It’s been the year of badass, powerful women. Every day I see Malala, Amanda Polchies, Laverne Cox, T-Swift, Beyonce, Mo’Ne Davis… the list goes on.
However, there are women in our lives who display strength, intelligence, humility and success without a seat at an awards show. This series is a collection of women from diverse backgrounds and occupations – mothers, students, doctors, professors, scientists, carpenters, journalists and activists – who’ve had an influence on myself and those around me.
1. Dr. Karen Bourrier, Professor
Karen is an assistant professor in the English department at the University of Calgary. She specializes in Victorian literature and culture, disability studies, women’s writing and the digital humanities. Her day-to-day isn’t all about watching Michael Fassbender as Rochester in Jane Eyre, however. “As a professor, my workload is 40% teaching, 40% research and 20% service (departmental committees etc.),” says Karen.
If you’re wondering if you can still study Victorian literature in 2014, the answer is yes. “My work is on Victorian literature and culture, which may seem esoteric, but the topics I research, including the representation of disability and the status of women’s writing, still have relevance today. I hope in my teaching to help students become critical readers and thinkers, and maybe to encourage them to read a 900 page novel or two that they wouldn’t have picked up on their own.”
How did Karen become a professor? “10 years of university and a lot of hard work, she says. “After finishing a BA in English at Queen’s University, I did an MA at Oxford and a PhD at Cornell, specializing in Victorian literature. I taught at Boston University and was a postdoctoral fellow at Western University before coming to the University of Calgary.”
Karen hopes to achieve tenure in the near future. She lives in Calgary with her husband, who is also a professor.
Learn more about Karen and her research here.
Kim is the author of 5 books, 4 of which are aimed at teens who struggle or are reluctant to read. She’s excelled as a writer and educator despite her dyslexia, because, well, she’s stubborn.
“Whenever I decide I want accomplish something, I point myself in that direction, and it happens, says Kim. “Of course that also entails hard work, struggle, failing, learning and carrying on no matter what the doubters say.”
Kim mixes strongly thematic work with relatable and often sic-fi or fantasy elements to reach a wide range of readers and students. “I am a writer, youth educator, and artist who assists kids in becoming more than they think they can be,” she says. “ I show youth they can follow their path no matter what their disabilities, uncertainties or issues might be and then I teach them to be fearless, hardworking and strong.”
Despite her already-wide influence, Kim wishes to go further. “I want to spread my philosophy of teaching through play around the world and completely shake up the system. I also wouldn’t mind a bit of fame from my writing, you know, to cover the bills.”
You can see more of Kim’s work here.
An absolute force to be reckoned with, Keeta is an aboriginal Canadian who has been a youth worker for the past 10 years. “A youth worker provides support in lives of youth who have fallen through the cracks of the various systems that are meant to help them,” she says. “I work both with the gifted and with youth who face barriers to everyday life.”
The path to become a youth worker was clear to Keeta: “It seemed obvious to me when I was younger that there was a gap between teachers and parents that many of my friends were falling through,” she says. “I started working with youth when I was 17 as a youth outreach worker with the Friendship Centre to see if there was a way I could help my peers and mentor those younger than me.”
“My goal in life is to take over the world, and that really is true. I believe the most effective and honest way to impact the future of where society is headed is to educate, support and engage the leaders of tomorrow by working with the youth of today,” says Keeta. “If I can add scope and perspective to the world of a youth, if I can give them information that makes them curious about the why’s and how’s of things and if I can stand as a protective barrier between those who are vulnerable and those who would take advantage of them, then well, anything is possible.”
Keeta currently works as a volunteer services coordinator at the University of Calgary, and plans to return to school in the coming years to complete her Masters in Social Work. “I am particularly interested in researching and creating new programs and resources to teach sexual health and wellbeing in a way that is more inclusive of gender and sexual diversity, as well as finding ways to support and educate parents on how to best talk with their kids about sex.”
Follow Keeta on Twitter @keydahg.
