A Brief History of the MSA Program
By Phil Coppack and Claus Rinner, January 2012
The MSA program in the Department of Geography was one of the two founding graduate programs at Ryerson University. In 1993, Ryerson was granted full university status by the Province of Ontario. Almost immediately following this significant change in the university’s status, the Department of Geography started planning a master’s program in spatial analysis jointly with the University of Toronto. Given the department’s expertise in applied geographic education and geographic information systems (GIS), it seemed very appropriate that we would develop one of the founding graduate programs at Ryerson, as we had developed one of the university’s founding undergraduate programs in the early 1970s. With funding from Ryerson through the Province of Ontario’s university status grant, the department developed jointly with UofT a ten-credit one-year full-time master’s program, with a two-year part-time option. Two fields of study were offered: business information analysis to be taught at Ryerson and physical/landscape analysis to be run through UofT’s Department of Geography. The program was to be co-hosted by the two academic departments along with the Centre for Study of Commercial Activity (CSCA) at Ryerson. The key people in developing the program included Dr. Phil Coppack, Ryerson’s Chair of Geography, Dr. Carl Amrhein, UofT’s Chair of Geography, and Dr. Ken Jones, the Eaton Chair in Retailing and Director of the CSCA.
But the approval to grant graduate degrees does not come easily. The first iteration of the program followed the traditional Master of Arts in Geography model, and then became an MA in Spatial Analysis. But the degree program had to fit into an existing array of graduate offerings from other Ontario universities, especially those in Toronto. We also had to convince Ontario’s governing body for graduate programs, the Ontario Council on Graduate Studies that we could deliver a quality graduate program. This task was taken on by Dr. Maurice Yeates, who joined Ryerson as an Adjunct Professor in Geography and a Research Associate at the CSCA. As one of the most widely recognized scholars in urban geography and spatial analysis, Dr. Yeates’ guidance was invaluable. The program was eventually approved as the Master of Spatial Analysis and given the unique degree designation of “MSA”.
The department submitted its degree proposal to OCGS in the spring of 1999, hosted the external appraisers that fall, and received Senate approval for the program in the spring of 2000. At the same time, the School of Graduate Studies was formed (now the Yeates School of Graduate Studies). The first program director was Dr. Marie Truelove, and under her leadership the program’s “brand” was established. Ryerson’s intake was ten students in each of the fall semesters of 2000-2002. Then, under the direction of Dr. Shuguang Wang, Dr. Beth Carlson, and Dr. Claus Rinner, our intake increased to 15-25 new full-time and part-time students each year. With the successful periodic appraisal of the program in 2007/08, Ryerson took over the sole responsibility for the MSA degree from UofT, and a third field of study in social and community information analysis was added. The 100th MSA graduate was celebrated in the fall of 2008, and the 200th graduation is expected for fall 2012.
The program structure with four mandatory core courses, two field-specific electives, a part-time practicum placement, and an academically rigorous major research paper is basically unchanged, attesting to the foresight of the program developers and the success of the MSA alumni in the workplace. Practicum placements have been developed with a number of GIS and geospatial data vendors, major banks, retailers, real-estate developers, municipal and provincial government, non-government organizations, conservancies, environmental consultants, and hospitals. MSA students are regularly finding employment before or immediately after graduation, including as GIS analysts and developers, database analysts, market analysts, business analysts, crime analysts, and planners in any of the three broad fields of application. MSA students have been involved in numerous research projects with their supervisors, including those funded by the GEOIDE Network of Centres of Excellence, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. With the recent introduction of a directed studies course and a thesis option, student contributions to scholarly research and publication are expected to further increase, and more MSA graduates will pursue an academic career. In just over a decade, the MSA has come to embody the special mission of Ryerson University to advance “applied knowledge and research to address societal need”, and to offer “programs of study that provide a balance between theory and application and that prepare students for careers in professional … fields”.