INVESTING IN TOMORROW
SECURING THE FUTURE OF RESEARCH IN SOUTHERN ALBERTA
BY DR. ERASMUS OKINE
Before landing at the University of Lethbridge (U of L), I had always been impressed by the volume and quality of research that was being produced by a relatively small and traditionally undergraduate-focused institution. Upon closer inspection, I have gained an even greater appreciation for the impact this southern Alberta university has on its region, the country and, really, the entire world.
The history of southern Alberta is directly linked to agriculture. The region has more than a century’s rich heritage of agricultural production, with advanced practices in a wide variety of crops, livestock and value-added agribusiness. In light of these advances, how does a university’s research portfolio make an impact and what value can it add to a community?
It is no coincidence that the U of L’s traditional research strengths are born out of a regional need. Agriculture and agribusiness, water, remote sensing and neuroscience are some of these research areas that have emerged as strengths for the university because they tackle issues of regional relevance. Our dialogue and partnerships with the southern Alberta community help shape our research mandate.
It is for this reason that the Potato Growers of Alberta are funding a chair in potato science at the U of L. The research produced in collaborative efforts with our partners will satisfy a regional need and help maintain southern Alberta potato producers and processors as industry leaders. It is why, together with our federal and provincial partners, we have produced research data that allows for the selection of cattle with lower methane and manure production without a loss in productivity.
At the U of L, students, both undergraduate and graduate, benefit from being immersed in these research opportunities. Research excellence attracts the best and brightest students to the campus and to the region, building an intellectual capacity that otherwise would not exist. These opportunities also extend to high school students and people from rural settings who now have a gateway to scientific inquiry.
What is most exciting about the research activities at the U of L is that, even in the context of what has been achieved, we are merely at a starting point for what is to come.
The focus for our future is to build upon our strengths by furthering transdisciplinary research collaborations, creating new relationships and opportunities with industry partners, and reinforcing the intellectual infrastructure of the region.
Through AGILITY, a newly established initiative designed to nurture innovation and entrepreneurship, the university is poised to reach into the community like never before. Initially focusing on agriculture and agribusiness, AGILITY will give students a head start in entering the workforce. Their research, nurtured through an experiential approach supported by regional business, other community-based organizations and mentors, will tackle issues of regional relevance. Students participating in AGILITY will gain the skills to innovate and start their own businesses, to act as social entrepreneurs, or to be agents of innovation and entrepreneurship throughout their chosen careers.
In addition to launching AGILITY, the U of L is in the final planning phases of its Destination Project, which will see new science facilities constructed on its Lethbridge campus. The project will create a facility that serves the university in its teaching and research activities and engages the community through high school experiences; science outreach; and connecting with industry, NGOs, and government and community groups. With a focus on creating a transdisciplinary research experience, the Destination Project is designed to encourage collaboration across disciplines, bringing scientists and researchers together to share resources and expertise in order to achieve a common scientific goal. Its world-class facilities will enhance and support entrepreneurship and social innovation, and provide a hub for the community to engage in scientific discovery for generations to come. This is science and social innovation for the future.
Our role as a comprehensive research institution is well defined and our vision is clear. The U of L is committed to continuing its upward trajectory in the research landscape, providing solutions and knowledge that inform policies and serve as the backbone for the development of sustainable prosperity in Alberta, Canada and the world.