The concept of an interdisciplinary program in aquatic resources originated in the mid-1990s, when faculty members from Sociology, Biology, Political Science and Business Administration launched preliminary discussions. This occurred against the backdrop of the Atlantic fisheries crisis and in awareness of the longstanding StFX Extension tradition of social activism. The absence of alternative undergraduate degree programs with an interdisciplinary focus on water and water resources reinforced the sense of fit with the Atlantic Canada milieu. Consultations with officials in the government, business and civil society sectors underscored the pivotal continuing role of aquatic resources to the region. In addition, advice was drawn from a number of non-aquatic interdisciplinary academic programs in Canada, the United States and Norway.
During this time, the ISAR/AQUA working group received development funding from the Crabtree Foundation and the Province of Nova Scotia. With the longstanding support of the Deans of Science and Arts, the formal program proposal was approved by StFX and by the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Authority in the winter of 1997. A major grant from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency enabled the establishment of the Aquatic Resources Education and Marketing Centre, to prepare an on-line curriculum for AQUA distance education.
The first students were welcomed into the AQUA Program in September of 1997. In addition to the first-year intake, a number of upper-year students transferred into one of the three ISAR degree streams (B.Sc., BBA and BA). The first two graduates received their degrees in the spring of 1999. Since then more than 200 graduates from the AQUA Program have gone on to pursue interesting careers or advanced study in professional programs or graduate schools.
Simultaneous to the startup, three new faculty positions were created in support of the ISAR Program, in the departments of Biology, Geology (now Earth Sciences) and Economics. In 1999, the Department of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Sciences became the seventh academic unit to affiliate with the program.
The year 2000 saw the ISAR Program Office (on behalf of StFX) participate in the creation of an international student exchange program organized around the theme of “Civil Society and Sustainable Communities”. Funded by the national governments of Canada, the United States and Mexico, the North American Student Mobility Program linked StFX with the University of Northern British Columbia, Central Washington University, Daemen College, Arizona International College, Universidad Lasalle, and Universidad de Guanajuato. AQUA students continue to experience international opportunities through exchanges and to study abroad in Denmark, Australia, Scotland, Mexico, Norway, and beyond. AQUA students have also been successful in Immersion Service Learning opportunities around the globe and International Youth Internships to Malawi, Kenya, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Jamaica, Belize, the Philippines and South Africa.
From the outset, AQUA has sought to build research partnerships with government, business and civil associations. The AQUA Program joined the Pictou Landing First Nation and the Nova Scotia First Nations Forestry Association to propose a habitat improvement program for the Pictou Band’s “Thousand Acre Woodlot”, which was funded by the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources. Memoranda of Agreement have been established with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
The AQUA Program remains vibrant as it continues to grow in terms of student numbers and in both public and private sector affiliations.