Convocation ‘20: Maryam Rana

Turning Compassion into Action

Brooke MacCallum - 5 June 2020

Maryam Rana, graduating with a double major in Sociology and Comparative Literature, is a forward-thinker. But like many students, she had a hard time adjusting to university and didn’t find her way until she became more involved in campus life.

As a tutor with the Centre for Writers (C4W), Maryam noticed that several students seeking help with their writing assignments were from the same course and had similar questions. She suggested assigning a “Class Group Tutor” to work closely with the instructor to help these students with their written assignments throughout the semester. Maryam became the first Class Group Tutor with C4W and created a handbook for future students and instructors interested in the program. The initiative is still in effect and has been incredibly useful in addressing students’ needs across a variety of courses.

Maryam also put her degree to work through a community-engaged certificate program which she says gave her an opportunity to do meaningful research for a local organization focused on helping people. It not only augmented her in-class studies, it helped her see the relevance of what she was learning.

After graduation, Maryam will take a gap year to work, relax, spend time with family and friends, and, with the same determination and thoughtfulness that marked her undergraduate journey, plan her next steps. 

What drew you to this area of study?

When I first got into university I was only a sociology major, and I actually became interested in the subject because of my high school English teacher (shout-out to Ms. Gordey!) because she had an MA in Sociology from the University of Alberta. I really looked up to her (I still do!) and asked her for tons of advice on post-secondary. When she described sociology to me, it sounded like exactly what I was looking for: a fulfilling degree that would teach me more about other people and help me understand society, its inequalities, and how to make it better.

With my second major in Comparative Literature, I took a Science Fiction class during the spring of my first year to fulfill a degree requirement. My professor Dr. Tsugumi Okabe was phenomenal; our class discussions were really interesting, and our reading list was the stuff of dreams. I was always a voracious reader but Comparative Literature brought me back to being twelve years old, reading ten books a week and enjoying reading so much.

What is the most remarkable thing you learned while you were a student?

I really enjoyed almost everything I learned in an academic context. Outside of academics, I would say the most remarkable thing I learned was that it really takes a village. I was this solitary little thing when I first started university at seventeen years old. I thought I had to and could do everything myself; that life was made by my abilities, my intelligence, my choices. And it is to some extent, but now after being done with school and looking back, so much of what carried me through school and helped me grow as a person was the people around me. I've had amazing, intelligent, and most importantly kind professors. I've learned a lot from them about what it means to be mature, to take responsibility, and to look after people who depend on you.

You are one of the first students to graduate from the Certificate in Applied Social Science Research. What did you learn from this experience?

I was really lucky because the Certificate in Applied Social Science Research (CASSR) became available right in time for my final year. I'd taken a statistics class with Dr. Michelle Maroto before and really enjoyed the experience, which is why I was interested right away when I found out about this new project of hers. I had some research experience already but taking the Applied Internship class to fulfill the certificate requirements was a whole new, amazing experience. Studying in university has always been enjoyable for me but it can sometimes be difficult to see the relevance of what you're doing outside of the academic space. While taking the internship class, I was able to work in a group developing a project and doing meaningful research for a local organization that focused on helping people. It was exactly what had motivated me to choose this degree in the first place. Applying for jobs now, I see the value of statistical education as well as experience working with organizations. I really recommend the certificate to anyone interested in public research or social sciences.

Did you face any significant challenges during your program?

I had a really tough time adjusting to post-secondary (and my first-year transcript can attest to this). There was always so much going on with family and school and work; I really thought that school may not be for me. In my first year, I didn't do anything on campus except go to class and study. Then I would go to work in retail, and then come home and crash. I really didn't enjoy university until my second year when I started becoming more involved in campus life. I started working at the Centre for Writers on campus and that experience helped me become a better student and a more compassionate and understanding person. Our academic director, Dr. Lucie Moussu, is the type of person to have high expectations and then give you all the tools you need to meet them. Knowing that somebody had high demands but also knowing I had her support and care did so much for my academic confidence, so I'm really grateful to her and to everyone at the Centre for Writers for the growth I experienced because of them.

How did you manage the challenges of navigating student life under COVID-19 restrictions and remote learning?

I think I'm lucky because I only had to do about a month of distance learning. I really don't know how to make it easier, if I'm being honest. You just have to take it day by day and give yourself and others the benefit of the doubt because everyone is going through upheaval. Lean on your support systems. I have great friends who are always willing to chat and calm me down when I'm anxious or sad, so don't let social distancing turn into emotional isolation.

What piece of advice do you wish someone had given you when you started?

It will be a lot easier to work hard if you enjoy what you're doing and learn to be comforted by instead of scared of change.


The Future is Arts! This story is part of a series celebrating our graduates. Please join us for a virtual convocation, Friday, June 12, at 10 a.m. MST. at Registration is not required.