student ambassadorsFrom left are Research Matters student ambassadors Maria van Duirhoven, Rami Gherib and Kelly Carr.

Student ambassadors fly flag for research

They’re trying to figure out how enzymes work in our bodies, better ways for people to select careers based on their personality and how physical activity can improve the lives of those with disabilities – and now they’re flying the flag for research at the University of Windsor.

“I love research,” says Maria van Duinhoven, a fourth-year psychology student and one of three student ambassadors representing the university in a Council of Ontario Universities public awareness campaign called Research Matters.

“I love the brainstorming and coming up with ideas,” says van Duinhoven, who is conducting a thesis study for an Honours BA.  “I love to think, what can I learn from that? What can I find out that no one else has yet?”

Under the direction of professor Stephen Hibbard, van Duinhoven surveyed more than 100 undergraduate students to determine what, if any, relationship exists between personality and the career choices people make. Some end up in careers they aren’t suited for; she says the research could help them better choose occupations that match their personality types.

The other two student ambassadors are:

Rami Gherib, a master’s student in chemistry and biochemistry, who studies computational enzymology under the direction of professor James Gauld. Conventional methods of studying enzymes – which control chemical processes in our bodies like digestion – involve isolating them in a lab and conducting experiments, but Gherib says scientists are increasingly using computational modelling to better understand their mechanisms.

“Computer modeling provides much greater detail,” he said. “You can run simulations and model every possibility and provide different insights than the experiments.”

Those insights are important, he said, for people in industry trying to design better drugs for regulating certain enzymes, and even for trying to make bio-fuels, given that some enzymes can be used to build reactive hydrocarbons that can serve as biofuels or gasoline additives. He loves his work, even if it can take long periods of time to get results.

“You don’t really have any ‘aha’ moments in this kind of work,” he said. “You just work for months and months, and then the smoke kind of clears. It’s like solving a puzzle.”

Kelly Carr, a doctoral student in the brand new PhD program in human kinetics.

Working with professors Patti Weir and Sean Horton, Carr will expand on her master’s research, which focused on older adults and their patterns of engagement in social, active and passive leisure activities. Her doctoral research will examine the effects of engaging in community-based exercise programs among adults with autism. She’s developing a questionnaire to measure the confidence and self-efficacy of people with disabilities who participate in physical fitness, as well as how they integrate into their community.

“You get to learn about something you’re passionate about and indulge in something you really care about,” Carr said about her research. “It provides you with the ability to have direct impact on people’s lives.”

Student ambassadors will participate in a variety of promotional events both on campus and out in the community to raise awareness about the importance of university level research and how it influences everyday life.