Susannah Church (BA'12)

A lot of interesting electives

SOSA_Susannah-Church_crop

I’ve found that working with at-risk youth doesn’t just require me to be an active listener but also to show genuine interest and concern for what a person has to say about their perspective and experience.

   

“I was always interested in culture, travel and human behaviour,” says Torontonian Susannah Church. Despite knowing this, she wasn’t sure when she started at Dal what her major area of study would be. “I started taking SOSA courses in my second year,” she says. After taking third year off to travel in South America, she says she returned “more focused” and decided to add Psychology courses to her program.

The flexibility of the degree allowed this and gave her “the opportunity to take a lot of interesting electives” while working toward her double major in Sociology & Social Anthropology and Psychology.

As she prepared to enter the job market, meeting with a Dalhousie career counselor “was very helpful in setting goals and realizing my strengths.” On top of her double major, Susannah worked under Dr. Michael Unger in the Resilience Research Centre, where she “interviewed at-risk youth on their experiences in youth advocacy programs and anti-gang violence programs in the Halifax/Dartmouth.”

The healing powers of the wilderness

Experiences like this no doubt bolstered her CV as she looked for work – and may have led to her current position as an instructor for New Vision Wilderness, in Bend, Oregon. The organization offers a wilderness therapy program for “struggling” adolescents and young adults. She also worked for Alaska Crossings, “guiding 48-day wilderness therapy expedition programs” with at-risk boys and girls.

Susannah is an advocate for nature’s therapeutic benefits: “I love working in the outdoors and strongly believe that being in nature is a therapeutic experience in itself,” she explains. “I have seen some amazing progress with participants in the wilderness therapy programs. It is a hard job, and it has required me to make some big sacrifices and move far from home, but in the end it’s worth it.”

Understanding complexity

Dal’s SOSA program helped prepare her for the work she’s doing now: “Many of those courses taught me that you can always study a population, but you can never completely understand the complexity of it,” she says. “I think when working with at-risk youth, it’s important to show commitment to learning about them, but never pretend like you fully understand the adversity they have faced.”

She’s applying to do a “master of social work at UBC Okanagan, to pursue my interest in therapeutic programs similar to wilderness therapy field guide or youth counselor,” she says. Eventually, she’d like to work as a clinician for a wilderness therapy program.

Susannah appreciates the help Dal professors have offered along the way – both during her degree and after. “Dr. Martha Radice has been my main connection to Dalhousie since I graduated. She’s written numerous reference letters and has always been accommodating. Being connected with a professor who understands your academic skills is essential when pursuing graduate studies and meaningful work experience.”