4 minute read

Borne on the Winds of Change

Outstanding Acadia experience gave energy meteorologist Matt Corkum a wonderful gift: independence

It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good. An old proverb, to be sure, but Matt Corkum (’06) can vouch for its continued veracity in today’s high-tech world. His job with Dynasty Power in Calgary is to forecast weather and wind for power markets in Canada and the United States.

“Basically, I’m an energy meteorologist,” Corkum says. “My company trades electricity and natural gas. You may say, ‘What does that have to do with weather?’, but when it comes down to it, weather has to do with everything. We trade kind of like a stock market and what drives the price on a fundamental scale is supply and demand.

Supply is somewhat fixed, but the weather drives electricity demand. If it’s hot outside, everyone turns on the A/C; if it’s cold outside, everyone cranks the heat; if it’s cloudy during the day, everyone keeps the lights factors increase the demand. My main function at the company is to turn weather into an electricity demand forecast.”

Corkum came to Acadia in the fall of 2002 after graduating from Park View Education Centre in Bridgewater, N.S., where he was class valedictorian. He arrived with some degree of anxiety because he was leaving behind his entire support system. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was 18 months old, he had been dependent on his mother and teaching assistants to do his actual writing (scribing) for him.

“When I moved to Acadia, that was a super scary time for me, not knowing how this was going to play out. I actually can’t do any handwriting and so all throughout public school, mom played a huge role. After working hard all day she would spend her evenings scribing for me. At school, I had teaching assistants to help with tests and exams.”

His fears were quickly allayed when Acadia’s Physics department, combined with Accessible Learning, provided a senior physics student to act as his scribe. “I would meet him in the evenings and tell him what to write. He’d write it down and then he’d do the same for me for tests and exams. On exams, I got up to double the time that others did because it took me a long time to explain things.”

Greater independence

In his sophomore year, Matt discovered a new computer program that allowed him to do math and physics equations more easily. This gave him greater independence, although he still had a scribe available when needed. Toward the end of his third year, an opportunity arose that proved to be a turning point in his life. “Dr. Richard Karsten, head of the math department, offered me a position for the summer to work with him researching ocean currents in Antarctica,” Corkum says. “That really got me on track to discover what research really was. It was all computer simulations so I could do it independently, without a scribe. I was his only student and we worked really well together.”

But it wasn’t all academics. That summer his social life blossomed, too. “It changed my social life forever. I don’t know how many stayed to do research in sciences, but not that many. You become family. We were having barbecues almost every night or having dinner together. We had a softball league where the physics department played the math department and the biology department.”

When the summer was over, Corkum was still unsure what specific career direction to pursue, although he knew that he wanted to do his Master’s and continue doing research. “I always loved the weather and meteorology, but I wasn’t sure what path would take me there.” He was accepted into several graduate programs, but decided to go to Dalhousie to pursue Oceanography and Atmospheric Science.

Corkum and his mother had chosen Acadia after careful scrutiny, and their proactive approach paid off. The Acadia Advantage program, under which he would be given a laptop for labs, had piqued his interest and several meetings with Acadia people followed. Today, Matt looks back at his Acadia days with fondness and appreciation. “My Acadia experience is what made me who I am today,” he says.

Effective advocate

Corkum has become a dedicated and effective advocate for those with cerebral palsy and other disabilities. “When I was younger I got made fun of and in my undergrad years I knew it was there, but didn’t see the importance of advocacy. However, as I go through life and now in my working career, I see how people just don’t understand how people with disabilities can contribute to society. Everything comes down to understanding it. Even the medical school here in Calgary had me come in to talk to their first-year medical students to explain the disability by explaining my life. If doctors need that, the public needs it even more.”

Of the three universities he attended – Acadia, Dalhousie and York (where Matt earned his PhD in Atmospheric Science) – Corkum gives Acadia top marks for the assistance they gave him to continue his studies. “Acadia was by far the best, both in their willingness to provide scribes and in their easy access to someone who could help you,” he says. “They set it up and you didn’t have to jump through a hundred hoops. I talked to one person and they made it happen. My first meeting at Acadia was with James Sanford (Executive Director, Student Services, ’87). He took a big interest in accessibility.”

When Corkum graduated from Acadia in 2006 he was again class valedictorian and in the audience that day were Chesley and Betty Fulton. Chesley’s cousin Gloria Fulton had cerebral palsy and Matt’s speech motivated them to establish the Gloria Fulton Memorial Scholarship, awarded annually to an Acadia student with a physical disability, with preference given to an entering student from Nova Scotia. It is indeed an ill wind that blows nobody any good.

To learn more about Corkum’s advocacy for cerebral palsy, please visit:

https://www.matthewcorkumspeaking. com/.