U of A creates reclamation international graduate school

(Edmonton) The Land Reclamation International Graduate School, which will begin accepting students within a year, is the first entity at the U of A to receive funding from Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s prestigious Collaborative Research and Training Experience Program.

The graduate school received $1.65 million in funding and will eventually have about three dozen MSc and PhD students and post-doctoral fellows who will examine the science, as well as the socio-economic and regulatory issues, surrounding land reclamation.

“Land reclamation is not a solitary science,” said Anne Naeth, a reclamation and restoration ecologist with the Department of Renewable Resources in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences, who secured the funding and will lead the school. “You really have to work as a team. Land reclamation is so tied to economics, culture, politics and regulatory issues that if you don’t understand those, you won’t be a good land reclamationist.”

She said the multidisciplinary approach of the school is what differentiates it from other similar schools and programs around the world.

Faculty members and students will work closely with industry, specifically with oilsands companies, and with government regulators, to ensure the program focuses on current issues in the field.

“Industry and government are a big part of our plan,” said Naeth. “These students are going to be very proficient in understanding the whole continuum of the science, its application in industrial settings and the regulatory context that also comes into play.”

The school will host Canadian and international students who, according to Naeth, share some similarities in their approaches to land reclamation, as well as some interesting differences.

She explained that North Americans tend to place an emphasis on returning native species to disturbed lands, while Europeans and Asians are more concerned with ensuring a functional landscape.

“They’re not as concerned about the nuances of species,” Naeth explains.

The idea to create the school evolved from workshops Naeth conducted and presentations she made to colleagues and graduate students in Germany, Austria and Switzerland in the past three years. She and her European colleagues, mostly from Germany, began discussing how they could formalize their relationship and continue to learn from each other.

With the creation in December 2009 of the Helmholtz-Alberta Initiative, a $25-million initiative over five years between the University of Alberta and the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres, which focuses on driving technological innovations towards cleaner energy production, the relationship expanded and became more formal.

The iniative, which is aligned closely with the school, identified land reclamation as one of six themes it focuses on.

The school will develop new courses, make minor adjustments to others and use video conferencing extensively to fulfil all the requirements of an international graduate school.

It will also, among other things, develop a speaker series in which land reclamation experts from around the world will make presentations.

The creation of the Land Reclamation International Graduate School marks the first time the U of A has received funding from NSERC’s CREATE program, which supports the development of innovative training programs that encourage collaborative and integrative approaches, address significant scientific challenges associated with Canada’s research priorities and facilitates the transition of new researchers from trainees to productive employees in the Canadian workforce.