“If I met me in my first year, I wouldn’t even recognize me!”
Alicia Dyck knows that she has come a long way since her first semester at UFV. She recalls being a shy, quiet student who lacked a sense of belonging but in her third year, it all changed. “I used to feel like I was at UFV for no reason but then I found my real community and it was an instant click,” Alicia says.
“It took me a really long time to figure out what I wanted my major to be. I started in history, went to political science then thought I might want to be a teacher. I didn’t know anything about Global Development Studies (GDS). I looked into it and right away thought ‘oh my gosh, I want to do this’.’’
Alicia credits GDS for being the turning point in her university experience. In her 3rd year, she did a practicum with a lawyers group called Advocates Without Borders in South Sudan providing legal representation to anyone needing help, specifically combatting gender-based violence and campaigning for policies.
The next semester, Alicia registered for a course with Dr. Geetanjali Gill, who she came to admire greatly. Alicia emailed her and asked if she had any research assistant positions. Enter a ground-breaking opportunity in foreign climes!
In summer 2021, Alicia joined Dr. Gill and Catherine Liao’s project on Albinism in Sierra Leone. Her area of focus was gender-equity. “The project had ten gender champions who we trained remotely in a 4-hours session. Champions took what they learned back to their communities to share their learnings,” Alicia explains. In an effort to further empower persons with albinism in rural regions of Sierra Leone, gender champions were also taught the long-standing cultural tradition of weaving.
Reflecting on the experience, Alicia notes, “when you get to talk to the people you’re working with and they tell you how they’ve been impacted, it’s just the best feeling to know you made a difference. Seeing how you can take your breadth of knowledge, share it with someone else, then see the impact on their life is definitely a huge highlight!”
“I’m so grateful for Geetanjali and the opportunities. She’s my biggest role model,” Alicia says. “I’m excited to start our next project working with the George Washington Institute for Gender-equality. The topic is gender-based violence in refugee camps in Uganda and Lebanon.”
Expressing her appreciation for her research assistant experience, Alicia adds, “UFV is so unique in the fact that students get to do student research assistantships and conduct academic research as an undergrad. It’s a small community but when you make good connections, they really stick.”
Wishing she got involved with research sooner in her academic journey, she shares her advice for the shy student – “professors want to engage with you. They won’t even remember how awkward you were the first time you met. If you like what you study, you’ll love being a research assistant. It’s that simple.”
In addition to her amazing experiences, Alicia recognizes her academic advisor for countless hours of dedication and career advice. “Kristen Trustham, my advisor since day one, is the most amazing and supportive person. I’ve seen her every semester, including summer, and she has always guided me on the right path and encouraged me. I’m sure I changed my major like ten times!”
Following her practicum, Alicia knew she’d found her calling working in law and once again met with her advisor to confirm her academics were aligned with her career choice. She is thankful for the doors that were opened to her by her time in GDS and in the RA positions that followed. “My involvement with Advocates Without Borders was what got me thinking ‘I could really do this for the rest of my life!’” Alicia has completed her LSAT and is applying to law school.