Hometown: Belo Horizonte, Brazil
MINOR: Chemistry, Art
WCSU Degree: Bachelor of Arts in Biology
Internships: Candlewood Lake Authority Weevil Project, Candlewood Lake/WCSU Zebra Mussel Research, monitoring of blacklegged tick populations in Fairfield County, New England Aquarium penguin colony
Activities: : Danbury Animal Welfare Society volunteer, Bridges tutor, Roots & Shoots, WXCI disc jockey, Rotaract club, Herpetology club, Biology club, Student Government Association senator and chair of the environmental committee, founder of the WCSU Beekeepers, part-time job babysitting
Honors and Awards: Dean's List, Merit Scholarship, "Most Promising Up and Coming Underclassman" Award, member of the Honors Program, Alumni Association Scholarship, graduating with honors
Bruna Oliveira moved from Belo Horizonte, Brazil, to Danbury when she was 11 years old. Years later, as she prepared to graduate from Danbury High School and consider her college options, an experience that happened in her native country as a young child led her to Western.
Oliveira, a biology major, says, "I think my passion for biology is something that has always been with me. I once walked along a moonlit beach solely populated by pulsating jellyfish resting on glittery sand off the shores of Brazil. A few were swept up into the sea, but most were unreachable by the current and remained on shore. A 9-year-old me urgently tossed each stranded alien back into the waves, an uninformed but heartfelt rescue mission. I can also recall a time when a kindergarten teacher told us about the importance of conserving water and she said the fish needed it, too. After that, I spent months taking short showers with very cold water, making sure to turn off the water when applying soap and shampoo, and quickly turning it on again to rinse. It seems like I've been concocting similar schemes ever since, but now they are actually valid and founded on scientific knowledge."
Ironically, Oliveira put aside her interest in biology in high school, concentrating on advanced English and French courses instead. She also became very interested in sculpture. "So I guess it's strange that I ended up going straight into biology after my English and French-focused high school experience," she says, "but I'm very glad I did."
Accepted at New York University, Oliveira opted instead to attend Western due to its affordability and well-respected science department, with its opportunities for relevant, direct community involvement. "Through my studies in biology, I have been afforded a means of awareness of my surroundings that I find astonishing," she says. "As an undergraduate, I have witnessed first-hand how the knowledge that I have accrued can be applied to address critical environmental issues and educate others, creating a cascade of knowledge and action that motivates my desire to continue my education."
Although Oliveira says she entered her first undergraduate general biology course with pre-med intentions, she rediscovered her innate passion for the environment through an ecology course taught by Professor of Biological and Environmental Sciences Dr. Mitch Wagener. "He not only revealed that astounding ecosystems were present right in our backyard, but also led lectures and classroom discussions that shed a light on ecological issues untouched by previous instructors; among them, climate change and invasion biology. Dr. Wagener exposed students to local streams and forests, and I was shocked to see that there was always something to discover; that is what first lured me away from my pre-med aspirations. Soon thereafter I found myself at his office regularly, asking for more information on climate change and extra invertebrates to dissect."
Asked what she will remember most about her Western experience, Oliveira says, "Getting the chance to start up my own Beekeeping Club. I did lots of research and it was a very long process. When it was finally completed, I had the chance to put practice into action, which I believe to be the most rewarding facet of science. I felt very happy!"
After graduation, Oliveira plans to pursue a master's degree at the University of Hawaii at Manoa to further study conservation biology. She's already been granted a graduate assistanceship that will enable her to work with a professor on his research in exchange for funding of her tuition costs and a living stipend. Beyond that, she would like to seek a Ph.D. "I'm also interested in working for a nonprofit organization," she says. "I would like to work with conservation of endangered ecosystems and invasion biology. I also want to explore sustainability innovations and permaculture. I would like to have a career that allows me extensive travel and opportunities to share my findings with the public, while working toward a more economically efficient and less destructive approach to resource management. Additionally, I would love to spend some time traveling, and maybe further pursue my artistic interests abroad and take some time to go on diving expeditions in the Mediterranean."
Oliveira’s advice to new students entering WCSU is: “Eat your vegetables, read more books and have conviction in everything you do. Don't let circumstances overthrow your passion; you have a chance to lead an extraordinary life, and you should take it.”