standard Chapter 3 – The College of Geographic Sciences Era

[ … back to chapter 2]

GIS and Remote Sensing

 GIS and Remote Sensing are considered complementary technologies, both requiring computer analysis. Now with the provincial Remote Sensing Center in Lawrencetown, funding was available for the CANMAP (Canadian Mapping Applications) Research Institute. John Wightman had recognized the need early on and established CANMAP as an institute that accepted contracts to address local needs.

This allowed graduating students to remain in the Annapolis Valley and to work on projects, often funded by government agencies.

There was a now a mechanism to keep the student expertise local with a small amount of income. With the advent of the SCP program and individual co-op projects, both Remote Sensing and GIS became contexts for software development and new project applications. The use of these complementary technologies supported a second year program in Integrated Studies (GIS and RS).

Keeping current with the GIS technology

 By today’s standards, computing in 1980’s may have seemed to move at a snail’s pace, but to those involved in teaching the related disciplines of programming and applications, it was a stimulating time. There were many new applications being developed that were off-the-shelf, and few people who understood how to make these packages perform, as they wanted. The software required a technical understanding of programming and spatial geography. It was important for faculty to remain connected to new developments and to be able to showcase student projects.

Bob Maher had been a Ph.D student under Professor Michael Goodchild;  in the 1980’s Mike was working with Andrew Frank and David Mark , they created the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (NCGIA) at UC Santa Barbara, U Maine, Orono, SUNY Buffalo. This coincided with the development and use of Esri software at COGS. In 1985 and 1987, COGS hosted the GIS Summer Institute, sponsored by Canadian Cartographic Association. Roger Tomlinson was a keynote speaker and he explained his methodology to both students and faculty.

Michael would provide the academic, conceptual framework; Roger would offer the view from the consulting industry. It was an opportunity for university faculty to gain an appreciation of GIS software, concepts and their application.

The computer labs at COGS were used to match university faculty and graduate students with teachers and graduating COGS students for hands on exposure to GIS. Several informal activities were organized for down time, one a Bay of Fundy Lobster boil and the other a canoe trip down the Annapolis River, with canoes provided by Annapolis County Recreation Department. These two Summer Institute events coincided with the renaming of the survey school to COGS. The Summer Institute became a part of the third semester for graduating students. This started an association between COGS and some of the early GIS programs in Canadian colleges and universities.

Keeping current with the Remote Sensing technology

DIPIX was the image analysis system of choice in the 1980’s. We arranged with the company to bring Roy Osborne (software developer) to the college to teach their software development methodology. Students had the opportunity to learn current techniques directly from the developers. This process was augmented when Marlin Gould joined DIPIX for a couple of years, before returning to teach at COGS.

Today, this concept of creating a gap in the schedule, for specialized teaching directly from the private sector, has been described as ‘block learning’. The curriculum has to be sufficiently flexible that it is possible to create blocks of time for intensive learning of specific skills or techniques.

Relationship with industry

The relationship between technical training institutions and the private sector has always been difficult and ambivalent. The educational facility wants to be at the cutting edge of the technology. They want their graduates to be competitive in a challenging market. In the 1980’s, with both Esri and DIPIX, we worked closely with the companies to ensure that our students were familiar with new methodologies and software tools. The challenge was that there were competing products for the same business. We were familiar with the local software developing activities at Universal Systems Ltd (CARIS) or Geobased (STRINGS) at MRMS. Thus, our working with Esri had a down side in the region, in that students got used to working with the products from a company in the US. While we tried to be ‘all things to all businesses’ we also tried to offer our graduates the widest opportunity.

In the 1980’s, Alex Miller created Esri Canada and came to Lawrencetown to recruit directly from the SCP program, resulting in three graduates going to Toronto. Today one of those three is still with Esri Canada, one is with an Esri Canada client, and one has a local private software development company. As Esri Canada sold systems to the Forestry sector, these companies recruited COGS graduates. The same was true in Remote Sensing; we had graduates going to DIPIX, PCI and TYDAC, directly from graduation. With access to technology, and a pool of newly trained students, government agencies came to COGS to seek help and advice with their technology problems.

