By Shannon Boklaschuk
New University of Saskatchewan (USask) graduate Nikaela Lange was busy throughout her undergraduate studies—both on campus and off.
In addition to achieving excellent grades in her courses in USask’s College of Arts and Science, Lange took part in a wide variety of extra-curricular activities—from serving as an elected representative on the Political Studies Students’ Association (PSSA) to co-developing a community fridge in the Riversdale neighbourhood.
“Being on such a small campus was really nice for me. I got to know so many of the other students in my department, and I got the opportunity to have a lot of one-on-one time with professors at office hours, department events, etc. Building those relationships has been so essential to finding out about opportunities on and off campus, and to really get involved,” she said.
“This is how I was able to work as a research coach, as well as a research assistant in the summers, and to participate in department events such as Global Café. Before the campus closed in March 2020, I was spending usually 10 to 12 hours on campus, just going to events, having PSSA meetings, hanging out with my friends, studying in the library and working—it almost felt like home to me. I don't know if those sorts of opportunities are so plentiful on bigger campuses.”
Lange, who was born and raised in Dalmeny, Sask., entered university in 2016 without a clear picture of what she wanted to study. That changed when she discovered international studies, an interdisciplinary program housed in the Department of Political Studies.
“I really liked the idea of travelling the world for work, and I had had the opportunity to study abroad in Japan and to travel to France and Spain on a scholarship when I was in high school,” she said.
“I also thought I might want to do some sort of global advocacy work . . . . so when I saw international studies on the university website, it kind of clicked into place. I was open to the idea that I might change my mind and want to pursue something else, but as my time in university went on it became clear I was in the right program.”
Lange will now receive her Bachelor of Arts (honours) degree in international studies during USask’s 2021 Spring Convocation. She became involved in the International Studies Students Association (ISSA) during her first year of university, with the hope of making friends, and it proved to be great decision.
“At the end of that year, the ISSA dissolved—as most of the members had graduated—and was absorbed into the Political Studies Students’ Association. They needed someone to take on the brand-new role of vice-president international studies on the PSSA, and it didn’t seem like anyone else was going to run, so I ran for the position and was elected,” she said.
“It was a really good way to make friends and meet people in the department, both faculty and other students, and just generally to feel like I belonged on campus. I loved it so much, I’ve been on the PSSA since then.”
In addition to her work with the PSSA, Lange served as a First Year Research Experience (FYRE) coach on five occasions, starting in the winter of 2019. She said the fact that she has been involved with FYRE each semester since then “is a testament to what a good program it is.”
“I have done both International Studies 110 and Political Studies 112. The classes are primarily first- and second-year students, and it's really fun connecting with them and being able to pass on all the lessons I learned the hard way,” she said. “It’s also made me a better student. Sometimes, when I get stuck on something, I reflect on what I would say to a student in the FYRE program struggling with the same thing, and it helps to get a little bit of perspective and remember all of the options and resources that are available on campus.”
From May 2019 until March 2020, when the USask campus closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lange worked at the International Student and Study Abroad Centre. She and a friend planned hikes, shopping trips, visits to Wanuskewin Heritage Park and more, in an effort to showcase all that Saskatoon and USask have to offer.
“It was honestly the most fun job a university student could have,” she said. “My job was planning weekly events for international students on campus, although domestic students were always welcome and encouraged to come as well.”
Another highlight of Lange’s undergraduate experience was winning an award at the 2021 University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union (USSU) Undergraduate Symposium, an annual event highlighting the research, scholarly and artistic work of undergraduate students at USask. Lange received the Mayor’s and University President’s Award for her paper titled “Open-Source Intelligence in Pandemic Preparedness and Response and the Implications for Global Governance,” which argued that open-source intelligence is an invaluable tool for global governance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Currently, Lange is part of a small group looking to build a community fridge in Saskatoon’s Riversdale neighbourhood to help address food insecurity. She is working on the Riversdale Community Fridge project with four friends, Cleo Nguyen, Renata Cosic, Julianna Sparks and sister-in-law Danielle Lange, and together they have raised more than $10,000 so far to stock the fridge.
“The idea is that it will be an outdoor fridge and pantry offering 24/7 access to free food. People can take whatever they need, and are encouraged to donate whatever they can,” she said. “We are hoping it will eventually become self-sustaining, with people in the city coming together to try to combat food insecurity at the grassroots, person-to-person level.”
Now that Lange has completed her degree, she plans to return to university in 2022 to pursue a master’s degree and to continue her research on the use of open-source intelligence, global health and global governance. In the interim, she plans to work at the YWCA, where she recently landed a job as a development assistant.
“I was so excited when I saw the job posting; I really admire the YWCA’s values,” Lange said. “It’s such a special place to work, and I’ve really enjoyed my few weeks there so far. It is a one-year contract, which is perfect, because I am hoping to return to school in the fall of 2022 for my master’s degree.”