The Department of Chemistry is going international. A new program sponsored by Memorial’s Strategic Internationalization Fund has been allowing the department to bring in a number of foreign students for short-term research opportunities.
The International Student Research Experience Program in Chemistry, or ISREP-Chem, was developed in response to the most recent call for applications from the fund.
“The department put together a proposal that would provide opportunities for foreign undergraduate students to come and spend two to three months working in a research group within our department,” explained Dr. Graham Bodwell, the Chemistry faculty member who developed the plan.
“The idea was that we would increase the international face of the department by bringing students in and by sending some of our students abroad to foster collaborations internationally between researchers in this department and researchers in other countries. As far as the students are concerned, they have wonderful opportunities to broaden their horizons both personally and professionally.”
The department applied to the fund last year and found out their application was successful in late April. Within a couple of weeks, word had spread to contacts Chemistry faculty members had in other countries around the world.
“We did essentially no promotion, it was all word of mouth, and we received quite a few applications,” said Dr. Bodwell. “Wherever we made contact there was a positive response.”
The funding allowed the department to cover most of the travel expenses for the students and provide a monthly stipend for accommodations and other basic necessities. A committee was formed to look at the applicants and together they decided they had enough funding to bring in five international students and then chose whom they would work with.
In summer 2012, two students arrived from the United States, Nick Settje and David Cascione, both of Cornell University, and in the fall two additional students came from Japan, Natsumi Kubota, University of Nagoya and Shunsuke Kumashiro, University of Hiroshima. The department expects the fifth student, Vaclav Houska, who is from the Czech Academy of Sciences, will visit in January.
“The feedback we’ve had from each of the students has been highly positive as well as that from the supervisors they have worked with,” said Dr. Bodwell. “It’s been a wonderful experience all around.
Mr. Kumashiro was thrilled with the opportunity to visit Newfoundland but he did note the difficulties the short time frame presented.
“I think three months is too short to complete something, but it’s a really good opportunity to start something,” he said.
“It’s a good city, but a little bit cold,” he added. “The temperature is not so bad, but it is very windy.”
Highlights from his visit included playing sports like volleyball, soccer, softball and eating Indian food prepared by graduate students in his research group, as well as more traditional fare such as moose sausages and cod.
Dr. Sunil Pansare supervised Mr. Kumashiro during his visit and says the opportunity gives the students a chance to learn about new areas in chemistry.
“I think interaction with a completely different set of colleagues and supervisor, in a different atmosphere all contributes to the overall experience,” he said. “He’s been a good student. He has picked up stuff quickly and we got a reasonable amount of chemistry done during his stay here.”
Dr. Bodwell says the program even benefits the department’s graduate students, many of whom have all played a role in mentoring the visiting students.
“They’ve all interacted and learned about each other’s respective cultures and had fun together. There’s now a connection between them and the chemistry world is small. These connections are really important to build. The more of them you have, the better.”
He says the department is now in the process of identifying two students from Memorial who will get the opportunity to do a foreign placement in summer 2013. They will also receive a travel allowance and a monthly stipend.
“Using our personal contacts we have found a number of places willing to accept our students,” said the professor. “Once the students have been identified they will be able to pick which placement they want.
“We feel this opportunity will be a real enhancement to their studies. The international research experience they will gain will be a real bonus when they start applying for post-graduate scholarships.”
Chemistry students interested in participating in the program should contact Dr. Chris Flinn, committee chair.
“I’ve been nothing short of thrilled with what the program has enabled us to do,” said Dr. Bodwell. “The program has been money extremely well spent and it’s providing benefits from every angle. I have to strongly emphasize my gratitude to the university for funding this project. It has been such a positive experience from every conceivable perspective.
“While we’ve only received funding to do this for one year, I certainly hope to reapply for whatever the program looks like in the future.”