By Stephen Hawboldt
The decision by the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) to substantially reduce its high technology geographic sciences research programs seem to defy logic. The program has an international and national profile and is a significant generator of business investment and employment in the region.
The Applied Geomatics Research Group (AGRG) was created about 15 years ago to enhance applications for the emerging technologies of remote sensing, geographic information systems, global positioning and a host of other computer-based applications. The concept grew from the development of these tools at the College of Geographic Sciences in Lawrencetown and was a natural progression from the Nova Scotia Land Survey Institute created in 1948.
Originally created to train land surveyors, the “survey school” and its successors have always been on the leading edge of the application of technological innovations in things related to land and geography. In the late 1970s, it introduced one of the first remote sensing and geographic information systems programs in the country. Like the early Internet, these tools were initially clumsy, difficult to use and not especially efficient.
Also like the Internet, geomatics changed as advances were made in a wide range of technologies. Early remote sensing tools included only things like aerial photographs or satellite images if it wasn’t cloudy. Today, these tools can now see into rocks, through water, or read your license plate from space. Using computer interfaces, these data can be viewed, sorted, and combined to reveal insights that were never possible, spatially or intellectually.
For example, one project combined weather, oceanography, biology, and a host of other disciplines to develop computer models that could predict the movement of pollutants in the Annapolis Basin. The contamination of the Annapolis Basin clam flats was being used as the test area to develop applications that could then be exported to other parts of the world. The initiative combined the skills of various international giants in these fields. The AGRG is a key player in this applied research program.
Other programs have included applications to identify microclimates, certain soils, and other factors that are key to the rapidly growing wine industry in Nova Scotia and especially in the Annapolis Valley. This work was done in partnership with the wine industry and federal and provincial agencies. This groundbreaking work is creating an all-new industry for rural parts of the province. There are dozens of other examples.
The researchers were also interested in applications in the social sciences. They played a key role in numerous programs to build the capacity of communities to utilize the human resources within their borders. Over the years, AGRG, directly and indirectly, supported building capacity in groups like the Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve, the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute and the Clean Annapolis River Project enhancing their contributions to community sustainability.
While the research outcomes directly and indirectly contributed to the provincial economy, the primary goal of educating and inspiring young minds to achieve their potential is the most significant aspect of applied geomatics education at the Valley campus of the NSCC. The AGRG offered gifted students the opportunity to earn an advanced diploma in geomatics once they had completed the first year program. The program was so successful, that an agreement was reached with Acadia University to offer a Master of Science in Applied Geomatics. This alliance combined the academic rigor of post-graduate studies with the practical skills of applied geomatics.
The various programs became so widely recognized that graduates were snapped up for positions in the oil industry, shipping and transportation, software development, environmental industry, government, and other employers who recognized the quality of these graduates. An employer was once reported to remark that these graduates became highly productive almost immediately because they knew how to do things. Many of the graduates find high paying careers in Nova Scotia.
It is hard to imagine that the senior administrators at NSCC could have higher priorities than educating enquiring minds in the emerging industries. The AGRG programs were reported to attract more in research dollars than the cut positions were costing NSCC. AGRG was almost a freebie for NSCC. Its loss is a blow to community economic development.
Comments are always welcome and can be addressed to Stephen.Hawboldt@eastlink.ca