Dr. Clara is a post-colonial scholar originally hailing from Bangalore, India. She’s now an associate professor at the University of Calgary. “I help to shape ethical leaders who are interested in social justice and have the skills to achieve their related goals,” she says.
If anyone knows the meaning of hard work, Dr Clara does. “I did a BA, MA (University of Toronto), and PhD (York University) in English, published in the area and applied to more than 200 job ads to finally get “here,” she says.
Dr. Clara has received several teaching awards for mentoring undergraduate and graduate students, writing pieces of academic interest and serving the university community. In the future she wants to become a much better servant to the university and wider community.
You can find her writing here.
Alexis is a writer and agricultural journalist from Edmonton. She works full-time for the newspaper, Alberta Farmer. “I do stories about agriculture, go to farm meetings, interview people, visit farms and write stories for our bi-weekly newspaper,” she says.
“I never planned to be an agricultural journalist,” Alexis notes, “I wanted to become a writer. I grew up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and did my first degree in International Studies. At the same time I was doing this, I was also writing and publishing poetry and short fiction.”
Alexis has since published 3 books. “When I was 23, I’d had enough of Joe jobs and I decided I needed to get a skill – something I could do to make money,” she says. “So I applied to go to journalism school and was accepted to Concordia University in Montreal. After school, I got a job at a small town newspaper in Wainwright, Alberta. I did a few agriculture stories. I then took some overseas internships, including one that took me to Mongolia for 4 months. I learned a lot more about agriculture there. Then I moved to Vancouver, where I freelanced for a while. When freelancing and being underemployed began to take its toll, I moved to Grande Prairie, Alberta, for a journalism job. I was hired because I could do arts and agriculture. In 2008, I took my current job with Alberta Farmer and moved to Edmonton. I work from home now, which I also love.”
As an agricultural journalist, Alexis provides information to Alberta’s farmers, talking to experts and sharing information. “I also share these stories to my social media, so I can debunk some of the urban population’s erroneous ideas about food and food production,” she says. “I can take a lot of information and compress it so people can get the vital information they need.”
Alexis wants to continue to write and see where her career takes her, “My job has taken me to a lot of unexpected places,” she says. “In 2012, I went to Sweden on a bursary to attend the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists conference, which was life changing. I’ve also acted as a journalist on a study tour through the Philippines in 2008. I love both travelling and writing, and I try to remain as open as possible. I’ve written two books of poetry, and a biography and I’m working on my fourth book, which is a novel with a rural theme. I just want to keep on writing, creating and learning. I’m open to whatever that means, really.”
You can read her writing here.
Lisa is the director of Loft 112, a creative space in Calgary, Alberta’s East Village. The former director of Wordsworth, a summer creative writing residency for youth, Lisa works with teen writers and as a consultant for teen writing programs with the Writers’ Guild of Alberta.
“Creating spaces where people can come together to collaborate, learn and debate, meet and make their own opportunities is what I feel I do best,” she says. “These spaces are inclusive, welcoming, safe and fluid – in order to change with better ideas and input.”
Lisa holds a B.Ed from the University of Calgary and a M.Ed from McGill University and an Adult Education Diploma from Mount Royal University. “I chose to continue to McGill because it offered a program in inclusive education and I wanted to ensure I was as educated as I could be in creating welcoming environments for diverse learners,” she says. “I’ve taught elementary to college classrooms and then I found myself in Houston Texas working for an organization called Writers’ in the School. My most amazing job was WordsWorth Creative Writing Residency for young writers. These last two jobs have led me to find myself more of a community place maker.”
Lisa’s extensive work inspiring, educating and motivating youth was spurred by a personal desire to create. “While I enjoy promoting the craft of other creative beings, I want to learn how to carve out time to honour the writer in me and get my novel finished and published,” she says.
You can take a look at the creative space Lisa curates here.
Susie is a faculty member in Medicine at the University of Calgary. “I take pride in training research students from high school, university and post-graduate levels as well as postdoctoral fellows,” she says.
