Meet our Alums!
The Program in American Studies takes great pride in the talented students we attract to our programs, and the many accomplishments of our graduates. Some have launched successful careers in government, non-profits, and the private sector. Others work in Digital Media, Broadcasting, and Corporate or Political Consulting. Many others have continued on to pursue higher education in MA and PhD programs, Law School, or Teacher's College. A number of our students have participated in internship positions in Canada and the United States. We have no doubt they will continue to draw upon their experiences in the American Studies program as they carve out their own paths.
We invite you to meet some of our students as they share their experiences in the American Studies program, their career paths, and their hopes and plans for the future.
Joshua Kurkjian (MA, ‘13)
Director of Research and Policy Development
Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce
Joshua Kurkjian graduated from the American Studies program in 2013, where his research centered on North American trade. Today, Josh directs research and policy initiatives for the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, a membership-based, non-profit organization that represents the interests of private enterprise in the province. “I love working with entrepreneurs and businesses,” he says, “but I'm also a policy super-nerd by nature, so this position is a wonderful amalgamation of my two major passions in life.” He believes that the skills he developed at Western gave him a competitive advantage when he applied for his current position in February 2017: “Based on my own experience, graduates from Western are highly sought after by employers here in Saskatchewan.”
Kurkjian reports that the American Studies Program's unique strength is its interdisciplinary nature: “It is tremendously beneficial to expose incoming students to the perspectives of different academic disciplines. In addition, I find that having a multidisciplinary team in a workplace setting can often mitigate against group-think, and can lead to better work-related outcomes overall. The world is rapidly changing and the historical notion of academic disciplines existing as these silos or semi-autonomous fiefdoms is going the way of the dodo bird. The benefits of cross-pollination are too great to ignore.”
Josh reports that what he loved about Western included: “its aesthetically pleasing campus, its strong sense of school pride, as well as the very lively social scene.” He also continues to reap the benefits of the relationships he formed at Western: “During my time as a graduate student at Western, I had the pleasure of forming meaningful friendships with wonderful people that I still keep in touch with to this day. Believe it or not, some of the most valuable lessons you will receive during your tenure as a student here will be learned outside the stoney confines of the academy walls. And that's a good thing. Since graduating in 2013, I've also attended the annual Homecoming weekend on a number of occasions and I always look forward to it.”
His advice for students entering the American Studies M.A. program?
- Be open-minded but not empty-headed - be open to different experiences and different ways of thinking. Ignore the urge to retreat into your own echo chamber.
- Get involved with clubs and extra-curricular activities.
- Your instructors have office hours for a reason - don't be afraid to proactively solicit their feedback on a regular and informal basis. They are a wonderful resource, use them.
- NETWORK NETWORK NETWORK!
Caroline Diezyn (MA, '12)
Ph.D. Candidate, English and Writing Teacher
Caroline remains associated with Western both as a teacher and as a student: Diezyn is a Ph.D. candidate in English at Western, where her research is on representations of witches and witch hunts in American literature and culture. She has also taught English for Academic Purposes at CultureWorks (at Western) and Academic English Writing at the University of Aix-Marseille in Aix-En-Provence, France (through an exchange program at Western). She started a small business for her poetry and art and has travelled and delivered papers at academic conferences. She notes “the American Studies program helped me get to these places by expanding my horizons and encouraging me to take risks in my work.”
Diezyn notes that the American Studies “program's interdisciplinary nature helped open my eyes to all sorts of new avenues of exploration ... I left the program with a breadth of knowledge I never would have gained in a narrower program. The program challenges you to think about your areas of interest differently by getting you to approach it from diverse angles. I had to learn and practice new types of research and writing and I developed skills like writing an abstract, a conference paper, a proposal-- skills I still use in my academic and professional lives.” She continues: “the best and most useful experience I had as a graduate student in American Studies at Western was our seminars. Our professors were excellent and having classmates from all different academic backgrounds made every class engaging and interesting.”
Her advice to students entering the American Studies M.A. program?
1. Attend talks and other events even if the topics don't seem to be directly related to your interests, because you will make great connections and always learn something new.
2. Take risks and let the new experiences shape you.
3. Enjoy every minute -- the year went way too quickly!
Tristan Johnson (MA ’14) Step Back History
Tristan is the founder, writer, and star of a YouTube channel called “Step Back History” (StepBackHistory.com) He has also produced campaign videos for the NDP, and online content for a variety of other clients.
He loves this work: “Step Back is amazing because I get to engage my diverse interests and skills. My weekly schedule involves a lot of writing, editing, and researching but at the same time drawing, recording audio, and editing video. If it wasn't for the skills I learned making writing and research part of my daily life in the American Studies program, I wouldn't be able to make such a schedule work.”
How did his degree prepare him for a 21stcentury job?
“American studies helped me break out of the established way I did things. As soon as I arrived, I was a History BA taking graduate level Political science courses and TA’ing a children's literature course. All of this was while I read complicated readings introducing myself to theory. It was a hard year, but I firmly believe I came out of that a much more intellectually capable and flexible person. American studies let me learn how to talk in a lot of different conversations and taught me how to figure something out when left to my own resources. I might not know a thing, but I know how to know about that thing!”
What does he think are the benefits of an MA in American Studies?
“American studies is a very wide open subject area. You might find yourself gravitating to a subject that doesn't feel academic, but don't let that stop you. I wrote a treatise on post-9/11 Islamophobia and a post-structuralist critical analysis of the Hunger Games while in the program! My cohort had a breakdown of neoliberalism and neoconservatism, and in the same class a feminist analysis of Playboy magazine.”
Why do this degree at Western?
“What I enjoyed about Western the most was the multitude of opportunities to branch out and try things. Over my time there I worked for the union and produced a radio show. My undergraduate school was very small, and so opportunities like this were few, so I really enjoyed the chance to get involved in so many ways.”