Somewhere in the course that introduced him to Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the powerful computer mapping tool, David Birkigt found the road that lay ahead for him. In his graduating year in Environmental Science, he followed it through the town of Bruderheim and an ecological reserve in Costa Rica.
David was one of 17 students in Environmental Science professor Glynnis Hood’s fall-term practicum course who were assigned to projects from Camrose to Edmonton, Miquelon Lakes, Beaver Hills and Strathcona County. The class met for a weekly one-hour seminar on issues as weighty as environmental ethics and as practical as resume writing.
“I think it’s critical to have them be able to see that the theory and ideas that they are learning in the class actually come from application, that they are practiced by real practitioners,” says Glynnis, who brings her own experience as a former Parks Canada naturalist to her teaching. “It really opens their eyes to where they’re headed with their degrees.”
David’s assignment involved significant GIS mapping for Bruderheim – “everything from sewer lines and water lines to roads, sidewalks, and buildings are on there. I learned a lot.” His skills led to an invitation from Glynnis after Christmas to do a directed studies field project in Costa Rica, supporting both the Colegio Universitario para el Riego y el Desarollo del Trópico Seco (CURDTS) and the Augustana ecology research projects conducted on its ecological reserve.
Starting with a purchased satellite map, David says, “I mapped everything I could . . . irrigation systems that they have, every field, all the vegetation, all the buildings, the rivers, and everybody’s research, the trails and the roads, as well as soil types.” He was also able to show CURDTS how big the nature reserve actually was. “I built them some maps, like a tourism map. It shows them all the trails and boundaries, and some archaeology sites.”
His professor is justifiably proud of what she calls his “unbelievable” work.
“He’ll get course credit out of it, as well as the experience; the tropical ecology course gets all this digital mapping that they can build on; and the university down there has lots of mapping resources now that they didn’t have.”
After graduation, David wants to continue along the path he's found: "I'd like to get into grad school in something related to mapping. I'm interested in watershed mapping."