Since image analysis systems were viewed as ‘yet another’ software development environment, there was equal success working with the Remote Sensing community and the GIS community. Indeed, it was  recognized early on, that you could manage geographic information in either a raster or vector form and that it was relatively straightforward to move back and forth between these formats. For many years, we tried to persuade Esri that maps and images were complementary, and hence image processing and geo-processing lived in the same world. Eventually, Esri linked up with Erdas.

One of the early projects spawned from the SCP program was a request by the Canadian Forestry Service to develop a pc-based Arc/Info digitizing system. This was at a time when computers were changing from mini-computers to micro-computers. Bob Maher, David Colville and Roger Mosher created MCM Geographics to undertake this contract.

MCM Geographics existed for three years, before Colville and Mosher were employed by COGS, with the expansion of the new GIS program.

The CANMAP activities ceased when we created a separate GIS programming program. Given our view of GIS as an application package, we treated this diploma as ‘yet another’ software environment.

With thirty years of hindsight, CANMAP was the predecessor to the current Applied Geomatics Research Group (AGRG) however it operated at a time when there was no significant funding from the federal government for innovation (e.g. ACOA, CFI), nor was COGS recognized at the university research level (e.g. NSERC, CIHR, SSHRC) for tri-council funding.

Relationship with the universities

The Survey department has enjoyed a strong relationship with UNB, particularly during the era of David Woolnough (NSLSI) and John McLaughlin (UNB), who had been graduate students together at UNB. The model was two years at NSLSI and two years at UNB, with the end result being a degree in Survey Engineering (later redefined as Geomatics Engineering) and also completing the professional exams. More recently, the balance between the practical skills at COGS and the conceptual understanding at UNB has reduced, with less credits awarded by UNB for the time students spend at COGS.

In the 1980’s, John Wightman had several dialogues with both Acadia University (President, Ogilvie) and the Technical University of Nova Scotia (President, Callaghan). This was a time when the specialized nature of COGS was highly prized. These conversations petered out when the NSCC was created and the technical institutes and the vocational schools became the provincial NSCC system. It was much later, when there was mature applied research at AGRG, that there was another attempt at collaboration between the NSCC and Acadia University.  This resulted in the joint M.Sc in Applied Geomatics. Students can now receive full credit for their one year advanced diploma at COGS towards the M.Sc at Acadia University, providing they meet the entry standards.

Employment Opportunities

The early survey had demonstrated that there was a need within Eastern Canada for graduates that could program applications and customize applications; a number of students went into the municipal government planning offices, provincial resource conservation departments and regional federal offices (DFO, Parks Canada). The surprise was how many were taking opportunities outside of Atlantic Canada in Ottawa, California and beyond. In the 1980’s there were few institutions in eastern Canada that were providing students within the span of Surveying to GIS  (aka Geomatics) disciplines with such a comprehensive exposure to new technologies.

The Road to Ottawa

There were really two roads to Ottawa. The main highway was to enter the federal civil service. Every year, Ottawa government departments would come to Lawrencetown to recruit programmers. At its height, we placed as many as six graduates with a single agency e.g. Statistics Canada.

Another route to Ottawa was through the private sector. For both GIS and RS, we were training graduates who could both use and customize these software systems. After Marlin Gould returned from DIPIX to teach at COGS, we demonstrated and taught the DIPIX software methodology to our students. Not surprisingly, a number of these graduates found positions in Ottawa with DIPIX, PCI and also TYDAC.

There was a close relationship between COGS and these ‘high tech’ companies in the Ottawa valley.

The Road to California

We stumbled on Esri software when we were looking for a GIS, which would run on PRIME Computers. The initial offerings were PIOS and GRID; later we were able to enjoy the ride with Arc/Info. This relationship had a number of benefits to COGS graduates. It established a pipeline for talent between Lawrencetown and Redlands and established a similar link between COGS and Esri Canada in Toronto, as well as their regional offices. With the early sales of Arc/Info, it was almost mandatory to hire a COGS graduate who would run the system at the client’s site. Imagine the number of graduates we would need today if we were trying to satisfy the ongoing demand.

According to Cathy Mueller at Esri (C. Mueller. pers. comm. 2013), there are currently sixty (60) COGS graduates in Redlands and at least another sixty (60) have gone on to work for other Esri clients. The first graduates, Julie Hutchings and Mark Harris started down the road to California in 1986.

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