It’s been the year of badass, powerful women. Every day I see Malala, Amanda Polchies, Laverne Cox, T-Swift, Beyonce, Mo’Ne Davis… the list goes on. However, the women in our lives display strength, intelligence, humility and success without a seat at an awards show. This series is a collection of women from diverse backgrounds and occupations – mothers, students, doctors, professors, scientists, carpenters, journalists and activists – who’ve had an influence on myself and those around me.
1. Dr. Karen Bourrier, professor
Karen is an assistant professor in the English department at the University of Calgary. She specializes in Victorian literature and culture, disability studies, women’s writing and the digital humanities. Her day-to-day isn’t all about watching Michael Fassbender as Rochester in Jane Eyre, however. “As a professor, my workload is 40% teaching, 40% research and 20% service (departmental committees etc.),” says Karen.
If you’re wondering if you can still study Victorian literature in 2014, the answer is yes. “My work is on Victorian literature and culture, which may seem esoteric, but the topics I research, including the representation of disability and the status of women’s writing, still have relevance today. I hope in my teaching to help students become critical readers and thinkers, and maybe to encourage them to read a 900 page novel or two that they wouldn’t have picked up on their own.”
How did Karen become a professor? “10 years of university and a lot of hard work, she says. “After finishing a BA in English at Queen’s University, I did an MA at Oxford and a PhD at Cornell, specializing in Victorian literature. I taught at Boston University and was a postdoctoral fellow at Western University before coming to the University of Calgary.”
Karen hopes to achieve tenure in the near future. She lives in Calgary with her husband, who is also a professor.
Learn more about Karen and her research here.
2. Kim Firmston, author
Kim is the author of 5 books, 4 of which are aimed at teens who struggle or are reluctant to read. She’s excelled as a writer and educator despite her dyslexia, because, well, she’s stubborn.
“Whenever I decide I want accomplish something, I point myself in that direction, and it happens, says Kim. “Of course that also entails hard work, struggle, failing, learning and carrying on no matter what the doubters say.”
Kim mixes strongly thematic work with relatable and often sic-fi or fantasy elements to reach a wide range of readers and students. “I am a writer, youth educator, and artist who assists kids in becoming more than they think they can be,” she says. “ I show youth they can follow their path no matter what their disabilities, uncertainties or issues might be and then I teach them to be fearless, hardworking and strong.”
Despite her already-wide influence, Kim wishes to go further. “I want to spread my philosophy of teaching through play around the world and completely shake up the system. I also wouldn’t mind a bit of fame from my writing, you know, to cover the bills.”
You can see more of Kim’s work here.
3. Keeta Gladue, youth worker
An absolute force to be reckoned with, Keeta is an aboriginal Canadian who has been a youth worker for the past 10 years. “A youth worker provides support in lives of youth who have fallen through the cracks of the various systems that are meant to help them,” she says. “I work both with the gifted and with youth who face barriers to everyday life.”
The path to become a youth worker was clear to Keeta: “It seemed obvious to me when I was younger that there was a gap between teachers and parents that many of my friends were falling through,” she says. “I started working with youth when I was 17 as a youth outreach worker with the Friendship Centre to see if there was a way I could help my peers and mentor those younger than me.”
“My goal in life is to take over the world, and that really is true. I believe the most effective and honest way to impact the future of where society is headed is to educate, support and engage the leaders of tomorrow by working with the youth of today,” says Keeta. “If I can add scope and perspective to the world of a youth, if I can give them information that makes them curious about the why’s and how’s of things and if I can stand as a protective barrier between those who are vulnerable and those who would take advantage of them, then well, anything is possible.”
Keeta currently works as a volunteer services coordinator at the University of Calgary, and plans to return to school in the coming years to complete her Masters in Social Work. “I am particularly interested in researching and creating new programs and resources to teach sexual health and wellbeing in a way that is more inclusive of gender and sexual diversity, as well as finding ways to support and educate parents on how to best talk with their kids about sex.”
Follow Keeta on Twitter @keydahg.
Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!