Bernard Essel came to NRI in 2015 to study for an MSc in Sustainable Environment Management. Originally from Ghana, he grew up with a fascination for technology and a dream of becoming a civilian airline pilot. Bernard took five minutes out of his day to Skype with NRI Communications Officer, Linden Kemkaran, on how he now spends his days flying, but not quite in the way he’d imagined.
After completing my bachelor’s degree in Ghana, I was looking to continue to study environmental management. My interest was specifically related to using geographic information systems – GIS – to monitor the environment. I’ve always been fascinated with how modern satellite technology can help us make sense of our environment, and NRI offered a programme that had a significant GIS component to it. My background had been in cartography and mapping so being able to use new technology to expand on that was what made me get interested in the programme.
I was so happy to be offered a place at NRI, and to meet my main lecturers, Meredith Williams, Peter Burt and Chris Atkinson as they all made me feel very welcome. I struggled a bit at first as the teaching was very different to anything I had experienced before, but we were able to ease in gently with a formative assignment to help us - the new students from overseas - to adjust to the new curriculum. The best thing about my lecturers was how approachable they were. If I had any problems or queries, I could go to any of them straight away which made starting the course a very positive experience.
My favourite memories from NRI were of the time spent learning how to use GIS as a really informative and useful tool to monitor the environment.
After graduating I returned to Ghana and began working at Ziongate Geospatial and Research Services (ZGRS), a company that supports industries and organisations by using GIS and drone technology. My role was mapping farmlands and using satellite images to monitor and plan the land. I wouldn’t have got this job without an MSc to my name; it gave me exactly the experience and technical skills and expertise that the company was looking for at that time.
During the two years I was at ZGRS, I kept my eye on the future and began planning how to do my PhD. Eventually, after much research, I found the right opportunity to study in Ireland at the Department of Geography, Maynooth University. I’m very grateful to my former lecturers at NRI who helped me secure funding for my PhD. They’ve given me a useful network that I can always rely on in the future.
In fact, NRI prepared me very well and I’m finding the transition from MSc to PhD much easier than I expected. NRI gave me a solid foundation, a platform to build on for my future. After I finish my PhD I hope to do a post-doc in the same area and focus on studying water quality.
I always wanted to be a pilot and now I’m fulfilling my dreams by flying drones which is really good fun and requires a lot of concentration! My dream is to one day get my private pilot’s licence and fly my own light aircraft. Maybe after I complete my PhD I’ll try and fit that in.
I would like to gain some more work experience in Europe but ultimately I plan to go back to live and work in Ghana. I’m a problem solver by nature and I want to keep focused on water quality monitoring as having access to clean water is so important for survival. The drone technology allows us to monitor water quality frequently and in real time, which is a huge step forward. I’m currently looking at inland waters, specifically lakes. For me the sky’s the limit.
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