Feb. 1, 2021
Alumni Building a Community of Gratitude
What is the common thread connecting a planning professor from Ontario, a young woman who grew up on a small island with design aspirations and a civic-minded woman from British Columbia?
For as long as she can remember, Alana Kerr (MArch’21) has had an interest in architecture. Growing up, unlike many of her peers, she spent more time thinking about and designing dollhouses than playing with dolls.
Jennifer Comrie (MPlan’20) had an interest in environmental studies and history. By ‘chance’, a co-op work experience doing engagement/stakeholder relations introduced her to professional planners. They were talking about the things that really mattered to her.
When the time came for Kerr to choose an area of study after high school, she opted to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Calgary, where she could study architecture through the Architectural Studies Minor, the only one if its kind in Canada.
Kerr was smitten with the field’s possibilities and the potential for impact on people’s lives and wellbeing. She enrolled in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape* (SAPL)’s Master of Architecture (MArch) program and plans to graduate this Spring.
Comrie applied to SAPL’s Master of Planning (MPlan) program because it was design-based, rather than policy-based.
“I never thought of myself as someone who could communicate visually – that’s one of the strengths of the MPlan program, it really encourages people to combine the written with the visual into a compelling narrative. It’s a kind of work with endless possibilities.”
Both students received financial support for their studies from the SAPL Alumni Scholarship Endowment – Comrie in 2019 and Kerr in 2020. The workload for the MArch and MPlan degrees is grueling at times and both Kerr and Comrie are immensely grateful for the chance to focus on their studies without having to work outside of school.
To be considered for the Scholarship, Comrie and Kerr had to write an essay about their commitment to fostering community. Kerr wrote about her volunteer work as a member of the SAPL Student Association and a founding member of the Advocates for Equitable Design Education (AEDE) organization, created during the intersection of last summer’s global pandemic and protests for social justice.
“The Scholarship has given me an opportunity to focus on my studies and really get involved with the SAPL community. [My contribution] would have been much more limited if I’d had to work,” Kerr explains.
Comrie wrote about being involved with her Community Association, and her advocacy on behalf of the people who live there. Reflecting back, she notes “I felt really grateful throughout my time at SAPL that I was able to treat school like my job and this scholarship really helped make that happen. Not everyone gets to do that in graduate school.
Four decades before Comrie and Kerr would arrive at the University, a man from Ontario found himself faced with the possibility of being downsized from his job. Mark Seasons (MEDes’85) had moved to Calgary, where he was working at the City as a planner, when an economic downturn forced him to reconsider his professional options. Inspired by colleagues with graduate degrees from prestigious institutions, he decided to expand his skillset by applying for a Master of Environmental Design (Planning) at the University of Calgary. The degree changed his life as he blossomed into an exceptional student with support and encouragement from the faculty.
“I have really positive memories of being given a chance to try something and do well at it,” he enthuses. “[That degree was a] springboard for a doctoral program and the rest of my career. I’m at the stage where I’m benefiting from all these opportunities that the School* allowed me to tap into. [Donating to the Alumni Scholarship Endowment is my way of saying] thanks for the kindness, generosity and the skills and knowledge they imparted to me.”
What began with a $20.00 donation in 2004, has grown into an endowment valued at $70,000. Currently, this provides a $3,000 annual scholarship. Through generous support of the annual mail campaign and Giving Day, alumni continue to help this fund grow.
John Brown, Dean, recognizes the impact of the Endowment, which has been built up over the years by hundreds of donors. “It’s an inspiring example of the power of a group of people working towards a shared objective. Individual alumni bring their personal capacity to the larger initiative--paying it forward. The result is a big win for current and future students.”
Alana Kerr is already thinking about ways for alumni to give back to School out of gratitude for her experience. “I would love to do that.”
If you would like to add your support to the SAPL Alumni Scholarship Endowment, or any of our other funding priorities, please visit our website to make a one-time, quarterly or monthly donation.
*The School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape was known as the Faculty of Environmental Design prior to 2019.