In order to get where she is today, Susie obtained a PhD in Comparative Pathology at the University of California in Davis, and lives in Calgary with her husband and children. In the future, Susie would like to continue to promote the value of medical research through research and training, and in teaching a cancer biology course at the University of Calgary.
Susie hopes to discover novel roles of neutrophils (a specific type of white blood cells) in the body’s immune response to infection and cancer.”
When Shandy Smith became pregnant at 18 years old, she and her husband were overjoyed, despite their young age. They had been told that Shandy may never be able to bear children. A talented writer and spoken word artist, and provincial science fair champion, Shandy has worked as a summer research student for the University of Alberta, and held a place on the Minister’s Student Advisory Council.
For a 20 year old, Shandy has lead a rich life, but nothing prepared her for how fulfilling motherhood would be. “I am a mother, a wife, a poet and a full-time student,” she says. Shandy says that the birth of her daughter didn’t put a damper on her career, or her desire to contribute to her community in any way possible.
“Right now I’m volunteering with groups on campus to raise awareness for gender-based violence,” she says. “Recently I’ve been invited to perform as a spoken word artist on issues of sexual assault and consent. Additionally, my husband and I try to donate blood as often as we can – it’s actually become a date night of sorts. When our daughter is older we plan to take on more volunteering opportunities as a family.”
With the tremendous support of my husband, family, friends and teachers, Shandy started university when her daughter was barely 2 months old. She says she wouldn’t have been able to keep it up without the unconditional support – and free babysitting – that her parents and in-laws provided. “When I finally finish my Education degree, I plan to begin a career as an English or Social Studies teacher and slowly work my way to my masters,” she says.
Sue is an X-ray application specialist for a large medical company in a specialized field. She attends sites locally and overseas where new high-end specialized X-ray systems have been installed. “My role,” she says, “is to ensure a smooth transition by observing workflow, teaching and customizing software, and acting as a mentor for X-ray techs where needed to ensure that every site gets the most value out of their new high tech system.”
Sue has over 30 years of experience as a Radiographer (also known as an X-Ray tech). “After all this time, I am still in awe of the science behind how X-rays really work, and of the transition [that has happened] over that period [in order] to provide us with the truly amazing state of the art X-ray systems we use today,” she says.
Sue says she feels that her contribution to society is mentoring, and sharing her experiences so that the best radiographic outcomes can be achieved at every customer site, for every patient.
“For now, [I am] enjoying clinical involvement [and] positive outcomes. [I am] thankful for the opportunity to travel, to learn at conferences, and [to have met] all of the wonderful people I have been fortunate enough to meet,” she says.
Through her work, Sue has travelled the world, recently visiting places like Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, Bangkok and Turkey just in the past year! She lives in Queensland, Australia with her golden retriever, Daisy.
Cara is a finishing carpenter, which means she builds interior woodwork such as fireplace mantles, bookcases, stair railing, etc. Cara lives in Okotoks, Alberta with her family and their dogs. “I construct quality products to enhance the beauty and functionality of a home and to custom build elements to suit the needs of the individual home builder,” she says.
Cara didn’t always see herself as a finishing carpenter, however. “I had just left my job as a travel consultant and was doing manual labour on a construction site while I tried to figure out what my next move would be,” she says. “I was tired of working behind a desk. I spent a few days shoveling gravel, when one of the carpenters asked if I was interested in learning finishing. He taught me the basics and after that it was trial and error.”
Cara operates from her own company, C. Whiteside Carpentry Ltd., and in the future would like to continue in the field, doing something not quite as labour-intensive but something still using tools and making things.
The greatest lesson we can learn from these women is to let our dreams take us in the direction of the right lifestyle for us. Instead of working overtime to pay for a vacation, we should all try to work towards a career or lifestyle that we don’t want to jump on a plane to escape from (although vacations are still nice).
What’s your dream job? Let me know in the comments below!
Photo of woman examining x-ray is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.