Student News

SFU's HRM Program Marks its 10th MA Graduate

April 15, 2020

The Department of Archaeology recently reached an impressive milestone: the 10th graduate to successfully defend their HRM master’s thesis.

“We have, in just over three years, built, delivered, and proved the viability of the only graduate program truly created by and for HRM practitioners,” says Program Director Dr. John Welch. With students moving at varying paces to complete their MA research, timelines are largely dependent on the competing demands of work and family as well as their specific research requirements.

The wide variety of thesis topics reveals that the field of HRM is quickly expanding to meet professionals’ interests and needs. “Our MA candidates and graduands are diverse and creative,” says Welch, “while also unmistakably focused on improving the policies and practices of a still-nascent and highly dynamic field.”

For archaeology professionals interested in pursuing this path, SFU’s online degree is the only course of its kind–making it seamless for HRM practitioners from across the country, the US, and beyond to complete the program with minimal interference in their professional and personal lives. With HRM archaeologists tasked with identifying, assessing and reducing the impact of commercial developments on important, and often sacred cultural resources, having a professional graduate training in law, ethics, business, and research design is becoming prerequisite to career success.

Students can choose from a thesis-based MA or a coursework-only certificate, with both offering integrated study of HRM’s mandates to document and enhance the communal, cultural, economic, educational, and scientific values embedded in archaeological heritage. With the MA thesis requirements designed to enable acceptance by the Register for Professional Archaeologists and provincial licensing and certification authorities, the program is a low-cost pathway for professionals seeking higher management positions and the career growth that only graduate degrees can offer.

“Our grads agree that the program is intellectually demanding,” says Welch. While some may equate an online degree with easy coursework and lenient thesis requirements, the HRM program reflects Simon Fraser’s nearly 50-year reputation as a leader in archaeological research. The thesis requirements are on par with traditional master’s programs, and include a juried defense, along with faculty advisors ready to contribute to each student’s success. 

Welch’s hope is that students will learn to understand their work has real consequence. “Virtually all HRM professionals are expert field practitioners,” he explains. “The premise of our program is that more of our colleagues deserve to understand why HRM is done–and the variations that come with different jurisdictions, clients, and, ethical mandates and research opportunities.” When things go well, that understanding becomes a foundation for students’ careers: leadership.  

Megan Vanderwel–the program’s first graduate–was driven by her work with the BC Oil and Gas Commission to study whether winter month assessments make it more difficult to identify heritage resources. Vanderwel’s research suggests that impact assessments during winter conditions in northern BC have similar results to testing done in the summer months. 

Casey O’Neill used his MA thesis to investigate the risk considerations and policy implications for archaeological chance finds, providing recommendations to align policy and practice from the perspective of regulators, practitioners and Indigenous Nations.  

Marina Tinkcom’s work examined the present status of the US “curation crisis,” finding that about one third of collections do not meet the national curation standards. 

Jodie MacMillan’s investigation of subalpine and alpine use in the Southeast Yukon used ethnographic, archaeological and environmental data to reveal the pivotal importance of specific landscape “hot spots.” 

Katie Settle’s work on compliance projects in Indianapolis allowed her to compare vacuum truck excavation against traditional testing methods. The vacuum truck was able to excavate deeper within a confined area, allowing archaeologists to probe into dense layers of urban fill. Settle found that vacuum truck excavation, when expertly used, can result in less artifact damage and lower costs than traditional methods. 

Earl Stefanyshen’s research assessed impacts of wildland fires on subsurface archaeological resources, a critical issue given global increases in wildland fire severity and frequency. On the basis of his field tests near Logan Lake, BC, Stefanysen’s protocol can now be implemented to measure the effects of fire on archaeological materials below the ground surface.

Mike Pitul’s childhood fascination with underwater archaeology and professional CRM work in Ontario led him to examine the current state of provincial law for maritime archaeology. Pitul’s thesis proposes policy reforms to improve the conservation of underwater cultural heritage in Ontario. 

Vanessa McKillop’s thesis explores the abrupt geomorphological changes of the late glacial period in Nova Scotia and methods for improving our understanding of how these changes  affected the ancestors of the Mi’kmaq (Weji-sqalia’tiek). Her work argues that knowledge of the region’s Paleo-Indian settlement patterns must include geological research and LiDAR data to document ancient shorelines.

Meghan Johnson’s analysis of a biface cache found that these bifaces were not manufactured at the site, and instead, were most likely shaped at the Obsidian Cliffs quarries. Her work demonstrates how Indigenous people moved and transported resources to and through Oregon’s Willamette Valley. 

Tyrel Kobes used his years working on HRM projects in western Canada to inform his study of the Southeastern Qu’Appelle River Valley in Saskatchewan. His thesis integrates excavation results from three sites with documented First Nations histories. 

Currently, there are more than 10 additional research projects underway, with students focused on pertinent topics in indigenous archaeology, marine archaeology, and heritage legislation. 

SFU’s Professional Master’s in Heritage Resource Management is open to individuals with a Bachelor’s degree and a minimum of one year work experience in heritage resource management. The program is currently accepting applications for its 2020–2021 cohort, and welcomes questions regarding proposed thesis topics and the overall master’s program requirements.