Winnipeg Sun: Best and brightest testing next big ideas in Manitoba

They are the best and the brightest from around the world, and an initiative to link them with the leading minds of academia can produce real-world results right here in Manitoba.

A total of 565 interns through Mitacs Globalink program have been connected with university professors across Canada, with 35 of those students lending their efforts here in Manitoba.

Shirley Thompson, an associate professor at U of M’s Natural Resources Institute, has focused on sustainability in two northern Manitoba First Nations, addressing food and housing concerns in Garden Hill and Wasagamack First Nations.

Santiago Martinez, a student from Mexico, assisted Thompson in community development discussions about the barriers that exist in housing and food security in remote communities.

“Having someone who can assist you and is open to all sorts of learning was wonderful,” said Thompson, who has worked with Globalink students in the past.

Part of Thompson’s work is to bring training opportunities to Garden Hill and Wasagamack, where residents want the education, but can’t always access it.

“Despite the lack of running water, the overcrowding, they would much rather stay in their community than come to Winnipeg,” Thompson said. “So we want to bring more access to training in the community for those who want to stay in the community and there’s all sorts of discussions as to how we do that.”

Witold Kinsner and student Chen Qiu also turned their attention north, with the Chinese student working on technology that would make drone missions to deliver food and medicine supplies to northern communities a reality.

Kinsner, a U of M professor in engineering, said Qiu is working through “the most difficult parts of the project,” such as the climate challenges a trip through the north can provide.

Kinsner said the type of work Qiu and other students provide can have an impact, but not just in Manitoba.

“We have roads that are melting to the north more and more and it is difficult to deliver such essentials for living,” he said. “So it is a very important project, but not only for Manitoba. This can be employed in disasters and various places on the planet. But in order to get to that level you must first resolve issues at the ground level.”

Deanna Lanoway, a Winnipeg-based vice president of programs with Mitacs, said the Globalink program’s benefit is a two-way street.

“The idea is to give professors in Canada a chance to work in a unique way with the brightest young students across the globe,” Lannoway said.

“We have a very global education system and we want to ensure that we have the brightest minds and most educated minds, and we want to be able to showcase Canada for the research excellence that we have. Canadian universities punch above our weight.”

Byline: David Larkins