Students create their own paths through rural and Indigenous community internships

Three Augustana students share their experiences with summer internships in rural and Indigenous communities through a Pathways Program.

Tia Lalani - 20 December 2018

By Sydney Tancowny

Augustana's 2018 Pathways Scholars Melissa Wilk, Hailey Smith and Madison Pearson shared their experiences at a wrap-up dinner on campus in August.

Three Augustana students demonstrated their exceptional initiative and abilities this past summer with the first Pathways Program student placements. These Pathways scholars implemented their learning and skills to the benefit of rural and Indigenous communities in our region. This distinctive, donor-funded program matches the skills and interests of Augustana students with the opportunities and needs in rural and Indigenous communities with the goal of opening student thinking to the long-term career possibilities in these, or similar, communities. In many ways, this experience is distinctive from larger university campuses where quite often students are training for careers in urban centres and larger organizations.

The Pathways Program provides an opportunity for third and fourth-year students to develop and undertake a summer research project as an intern with a community organization, municipal agency or not-for-profit that will help to ensure the continued vibrancy and health of rural and Indigenous communities. The program challenges Augustana students to both create a project or opportunity and-working with the support of campus faculty-find a partner to assist in the execution of their project. These funded placements expand research experience, nurture leadership skills, establish professional contacts and help students picture themselves developing careers within their home or similar communities. As you will read in the profiles below, in each of this summer's placements students worked with their community partners on evidence-informed projects that supported both their academic learning and the specific needs within their chosen community.

For more information on this program, on how you can support a Pathways student or become a partner, please contact Augustana's Office of Advancement at 780-679-1558 or

Melissa Wilk with WIN EcoSciences

Over her time as a Global and Development Studies student, Melissa often found herself frustrated by classroom learning: "It's challenging to constantly listen to the academic higher-ups talking about ecological problems with little emphasis on the solutions."

However, her placement with WIN EcoSciences-a land-based education organization that works to increase resilience-gave Melissa the opportunity to finally address these problems. Helping to establish both a permaculture program at Ermineskin School and the intensive, two-week Permaculture Design Certificate program in Maskwacis, her project was centred around creating food security in a community where healthy food can often be quadruple the price than in neighbouring towns. Certificate participants-in addition to learning about organic gardening, sustainable growing, food forestry and more-also helped in the construction of an edible landscape at Ermineskin School, which was designed to complement the land in that it is low maintenance and water resilient.

With her project taking place in a community that lives with generational trauma, grief, mental illness and other challenges, Melissa soon came to find that their project was just as important for the people as it was the land. The certificate program-that was joined by 20 community members- offered the opportunity for participants to reconnect to their culture through the land and create a tangible example of success. To Melissa, "The heart of the project was the people, not the dirt."

The creation of the Pathways Program was paved with a generous gift from alumnus, Gordon Warnke. Warnke-who grew up in Westaskiwin-now works as a lawyer in New York City, but still holds a place in his heart for both Alberta and his alma mater. "My education has been a life changer for me. Being at Augustana, which back in my day was Camrose Lutheran College, felt like a chance to expand your horizons beyond your own community," says Warnke. To Warnke, rural and Indigenous students advancing their education should be viewed as a benefit to their home communities, rather than a risk. "I think it's only through the combined aspects of education and local experience that you can develop ideas that best suit the community."

Hailey Smith with the Vulcan Recreation Department

After graduating this June, Hailey Smith returned to a community near her home for her Pathways internship. Placed within the Vulcan Recreation Department, Hailey's role was to help establish relationships with other organizations and support current department projects to promote Vulcan as an exciting place to live. Originally from Champion, Alta. (only 20km outside of Vulcan), Hailey was able to use both her childhood experience and university education to inform her work. From advertising to creating program evaluations to developing her own summer and community programs, Hailey's unique perspective coloured her work to promote the community near her hometown. Now working towards her master's in Speech-Language Pathology, Hailey was thrilled to have the opportunity to apply her personal aspirations and past Community Service-Learning placement to create a new and unique Story Adventure Camp for the children of Vulcan. This camp focused on literacy in children and even put Hailey in connection with individuals from the Rainbow Literary Society, a local literary society, who have invited her back to give her own presentations to the group on the importance of reading to and with your child at a young age. "I have seen how those who want to support communities within the county step up in huge ways to make so many of the events planned a success. I was so thrilled to see new things happening and to be a part of growing these new programs," said Hailey.

Madison Pearson with Parkland County

Madison's placement took her, quite literally, out of a cubicle and into the field. Having conducted research on rural broadband (internet access) with the Alberta Centre for Sustainable Rural Communities a year prior, Madison's work with Parkland County bridged theory and practice. Traveling to different counties for programming ideas and interviewing community members of various ages helped Madison "experience, for the first time, how important broadband is for rural communities, not just on paper, but through human experience."

As an aspiring law student, Madison was given the opportunity to work with policymakers and write a memorandum of understanding as part of the county's Smart Parkland program. As a county-wide program that looks to tackle their specific needs in regards to broadband access, Smart Parkland is unique in that it looks beyond just connectivity: Knowledge Workforce, Digital/Social Inclusion, Innovation, Marketing, Advocacy and Sustainability are all pillars in the program. An unexpected benefit is that Madison's work with Smart Parkland may assist more than just the county. During her placement, Maddison compiled a "cookbook" that could be shared-detailing the successes and failures of the Smart Parkland program to act as a reference for other counties and communities to learn from and apply. "I'm proud to be a Pathways Scholar," says Madison, "and I hope others will have the same opportunity I did."

To learn more about these Pathway journeys, please visit the Pathways Scholar's Blog.

This story was originally published in the Fall 2018 Circle Magazine.