If all had gone as planned, David Nam, a 2018 graduate of Lethbridge College’s Computer Information Technology program, would have found a summer job then attended the University of Lethbridge this fall to complete a computer science degree. Instead, he’s contributing to Lethbridge College’s irrigation research efforts, an opportunity supported by the Colleges and Institutes Canada Career-Launcher Internship program. The program provides up to $15,000 to employers to provide six- to 12-month internships for skilled grads in either clean technology or work related to natural resources.
While others working with Mueller Applied Research Chair Dr. Willemijn Appels routinely do field work on southern Alberta soil, Nam can be found on campus at his computer. He started by identifying publicly accessible sources of satellite imagery, weather forecasts and other data. Next, he’ll identify ways to collect and process the data to bring images and information together, using Java and Python programming languages. Nam says he had no real background in agriculture, but he understands the task at hand. Without the program Nam will create, Appels has to visit various sites for geospatial data and use command-line prompts to extract the specific information she needs from the Geospatial Data Abstraction Library. It’s “a painful way to process information,” Nam says.
Appels says Nam’s work will help the team integrate large-scale remote sensing data into projects that now depend on local observations. Eventually, the data could help southern Alberta farmers in their water management decisions. “I feel extremely lucky and grateful that I have an opportunity to do this internship. Willemijn has been such a great supervisor as well to set all this up.”
Dr. Kenny Corscadden
He’s only been part of the Lethbridge College team for a year, but he’s proven a quick and natural fit with the institution’s growing profile in applied research. Dr. Kenny Corscadden came to the college as dean of the Centre for Technology, Environment and Design and within eight months, he was named Associate Vice President of Research, putting him in the driver’s seat of research efforts across campus.
Corscadden came to Lethbridge from Dalhousie University in Halifax, where he was associate dean of research and graduate students in the Faculty of Agriculture. He had previously served as head of the Department of Engineering and as an industry research chair at Dalhousie, and had served as an engineering instructor at neighbouring Acadia University. Even before joining academia, Corscadden was involved in research in the private sector with businesses specializing in manufacturing, commercialization, engineering and product development. He started his career as a ground radar technician in the Royal Air Force in the United Kingdom, leading to a variety of technical and entrepreneurial roles, which he managed while continuing his education.
With a career spanning both sides of the Atlantic, he seems to have mastered the art of the move. The father of four says he enjoys renovating homes, and his Lethbridge abode is No. 21 and “my wife says this is the very last one,” he says with a smile. The constant in his career has been witnessing the impact applied research can have on students, industry and a learning community. “It provides students with experiential learning,” he says, making it a natural fit with a hands-on institution like Lethbridge College. “It gives faculty a chance to keep relevant in their discipline areas and to apply their expertise and help industry become more competitive.”
Lethbridge College’s irrigation research team enjoyed an extra set of hands this summer, when Jessica Snoek was on campus conducting her master’s thesis research. Born and raised in Amsterdam and studying at nearby Wageningen University, the 23-year-old asked her favourite professor where she might pursue her research. She was referred to Dr. Willemijn Appels, Lethbridge College’s Mueller Applied Research Chair in Irrigation Science. Appels had also studied at Wageningen, her work fit Snoek’s area of interest and the opportunity brought her to Canada, a country on her wish list to visit. Snoek’s efforts are focused on a particularly challenging piece of farmland near Coalhurst.
“It has a 50-metre elevation difference in the field,” she says. “It has three different soil types. It has a little pond on the field that’s wet the entire year. It’s so interesting for us.” Working closely with the owner’s crop consultant, researchers have shared data collected by a computer-controlled drone, capable of capturing thousands of images of multiple reflectances such as infrared and near-infrared data. Conditions are also monitored through on-site soil moisture sensors, groundwater level loggers and a weather station. The data is processed through a computer crop modelling program to compare outcomes predicted by the model with conditions measured in the field. The goal is to better predict actions the farmer can take to increase land productivity.
Snoek, who was on campus from late March through July, says providing research-driven solutions to help people use land more sustainably is what she enjoys most about her work. “That, for me, was the most important combination, not only being indoors in the lab looking at numbers rolling out on the computer but actually seeing it in the field,” she says. “It gives the farmer an enormous amount of insight.”
John Derksen spends his work days the way he’d choose to spend any day, given the choice – dealing with fish. “I’ve just followed my passion,” says the chair of Lethbridge College’s Aquaculture Centre of Excellence (ACE) facility. “I’ve always loved fishing. When I go on vacation, I’m always going fishing. And after I finished my studies, I wanted a job that had anything to do with fish.” Derksen found that job at Lethbridge College in 1997. After earning both his Bachelor and his Master of Science degrees from the University of Guelph, he heard about the opening in southern Alberta, which was just about to build the new ACE facility. He stepped in as a teacher and now also leads and manages research projects and collaborates with other researchers on campus.
“I wanted the job to be dynamic and research offers a big part of that,” he says. “The diversity of research is kind of nice, too. I can bring it to the classroom and I can involve students on the projects as well. It keeps me busy in the summer but I love it. It’s like you get to play when you’re working.” He says that applied research opportunities at Lethbridge College are a hidden gem. “It does surprise a lot of people, the research that goes on here and the opportunity students have to take part it in,” he says. “A university might work on solving a theoretical problem, which is important, but the college is working more directly with the industry to solve real problems.”
Although the opportunity to retire could come knocking in the next few years, Derksen says he’s not tempted by it. “It’s exciting to think of continuing our research and seeing how the college can develop and how ACE can develop as a centre. The people I work with at ACE are awesome and Kenny (Corscadden, the college’s new associate vice president of research) is amazing. I still grin when I come into work – I get paid for this!”