Olaide Olambiwonnu is one of seven MIT students who interned and performed research in Portugal this past summer through the MIT-Portugal Program housed within the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI). A pioneer in international education, MISTI helps MIT students develop practical intercultural skills through hands-on opportunities in over 30 countries. This past summer, Olambiwonnu traveled to Braga, Portugal, to intern at Performetric — a business-to-business startup specializing in mental fatigue management — where her work focused on business and product.
"I accepted an offer from Performetric and will be staying on as COO," Olambiwonnu says. “I am proud to say I was instrumental in helping the company move from a beta product to an official version," she adds, explaining that her projects covered everything from customer research to product management to website design. At the conclusion of her all-encompassing internship, Olambiwonnu was pleased to accept a position of leadership in the budding startup. "I will be helping the company's entry and expansion into the United States," she says.
Bolstering MISTI's mission, the MIT-Portugal Program ensures that students have a rich experience that broadens their academic, professional, and personal horizons and prepares them to be global leaders in their field of study. Since its was first launched as a pilot program in 2011, MIT-Portugal has matched over 25 MIT undergrads and graduate students with projects at leading Portuguese companies, universities, and labs.
While MIT-Portugal follows the framework of a traditional MISTI program, it was developed in collaboration with another similarly-named venture — the MIT Portugal Program (MPP). The MPP is a strategic partnership between Portuguese universities and research centers, MIT, and partners from industry, and government. Its goal is to strengthen the country’s knowledge base and international competitiveness through a strategic investment in people, knowledge, and ideas in innovative technology sectors. Seeing the value in connecting more MIT students to Portuguese companies and in connecting Portugal with MIT’s "mens-et-manus" or "hand-and-mind" approach to learning, MPP approached MISTI in 2011. The MIT-Portugal Program officially launched in 2014 and is led by Managing Director Alicia Goldstein Raun. MIT students have been matched with projects at such companies and schools as CEIIA, Portugal Ventures, doDOC, Imaginando, University of Coimbra, INL, IPATIMUP, Nova University of Lisbon, and several others.
Before going abroad, MIT-Portugal participants are required to complete Portugal-related coursework and attend a series of preparation and training modules covering topics such as cross-cultural communication, navigating the workplace and safety. By exploring their host country’s culture, MIT-Portugal prepares its students to experience their host culture as an informed, engaged participants and not just visitors.
"For me, working and living in Portugal was a great opportunity," Olambiwonnu says. "The MIT-Portugal Program gave me the chance to be in a different country for a long period of time and experience it in a way that I wouldn’t have if I were just visiting on my own.” Originally anxious to live in a new city for three months, Olambiwonnu found comfort in her relationships with her Performetric colleagues (and future coworkers): “The team was friendly and warm. They were the best hosts anyone could have wished for.”
At graduation, participants in MISTI student programs report a higher level of self-confidence and an improved ability to adapt to new situations and to communicate effectively with international peers. Olambiwonnu, embarking on her new international career at Performetric, is no exception. "My goal while I was at MIT was to either start my own company or help shape someone else's company,” she says. “Without MIT-Portugal, I would not have realized this goal. I will always be an advocate for the program.”
MIT-Portugal is currently accepting applications for the 2017 internship placements. A program within the Center for the International Studies, MISTI is an initiative within the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.
If you are Portuguese company, research institute, or university laboratory interested in hosting a student, please contact the MIT-Portugal Managing Director Alicia Goldstein Raun.