,” he says. “There are so many different perspectives in the world. This experience made me more accepting of other people and their beliefs, and it also made me realize deep down that the essential characteristics and traits of people are the same universally.”


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