Alumni spotlight: Marcel Botelho leads COVID-19 responses in Brazil

27 July 2020
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Professor Marcel do Nascimento BotelhoThis month we catch up with Professor Marcel do Nascimento Botelho, who undertook a PhD with CIDT back in 2003. This was made possible through a DFID-funded partnership between CIDT, University of Wolverhampton and the Federal Rural University of Amazonia (Portuguese: Universidade Federal Rural da Amazônia, UFRA) a Brazilian public University located in Belem, Pará state, Brazil.

In 2017, after an election process, Marcel became Rector of UFRA. Since then, he has put into practice all the knowledge acquired from the Pro-UFRA project and his PhD course at CIDT-University of Wolverhampton, to establish UFRA as a key player in the sustainable development of the Amazon Region.

Leadership of higher education responses to combat COVID-19 in Pará state

Under Marcel’s leadership, UFRA has implemented important COVID-19 research initiatives and is now leading a research group conducting a series of analyses on COVID-19 to support state government in its decision-taking process. UFRA’s contribution has helped to reduce the number of deaths in Para state by 45%, and positively impacted upon the wider Brazilian economy. Through a single two-week period UFRA interventions reduced state death rates in Para’s population of 8 million by 14%. The research team are using Artificial Neural Nets to predict new cases, deaths and hospital infrastructure, using data in different ways for each region to help optimise use of resources.

In a recent letter to the UK Secretary of State concerning the success of COVID-19 initiatives, Marcel commented,

“Back in 2001 your Department generously supported a project run with the University of Wolverhampton and Harper Adams University College to support the strengthening of the Federal Rural University of the Amazon (UFRA) in Belem-Para-Brazil, of which I am the current Rector. As a consequence of that support our institution has become a key player in the development of the Amazon region.  

“As I write, we are providing vital scientific advice to the local and state governments about the Corona Virus (Covid19) outbreak in our region. Our ability to do this is in no small part due to the support which we received from DFID, and I would wish to acknowledge this contribution and express my thanks for it once again.”

When did you attend CIDT and what you were studying?

I was a University Lecturer at UFRA when I was selected to attended CIDT for the MPhil/DPhil programme.

I started my course at CIDT in 2003 and returned to Brazil to conduct my field research at Universidade Federal Rural da Amazonia (UFRA). Essentially I studied several aspects of institutional and professional development applied to institutional strengthening, comparable to the ‘Rural Extension’ field of research.

I completed modules in: Development in practice; Effective Communication; Project Management; Research Methods; Advanced Research Skills; Social Perspsctives in Development Practice; and Research Methods and Project Design.

The following photos show Marcel during his time at CIDT

How did you find your time studying with us?

During my studies in CIDT I was exposed to an environment of International Development focused on building professional capacity for change. Thus, all classes, discussions with my professors and classmates and of course, the findings from my PhD research, helped me to understand the need to address change as a process that must be based on internal motivation rather than external factors and that the time for it to occur depends on the level of success in creating this internal motivation.

How has your career developed?

Following my studies, I returned to Belém, the capital of the state of Pará in Brazil in order to resume my work as a university lecturer at UFRA. In 2007 I was invited to be the International Advisor of UFRA when I supported two international agreements with the United States and France.

In 2009 I was elected Director of the Socio-environmental and Hydro Resources Institute (at UFRA) for a four year mandate. During those years I implemented a participatory management strategy to develop the actions and projects within the Institute. As a main result of this management strategy it was possible to triple our research and extension budget with high impact upon the academic community and civil society. Some of our professors earned local, regional and even international prizes for their work during this time. The use of action research, which I had introduced as part of my PhD studies as a tool for professional development, allowed our professors to enhance their classes with clear benefit to our students.

Following this I was appointed Teaching Pro-Rector from 2013 to 2017, with a focus on implementation of a course assessment and development program, and an academic control system. The first, was a huge success so that our undergraduate courses were, for the first time, ranked level B according to the national exams. The second, brought an accurate control to academic activities, but more importantly, brought the tools for online interactions amongst professors and students.

During this time, I was elected President of Teaching Pro-Rectors of all the Federal Universities of the Amazon region and Vice President of the National Group of Teaching Pro-Rectors. These two groups were focus on developing strategies to strengthen undergraduate course policies.

Accolades

After becoming Rector of the Federal Rural University of Amazon via an election process, some achievements in Marcel’s tenure so far are:

  • The second best university in the region according to Ministry of Education
  • The best university in the use of public funding in the Amazon
  • 80% of the undergrad courses classified at B or A rank
  • The best Agronomy degree course in the Amazon
  • Permanent member of most boards of Agrobusiness in Para

Individually, and as a result of the performance of UFRA, he received recognition including:

  • Agronomist of the year in 2017
  • Personality of Agribusiness in 2018
  • Commendation Order of Merit Cabanagem 2017
  • Commendation Honor to Merit of Education 2018
  • Commendation Merit of Civil Defence 2019

The following photos show Marcel in his role as lecturer and Rector, as well as receiving an agronomy award:

Publications

You can view some of Marcel’s publications using the links below: