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Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Arts
August 24, 2016
Canadian Excellence

Nicole McCallum

As a student entering my 5th year at Laurier this September—which, I might add, is a respectable way to postpone the real world while being productive learning and exploring other valuable opportunities.

I am writing to share my experience as a global studies student and how I’ve been able to apply my education.  Why might you care about this?  I’ve done my degree in a not-so-common combination to yield some pretty fantastic results that I hope will inspire you.  In addition, as an elder of the undergraduate studies realm, I have learned a few ninja tricks about pursuing a degree as well as external opportunities that you may or may not find valuable (I’m aiming for the former).

I started at Laurier in 2005 as a Global Studies and Political Science double major.  After PO110 I quickly decided politics was not the discipline for me (kudos to those of you who can work out rational choice theory and legislative policies), so I switched to economics as my second major. 



Long story short, after countless administrative battles (exacerbated by the fact that I did absolutely no degree planning until third year) I was able to do economics and global studies as a double major.  This includes having taken a full term off (fall of second year), spending a term abroad in Amsterdam, and taking a minor as well.  I did my degree inside out, backwards, sideways, or however you want to put it to have made me a thorn in the University administration’s side. 

The point here is not to say that anyone else should do their degree as I did—quite the opposite actually, if you can manage to plan a bit more than I did you will save yourself and administration many, many headaches.  The point is that you can make your degree your own, tailored to what you want to do.  You can choose what you get out of the academic part of your university experience, so take risks, explore another option, take a term off, pursue other opportunities, etc.  Whatever you do, don’t be restricted by what you think you can or can’t do.  Utilize the available resources, ask questions, knock on doors, and be persistent until it’s annoying to determine your options.  There are always options. (I feel compelled to note here that the staff I dealt with in my administrative war were quite pleasant, it was protocol holding them back which was overcome through various petitions and letters. Ninja trick: you can petition anything.)

By exploring my options, I discovered economics was the perfect outlet for my desire to make a difference in the world—a passion fuelled by the development theory and global issues I examined in Global Studies.  I plan to pursue post graduate education in Economics, and you can bet my research will be focused on development economics, in which I will have an advantage from my global studies background.  While there were times the two disciplines butted heads, more often than not I found they worked well together in seeking solutions to various global issues.  Two economics courses in particular were valuable in tying together what I was learning in both fields: environmental economics (EC238) and development economics (EC203).  Both topics have been reapplied in the various volunteer opportunities I have dabbled in, proving time and again that my choices were tailoring my degree precisely how it would maximize my interest (and my academic A.D.D).

I did my GSE when I spent a (superbly incredible) term in Amsterdam.  After searching online via charity directories and good ol’ Google for something of interest, I applied and began working for an organization called the Commission for Migrant Filipino Workers (CMFW).  It focused on providing support and resources to the community of undocumented workers in Holland, as well as placing a strong emphasis on conducting primary research on the issue to present to government.  Academically speaking, the position banked mainly on my global studies background, but it turned out that the statistics background I had through economics was extremely valuable in aiding and understanding the research component.  In terms of my main responsibilities, I was in charge of fundraising and content development for an international conference we were putting on.  The applicable skills were either transferred from previous volunteer experience or developed as I went (nothing like diving in head first to learn something). 

The awareness and experience I gained about the workings of an NGO through my GSE, enhanced by the follow-up course (GS399), greatly helped me in my next endeavour.  Originally inspired by GS327, ecotourism, (and later affirmed by GG255k, a geography course on ecotourism and EC238), I co-founded, an online resource with material on environmental issues.  The idea is to help bridge the gap between those interested in the environmental movement, and those already established in it.  Some of our pillar academic-based articles are based on bringing important economic and statistical rationale to public eye, as well as to encourage members of the green movement to consider the social impact of climate change in terms of vulnerability—two focuses I’ve taken from exactly what I’ve learned in school. 

Another opportunity yielded from having rounded out my degree to the two fields came recently in my pursuit of some post-graduate prospects.  After networking with a woman for my own non-profit venture, I discovered she was one of the lead staff for the National Competitiveness Program in Guatemala.  The organization works on economic development in Guatemala, with her role being to research the human/social impact of the proposed economic development projects.  The organization pretty much embraces what I want to do as a career, so naturally I started picking her brain with vehemence comparable to that of a hungry cat on that soft, nasty smelling canned food.  With some back and forth communication, she and her boss decided my academic background was a perfect combination of what the organization embodied and offered me an internship position.  After quelling my excitement to a level I could function again, I discovered the program I’ll be working for is a World Bank project focusing on rural development—economically speaking, but using local communities as the foundation.  Perfect.

Ultimately, knowing and utilizing the resources and options available was, for me, the first step to maximizing my academic experience and making my degree my own.  It allowed me to examine countless options and seize many opportunities, and as soon as I get over my fear of real world responsibilities and apply to graduate, I will be left with an Honours Joint Degree in Global Studies and Economics and a French minor that extends to experience far beyond the books.