Ísafjörður and the UW prepared me well for my future

Wednesday 18. May 2016 | By: Birna Lárusdóttir

Five years have passed since Joshua Mackintosh graduated from his master’s studies in Coastal and Marine Management at the University Centre of the Westfjords. Joshua is Canadian who did his two undergraduate degrees at Dalhousie University and Acadia University in Canada. Already prior to his graduation from the UW in spring of 2011 he had landed his first professional position back in Canada’s Northwest Territories. Now employed in the government sector in Alberta he says his studies and stay in Ísafjörður laid the groundwork for his professional life. When asked to share his story with our readers he was more than willing to:

A simple question shaped my life

“In the spring of 2009 I was completing my degree in Environmental Planning from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, amid a job climate which was quite challenging for someone with little professional experience. So, what does one do in times such as this? You go back to school! 

My adventure in Ísafjörður, Iceland, began by researching possibilities for a summer vacation. Before I knew it Facebook presented me with a question which shaped my work future and most likely my life; Why not come study in Iceland? I thought to myself, why not indeed? I researched the program and my interest grew. I applied and was accepted into the program for the 2009-2010 class. I packed my bags and was off on the adventure of a lifetime.

I am currently living in the Province of Alberta, Canada, working for the government of Alberta in the Department of Transportation. I am a senior policy advisor in the area of strategic planning and policy development. Prior to my time in this current position I was working in the Departments of Aboriginal Relations and Environment. In my time in those two ministries I provided aboriginal consultation and engagement services and analyzed, developed, and revised policy; ranging from legislation and regulation to operational policies.

Incredibly diverse coursework at the UW

The Master’s Program in Coastal and Marine Management coursework is incredibly diverse and has something of interest for everyone in the program. Courses that I remember as being very informative and that aided in my educational development included: Integrated Coastal and Marine Management, Society and Natural Resources, Economics of Coastal and Marine Environment, Physical Processes of the Coastal and Marine Environment, and Applied Methodology.

This wide array of courses prepare students of the program to perform many different tasks. The program’s coursework helped to enhance the ability to develop policy and procedures documents, conduct policy analysis, make presentations, and communicate effectively. Personally, I found that the courses helped me to do a wide variety of tasks that I may not have been exposed to in a program that had a narrower focus. As someone who works for a government I have found that you need to be able to do thorough analysis very quickly and to be able to convey these results concisely. The structure of the courses, three-week intensive courses, the contents of the courses, writing briefing notes and conducting analysis, just to name a few, help the students to develop these skills.

You build a lifelong network of colleagues

The University Centre’s website states that, “Our students come from a variety of academic backgrounds ranging from Biology, Engineering and Environmental studies to Law and Fine Arts. The program is also internationally oriented and students come from all over the world.” This is entirely true. Each year there seems to be a contingent from North America and much of the world is represented in the remaining spots each class year. In 2009-2010 we had students from: the US, France, the UK, Canada, Iran, Iceland, Mauritius, Germany, Latvia and the Åland Islands. The groups of colleagues in the program will expand from other Master’s students to the programs staff and instructors.

In the program you build a network that you can tap into throughout the rest of your life. During my time in the program we had instructors and staff from almost as many countries as we did students. At the end of your time in the program you will not only have this network of other students, staff and instructors from around the world but you will also most likely be a member of many associations such as The Association of Early Polar Career Scientists, Coastal Zone Canada Association, and the Ocean Management Research Network. This is useful not only when you are searching for a job but for the rest of your career.

Icelandic climate helped prepare for a job at 69̊ North

Having lived in a northern and remote climate has opened countless doors for me that may not have otherwise been opened. After completing the Master’s Program in Isafjordur, I moved to Tuktoyaktuk, in Canada’s Northwest Territories. The job that I moved for was in a community of 800 people, where there are no roads, where winter begins in October and ends in June, located at 69̊ North; you can see how having lived in Isafjordur would begin to prepare me for an adventure such as this. I moved to Tuktoyaktuk for a Land Use Research position in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region.

This job offered me an incredible opportunity to analyze and develop policies for the entire settlement region such as a Shoreline Management Plan, a Community Planning Initiative  and a Heritage Site Registration program. During that time I was also the Chief Land Administrator for the Inuvialuit Land Administration for over a year. In that role I managed the land administration office and was responsible for all aspects of a team of seven land administration coordinators. In addition I was responsible for finances, community and industry relations, and land use management decisions for 35,000 square miles of land. The experience and knowledge that I gained during my time in these positions will influence and inform me for the rest of my life. 

A beautiful country and welcoming people

I am thankful for my time in Isafjordur and at the Master’s Program in Coastal and Marine Management. I attribute much of my ability to do thorough policy analysis, consider widely differing points of view and present my arguments and thoughts in a concise manner, to my time in the Master’s Program and to other experiences which have unfolded because of my time in the program. Iceland is a beautiful country and Icelandic people are so welcoming and fun. I encourage anyone thinking about taking the program to do so; both for educational development and for the experiences that will fill your memories for a lifetime.”