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College program adds environment

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, March 23, 2009

THEBACHA/FORT SMITH - One of Aurora College's cornerstone programs is undergoing major changes, including getting a new name.

Earlier this year, the Natural Resources Technology Program added the word environment to its title.

It is now the Environment and Natural Resources Technology Program.

"The program's name changed because there are significant changes in the program," said its interim manager Kevin Smith.

Smith said about 40 per cent of the 25 courses in the two-year diploma program has changed following an extensive internal review that began in 2007-2008.

"It was deemed necessary to enhance the environment side of the training," he explained.

Smith said courses have been added to the program to allow graduates to work in the environmental field for the oil and gas industries, regulatory agencies, and aboriginal organizations as they take on more power through self-government agreements.

Those new roles could be in such jobs as environmental managers and technicians.

That is in addition to the traditional training that allows graduates to become wildlife officers and wildlife technicians.

"The core of the program remains the same," Smith said.

New courses cover such topics as environmental assessments, environmental sciences, and land claims and self-government.

Meanwhile, one of the courses to be dropped is anthropology.

"All of the courses have been revised, some dropped and some new ones added," Smith said.

While some changes have already been incorporated, the new program will officially be launched in August.

The program has been a part of the college's Thebacha Campus in Fort Smith for 30 years.

For the past 10 years, the program has also been offered in Inuvik.

In all, there have been more than 200 graduates from the natural resources technology program.

"It's definitely a flagship program of the college," Smith said, noting it is among the core programs along with nursing and teaching.

This year, there are seven first-year and eight second-year students in Fort Smith, and four second-year students in Inuvik.

Despite all the changes, the program will likely retain its reputation as one of the more adventurous and fun programs offered by Aurora College.

For example, the program's second-year students from Fort Smith and Inuvik recently completed a two-week wilderness camp about 90 km east of Lutsel K'e.

"It's the culmination of the program," Smith said of the camp held from Feb. 23 to March 6.

It included such things as traditional skills, caribou hunting, meat cutting, sampling and analyzing meat for diseases and parasites, aerial surveys, ice fishing and wilderness survival.

Jody Felix-Nuyaviak, a student from Inuvik, said participants at the camp learned a lot and had a lot of fun.

"We had a really awesome time," she said.

"It was a good experience."

Felix-Nuyaviak, 27, said it was her first time hunting caribou.

She hopes to use the program to launch a career as a fisheries or renewable resources officer.

Stephanie Behrens, a 25-year-old student from Behchoko, also enjoyed the camp, calling it the highlight of the program.

The Environment and Natural Resources Technology Program is really good for anyone interested in the environmental field, she said, noting it combines theory and a hands-on approach.

"It's a great learning experience," she said.

Behrens hopes to continue her education at the University of Lethbridge and obtain a Bachelor of Environmental Sciences.