Born in a small town in Brazil and spending his teenage years in a Rio de Janeiro neighborhood controlled by a drug cartel, Walace Kierulf-Vieira grew up a world away from Adelphi.

Walace Vieira

Born in a small town in Brazil and spending his teenage years in a Rio de Janeiro neighborhood controlled by a drug cartel, Walace Kierulf-Vieira grew up a world away from Adelphi.

Kierulf-Vieira immigrated to New York City in 2006, when he was 21 years old. He spoke no English. He found work in construction and catering and took English classes at a community college.

By 2009, the economic crisis made work harder to find. “That pushed me to look into other options,” he says. He landed at a U.S. Army recruiting office, where he learned about the G.I. Bill, which pays for college education for veterans. Joining the Army would also make him eligible to become a United States citizen.

“I said, ‘Where do I sign up?'” Kierulf-Vieira says. He served three years in the Army, including deployments in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

“I never imagined I’d get an education. I didn’t know what it meant to have an education,” he says. “But the Army was going to give it to me, so I was going to take it.”

Pursuing an Education

Based on his grades from the community college where he had taken English and a few other classes, Adelphi offered Kierulf-Vieira a $9,000 scholarship. Along with his GI Bill benefits, he could easily afford to attend.

“If I’d chosen a larger state school, I don’t think I’d have the same opportunities,” he says. “I’ve had direct access to the professors, which has been important for me because I came from a very weak high school and didn’t have the academic background to take some of the classes I’ve taken.”

When he began college, Kierulf-Vieira assumed he’d end up in the field of medicine or pharmacy, but he committed to taking a wide variety of courses to consider all his options. After studying art, psychology and other subjects, he found that he really enjoyed general chemistry and environmental science. After spending a semester studying abroad in Norway, where he focused on environmental science, Kierulf-Vieira realized chemistry was the best fit.

“I found chemistry very challenging, but I found the science behind it to be fascinating,” he says. “It helped me better understand the world around me.”

After meeting Kierulf-Vieira in her quantitative analysis course, Associate Professor Justyna Widera-Kalinowska, Ph.D., invited him to join her nanotechnology research group. Not only was he interested in her research topic, she says, he brought enthusiasm and maturity to the work.

“Walace brought a good attitude, life perspective and great example of success to the younger members of my research group,” Dr. Widera-Kalinowska says. “His enthusiasm to learn, perseverance to deal with problems and find solutions was contagious. Walace spends endless hours in the lab making sure that his project is successful.”

Pursuing Research

Last summer, Dr. Widera-Kalinowska selected Kierulf-Vieira to travel with her and three other students to Poland to work on nanotechnology research with scientists from across Europe.

This October, Kierulf-Vieira presented a paper based on his work studying water purification via solar energy at the peer-reviewed AiMES 2018 conference sponsored by The Electrochemical Society (ECS).

“My time in Poland really showed me that I like research and science and contributing to the scientific community,” he says.

After he graduates from Adelphi in 2019, Kierulf-Vieira plans to move to Norway with his wife and pursue graduate study in inorganic chemistry and material science. He says the small, intimate environment at Adelphi has prepared him to further his career in scientific research.

“Chemistry is a difficult subject, and my high school in Brazil didn’t prepare me for studying it,” he says. “But, at Adelphi, the classes are small enough that we can ask lots of questions and if we don’t get something, the professor will stop and explain it again.

“That wouldn’t have been possible—and for me, the same level of success wouldn’t have been possible—at a larger institution.”

For further information, please contact:

Todd Wilson
Strategic Communications Director 
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