Edmonton Journal – Research internships bring students from around world to Alberta universities

EDMONTON – Brazilian student Henrique Vieira has been in Edmonton for just a few months, but already he’s designed about 50 different storylines for an educational video game for high school students.

Vieira is one of more than 250 undergraduate students coming to Canada from India, China, Brazil and Mexico as part of the Mitacs Globalink internship program.

During the course of 10 to 12 weeks, more than 60 of these students have been in Alberta working on research projects in various fields, from computer science to the humanities, at the University of Alberta, Athabasca University, the University of Calgary and the University of Lethbridge.

The 21 students based in Edmonton live together at a residence on the U of A campus, attend seminars on topics such as how to communicate your research and manage a project, and visit sites like the Gold Bar Wastewater Treatment Plant, as they did Wednesday morning. Students receive free accommodation, transportation and a living allowance. The program receives funding from the federal and provincial governments, and will soon be expanding to include students from Turkey and Vietnam.

The goal of the program is to attract talent to Alberta, foster international links and boost the economy, Dane Svenson, communications co-ordinator for Mitacs, said in an email.

Javier Villa Chavez of Mexico is working on improving the design of a small robot that will be used in the oilsands to take samples, measurements and pictures.

Working with a team at the U of A has piqued Villa’s interest in coming back here to pursue a master’s degree.

“Probably Canada would be my first option,” he said.

While the students are here to conduct research, many said their greatest learning experience has been cultural.

“It’s a very nice city, it’s kind of quiet. The only thing is the weather, it’s very random,” Chavez said. “Sometimes it’s sunny in the morning, there’s a tornado warning in the afternoon and it’s raining at night.”

This trip to Edmonton was Sriseshan Srikanth’s first time outside India. He said being exposed to so many different cultures “has helped me grow as a person.”

Srikanth is writing code that will allow several computers to work together to solve a problem at the same time.

“It’s not straightforward. People have been trying to do it for 20 years,” he said. “It’s pretty challenging. I might go back and work on it (in India).”

Creating these international links excites Kenya Kondo, manager at Alberta’s Ministry of Enterprise and Advanced Education, which helps fund the program.

He said in countries such as China and India, students don’t need or want to leave to get a better education; they’re taking advantage of the opportunities back home. While this internship is partly a recruitment tool, he said it’s also a way to create connections between Alberta and various centres of excellence abroad.