The interdisciplinary program has received strong industry support and will be able to leverage a research centre already at the university allowing students to be well-positioned to take advantage of existing expertise.
Nora Casson, program co-chair, associate professor in the department of geography, and Canada Research Chair in Environmental Influences on Water Quality, said the program was about four years in the making.
The lengthy development phase was partly because of the commitment to collaborate and to bring in people from across the disciplines.
“There is obviously challenges in launching a new program right now,” she said while all classes are being taught remotely. “We also feel like there is no better time to launch a program aimed at addressing large challenges that span natural and human systems.”
While there are other similar graduate programs in Canadian universities, the unique feature to this one is that it has a strong commitment to interdisciplinary training.
“The current pandemic is such a good example of the need for people to have really strong technical training, but also to be able to talk effectively to the public and policy makers,” Casson said.
Industry officials are applauding the development.
Jack Winram, executive director of Manitoba Environmental Industries Association, said there have been longstanding relationships between the sector and the post-secondary institutions in the province, including an active student chapter.
“The environmental sector is only going to grow,” said Winram, who took over as head of the organization just before the pandemic hit.
“The potential for environmental industries is tremendous. You can’t have a Made in Manitoba Climate and Green Plan, which this province has fully committed to without the skills in Manitoba that can work in the environmental science industries. So it is all positive,” he said.
Brent Bencharski, Manitoba Hydro forestry co-ordinator, said: “There is a shortage of skills needed in this industry to conduct our work. On top of the raw biological understanding of trees and ecosystems, we are in need of individuals who are capable of integrating this knowledge with other fundamental skills.”
The program will have five areas of focus — geospatial analysis, forest and environmental governance, water quality, planetary science and urban systems. Click here to visit the University of Winnipeg’s website for more information about the program.