Alma Tamim began her engineering education with a specific interest in next-generation energy.
She said she felt lucky to be welcomed into professor Ofelia Jianu’s Intelligent Fuels and Energy Laboratory (I-FuELs) as a volunteer. Now that she’s getting paid, she is ecstatic.
Tamim will be compensated through one of 11 Undergraduate Research Experience (URE) grants awarded by the University this year. Each professor awarded a URE grant receives $2,000 in support of a project that will train undergraduate researchers.
“I’m thankful for this grant because everyone in the lab is always saying they feel badly asking me for stuff — they don’t want to take advantage of a volunteer,” she said. “Now they don’t have to feel uncomfortable, and maybe this way they will involve me even more.”
UWindsor launched the URE grant program in 2013. A joint project of the University’s Centre for Teaching and Learning and Office of Research and Innovation Services, the grant program is funded through the Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation.
“We wanted to find a way to get undergraduates involved in research,” said Heather Pratt, executive director of the Office of Research and Innovation Services. “This program helps encourage novel ways to get undergraduates involved and give them an excellent educational experience.”
Tamim will be working on a project that looks to make hydrogen production more efficient, using heat from industry that normally goes to waste. She said she got involved in the project through a happy coincidence.
Dr. Jianu was her professor in the first-year course, Engineering Thermofluids. She had a question after class and visited Jianu during office hours. They got to talking and Tamim expressed her interest in renewable energy.
“She said, ‘That’s what I do!’” Tamim recalls Jianu exclaiming.
Having excelled in Jianu’s course, Tamim contacted her at the end of first year asking if she could become a research assistant.
“I didn’t have extra funding, but I didn’t want to turn her away,” Jianu said. Tamim joined the lab on a volunteer basis until Jianu could secure a grant to pay her.
“I don’t believe in not paying students for their work,” Jianu said. “And Alma had integrated very well with the team.”
Over the past 1½ years, Tamim has helped to run the lab’s website and design the set-up of equipment for experiments.
“I’m glad we were able to secure a grant to reward her for her contributions to research,” Jianu said.
The recipients of this year’s URE grants represent a range of disciplines: chemistry and biochemistry; computer science; kinesiology; biology; psychology; civil and environmental engineering; and mechanical, automotive and materials engineering.
URE students will be working on such research as earthquake engineering, head injury in youth sport, alternative energy fuel cells, and incorporating Indigenous ways of knowing in biology research. One will help with follow-up interviews of nurses working in Windsor and Detroit hospitals during COVID, and another will help with a study on cognitive aging.
Providing students with high-quality research opportunities is one of the reasons UWindsor stands out, said Erika Kustra, director of UWindsor’s Centre for Teaching and Learning.
“Undergraduate research is often a transformative experience for students,” Dr. Kustra said. “This program helps develop student research curiosity and skills, enriching their academic experience and broadening their future employment opportunities.”