When Dr. Flavio Padula graciously describes his experience as an NCAT visiting scholar as “perfect,” he is referring to both his work at NCAT and his family’s quality of life in Auburn.
“Besides all the great opportunities that I was given at NCAT, coming to the U.S.was a really great event for me and my family,” Padula said. “We really enjoyed Auburn and American people.”
Padula is one of about 20 international visiting scholars NCAT has hosted since its inception in 1986. These scholars are typically professors or engineering professionals who receive a grant from their government to learn more about asphalt technologies. They are selected on a case-by-case basis and stay here about six to 12 months.
NCAT has hosted visiting scholars from Africa, Indonesia, Japan, China, and Pakistan. The first scholar was Africa native Badru Kiggundu, who arrived at NCAT in 1989. Padula, who finished his time at NCAT in December 2011, is a civil engineering professor from Brazil.
Since NCAT does not yet have a formal program for visiting scholars, the center cannot provide them any financial support for living expenses. However, scholars like Padula feel that the opportunity to work at a nationally renowned asphalt research facility is a fair exchange for paying their own way.
“As a professor, the knowledge gained by me here will be disseminated to students and researchers, which is essential to the benefit of Brazil,” Padula says. He is especially interested in passing along what he’s learned about recycling asphalt materials, as he says the Brazilian government does not currently have any guidelines or programs relating to pavement materials recycling.
During his one-year stay, he attended five training courses, including the annual Professor Training Course; participated in three research projects; assisted with quality control during a field project; wrote five research papers; and ran several lab tests. Padula says he most enjoyed NCAT’s ideal combination of theory and practice.
“I was able to learn many things in theory, and then see the practice by going to the NCAT test track and construction sites,” he says. “The fact that NCAT has a partnership with state DOTs and the asphalt industry—together with the lab and track—is the key to the success of NCAT.”
Dr. Ray Brown, director of NCAT from 1991-2007, said that visiting scholars benefit NCAT as well, explaining that they are “good for our international reputation” and can contribute useful research. NCAT often receives international graduate students as a result of the visiting scholars going home and discussing their experience here.
For Padula, sharing his experience will almost certainly mean talking about his family’s daily activities in Auburn in addition to NCAT research. He and his wife especially appreciated that their 5-year-old daughter was able to attend kindergarten for free in the prestigious Auburn City Schools system, and he mentioned how safe and comfortable they felt in Auburn.
Living and studying in the U.S. also meant that Padula had to face one of his greatest challenges – improving his English-speaking skills. While he studied English in Brazil, he says the accents and colloquialisms here made learning the language much more difficult. But Padula received help in this area from what might seem like an unexpected source.
“My daughter is now teaching us English, after being in school here,” he says. “This was a great opportunity for us to improve our English skills and learn about the American culture.”