Convocation ‘22: Hannah Cunningham, MSc Environmental Sociology

Donna McKinnon - 6 June 2022

Building a career, one community at a time

Community engagement is a way of life for Hannah Cunningham. From ongoing research partnerships with Indigenous communities including Samson Cree Nation to volunteering with the Campus Food Bank and CJSR, the campus radio station, the people-focused environmental sociologist is always ready to step in and make a difference.

Though she admits to moments of shyness, and even feeling like an imposter from time to time, volunteering has been a way through the stress, she says, providing opportunities to learn, have fun and make life-long friends.

Delving ever deeper into community-based projects, this summer Hannah will continue her work as a research assistant with the Ărramăt Project, which brings together 150 Indigenous global organizations and governments with researchers at Canadian and international post-secondary institutions, including the University of Alberta, to build the capacity of Indigenous organizations to document, share and use their knowledge about the interconnections between biodiversity conservation and health and well-being.

Congratulations Hannah!

What led you to pick the U of A for your studies?
I'm a born-and-raised Edmontonian, so attending the U of A for my undergraduate degree was a way for me to go to a big school with lots of program options and stay (super) close to home! I stayed at the U of A for my master's degree when I decided to switch from agricultural sciences to environmental sociology because the Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology had so many great professors that I wanted to learn from.

What is one of your favourite memories from your time at the U of A?
One of my favorite memories was celebrating the wrapping up of CJSR's plebiscite campaign during the Students’ Union elections in 2019 — it was the first time I'd been involved in anything related to the Students’ Union elections and it was fun to feel really tuned in to campus and talk to so many people from different parts of the university! We worked so dang hard during that campaign, so it was fun to celebrate with friends.

Did you take on any leadership roles while you were a student?
I've been a volunteer with CJSR (the campus radio station) since 2018, and a couple of years ago I took on the role of show coordinator for Terra Informa, a weekly radio show (that airs across the country!) and podcast sharing environmental news, stories and ideas. Volunteering at CJSR has been such a great way to make friends — there are so many different shows and ways to volunteer, it's easy to find people with similar interests! Being the show coordinator for Terra Informa also helped me develop lots of skills that were super useful during my master's degree, like organizing groups of people, delegating tasks, interviewing people and getting creative with ways to present information to a public audience.

Did you face any significant obstacles or challenges during your program?
The year of coursework that was required for my master's degree was hard! Imposter syndrome is something that I think a lot of students deal with, and there were periods of time where I definitely didn't feel like I belonged in a master's program. Luckily, I have a fantastic group of friends that I made in my program, so we were able to hype each other up!

COVID also threw a major wrench into my data collection for my research — I was doing community-based research on Chronic Wasting Disease with Samson Cree Nation for my thesis, so once everything locked down, it was sad not being able to visit my research partners and work with community members. But, we adapted to doing everything online, and I think that through working online, we've been able to share our research on a much wider scale than might have been doable before through virtual conferences and presentations, which is awesome.

What advice do you have for current and future students?
Get involved, which was advice I also heard from others but didn't want to take for a long time, because I'm shy! But, it really is great advice — having friends that are also going through the university experience and can understand the stress and excitement of it all makes a huge difference. Volunteering is a great way to meet new people on campus. I have made lifelong friends from my volunteering at the Campus Food Bank and CJSR!

How do you plan on celebrating convocation?
Hopefully with a sunny day and a beer! Also looking forward to reconnecting with friends that I haven't seen while everything has been online.

What's next after graduation?
I'm excited to keep working on a continuation of my thesis project with our community partners for the rest of the year, along with some other awesome community-based projects focused on Indigenous-led climate change monitoring and storytelling. In the new year, I'm making the jump to government work as a policy analyst.