University of New Orleans sophomore Banan Ibrahim isn’t leaving anything to chance. Each semester, the 19-year-old computer science major and honors student takes 17 to 18 hours of classes and whenever an opportunity arises to advance her expertise, she takes it. “I’ve had so many opportunities here,” she says of UNO.
Since arriving as a freshman in the fall of 2015, the New Orleans area native has taken advantage of a job shadowing day at GE, traveled to Houston with other female computer science majors for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing and, most recently, landed a research grant to work with Irfan Ahmed, assistant professor of computer science, in an area of study that most fascinates her: information assurance.
Ibrahim, a graduate of Muslim Academy in Gretna, is one of 20 UNO undergraduates awarded Privateer Research and Scholarly Experience (PURSUE) grants and was formally recognized with the others Wednesday during the Fall 2016 Research Reception & Awards Presentation.
“This award is amazing,” she said.
Winners are paid $1,000 or $1,500 to research under mentors at rates of $10 or $15 per hour, depending on whether they are freshmen and sophomores or juniors and seniors. In its second year, PURSUE is just one more extension of UNO’s longstanding interest in encouraging research among faculty and scholars, said Norm Whitley, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs.
“External funding provides the opportunities to enrich our students’ experience at UNO, not only with traditional research grants but also with equipment grants such as for advance cameras to be used in film or travel grants for students to visit national labs,” Whitley said during the awards ceremony.
Besides recognizing the students, Whitley and UNO President John Nicklow presented three other awards to faculty members, including Irfan Ahmed, Ibrahim’s mentor. Ahmed is the winner of the 2016 Early Career Research Prize, a $7,500 award that recognizes assistant professors who have passed their third-year review and have distinguished themselves in their creative and scholarly activities.
Over the past three years, Ahmed, whose brother and mother attended the ceremony, has been principle investigator or co-principle investigator on four National Science Foundation, two Department of Defense, one Office of Naval Research and three Louisiana Board of Regents awards. He has co-authored a book chapter, six journal articles, 17 full conference papers, four extended abstracts and four posters in well-known and highly competitive cybersecurity journals and conferences. He was recognized as a distinguished teacher who uses research to enhance student learning, including developing a new course on industrial control system security.
“He consistently receives high student evaluations in the courses he teaches,” Nicklow said.
Ibrahim said that when she saw earlier in the semester that Ahmed was recognized on UNO’s website along with Wendy Schluchter, professor and chair of biological sciences, and Leonard Spinu, professor of physics, for their outstanding research efforts, she was excited.
“That’s my mentor,” she said proudly.
Marc Bonis, assistant professor of professional practice who teaches human performance and health promotion, said the University does more than support students financially when they provide research opportunities like this. “Basically, it gets them really motivated,” he said at the research award ceremony. Bonis will mentor PURSUE student winner James Lightell, making this Bonis’ second year working with a PURSUE winner.
Ibrahim said she never seriously considered another university when she was seeking college admission. That’s because, as a high school student, she dual enrolled at UNO. It was the trial run that gave her the information she needed: She liked the University and, if she wanted to study computer science, there was no reason to go anywhere else.
Ibrahim is on track to graduate in December 2018. But before she does, she has a few more opportunities she’s eying. Next on the list is applying for the UNO Scholarship for Women in Computer Science, an award made possible by 1996 UNO alumna and Google engineer Sabrina Farmer.
The scholarship comes with a year-long opportunity to receive formal mentoring from Farmer herself, a fact that Ibrahim is quick to share.
“I’ve had so many opportunities here,” she said again.