Member Profile: Jolene MacEachern, Dalhousie Agriculture Campus
Tell me a bit about your professional background and interests.
I grew up in Cape Breton involved in agricultural business, started by my immigrant grandparents, so business is in my blood. I am passionate about economic development living in rural communities and seeing how important it is to cooperate and collaborate with all members in the ecosystem. . I have built a career around the industry of agriculture and the key role it plays in the regional economy.
I studied at the Nova Scotia Agriculture College (now the Faculty of Agriculture, Dalhousie University), receiving a degree in economics and recently completed my masters in community and economic development.
I have had a varied career that involved working in adult education, economic development and industry relations. 12 years ago I came full circle by accepting a position at the Agriculture Campus, and so far my career has shown me how vital the education system can be in developing an economy.
Tell me about the opportunities you’ve had working for the Dalhousie University Agriculture campus.
The province had allocated funds to teach students about entrepreneurship and to create an innovation culture with new sandbox programs in various post-secondary institutions in Nova Scotia. So, I jumped on that opportunity and set up the Cultiv8 agricultural sandbox, and ran that for three years.
During that time, I saw that while we were trying to change the culture and doing really well in getting students engaged, we still really needed to work more with the faculty. I saw the opportunities, the ideas that were being worked on in the research labs and the projects with students and I just kept thinking, how can we nurture and grow a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation within our faculty as well?’
There are wonderful discoveries and great ideas, but innovation only happens through the application of these ideas and entrepreneurship and commercialization is an effective way to apply these ideas.
You mentioned that ‘education is vital in growing the economy’, can you talk more about that?
In working in rural communities, I saw how those working with post-secondary education facilities seemed to be able to drive major projects, whether it be through community colleges or universities. I also saw how education itself is a tool that can change people’s hearts and minds and gets us to a better place.
How does Springboard achieve these goals?
With Springboard, it allows me to have the wherewithal and the position to have these conversations with industries to inform them about the many resources available at the university they are able to access.
So, the concept of being an Industry Liaison Officer at a university is perfect for me because I feel like that’s what we need- stronger ties between our industry partners and our universities.
The technology transfer piece was new to me, but I realized the opportunity we had if we focused more on this in agriculture.
The culture of agricultural academics has largely been to publish and allow their knowledge to improve food production. What I’ve been focusing on in my work is trying to foster the understanding that their knowledge is an asset and how do we manage that asset, so it has greater impact.
I feel that if this access of knowledge is not managed, it could be lost. I know that there are technologies that sit on the shelf and are not used because the commercialization aspect was not considered or managed as well.
How does the network manage these opportunities?
The Industry Liaison Officers (ILO) and Tech Transfer Officers (TTO) working in Springboards institutions are the ones who ensure that these economic opportunities are not lost.
The network is a valuable source of information, we adhere to certain practices and are trained professionals with varying backgrounds in research, project management, intellectual property, industry engagement, project development and grant applications etc. Our combined expertise is well-positioned to ensure that we can jump on new opportunities within our institutions that will lead to economic growth.
What’s the main benefit of being a part of the Springboard network, for you?
I get to learn from the work and experiences of my Springboard colleagues, taking from what they apply to other industries and bring that back to agriculture.
Because of Springboard I can call anyone from the network when I have a problem and ask: how did you do it? What are the funds you accessed? Who are the partners you need around the table? The network is crucial because of its experience. If I had been working in isolation in the agriculture industry, I would not have access to this pool of expertise. [U1]