Posted on April 29, 2016 by Tia Lalani

Three recent Augustana alumunae have received recognition and awards for work they did during their undergraduate degrees.

By Cameron Raynor

Augustana alumni have been gaining recognition for their work of late. Recent graduates Laura Friesen (BA Psychology ‘14), Erin Specht (BSc Environmental Sciences ‘15), and Brittany Johnson (BA English ‘15) have each been recognized for the outstanding work they did during their undergraduate programs at Augustana!

IMG_4821Laura Friesen

Laura Friesen found out last fall that the research she did in the last year of her undergrad at Augustana will be published in the Canadian Journal of Higher Education. The research focuses on barriers individuals from rural areas face accessing university. Friesen said she was “just really happy” to hear her work would be published.

Download her article here!

Friesen is currently completing her Master’s degree at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, and will be starting her PhD soon. “It’s so important if you’re going on to PhD to have some sort of publication,” said Friesen.

The inspiration for Friesen’s research on access to postsecondary education in rural communities stemmed from her own experiences growing up. She grew up in La Crete, AB and said the research is “a way to give back.” She hopes the research “might help recruitment offices know when to target people.”

Friesen aimed to understand why people from rural areas are less likely to attend university. She found there were a variety of reasons with some main ones being fear of losing their cultural identity, nervousness about living in an urban area and worries about student debt.

For Friesen, Augustana provided a great transition from rural Alberta into academia. She said even coming to Camrose was a culture shock compared to La Crete. While at Augustana, she had the opportunity to travel abroad to major urban centres in Germany, which she said really changed her perspective.

Friesen said she experienced many of the barriers that came up in her research first-hand, and didn’t know anyone at Augustana when she first move to Camrose to start her undergrad. “When I started it took a lot of adjustment,” she said. “Augustana provided a good transition for me.”

Friesen’s especially grateful for the mentorship of her professor Dr. Rebecca Purc-Stephenson and said the paper likely wouldn’t have happened without Purc-Stephenson’s guidance. “She really provided a lot of support, knowledge, and resources.”

GHoodESpechtTWS_Winnipeg2015Erin Specht

Erin Specht is the recent recipient of the Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award for her work researching policy and legislation surrounding the use of beavers as an ecological restoration tool. Erin’s work was also presented at the Wildlife Society’s 22nd Annual International Conference in Winnipeg, which attracted over 1,500 attendees.

Specht, who describes herself as “big policy wonk,” worked on the research project under the supervision of Augustana Environmental Science professor Dr. Glynnis Hood for four months. Her researched addresses the question, “How to we manage beavers, and how do we legislate their management?”

“My job was to go through a bunch of policy and regulation in Alberta, across Canada, and then even in other parts of the world to see how beavers are managed in general,” said Specht. In particular, she was looking at policy around using beavers for good. She found some jurisdictions are “really progressive in their management of beavers.”

By the end of the project, Specht had read over 30 pieces of legislation, each typically about 200 pages long and far from easy to read.

To win the Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award, Erin had to present her research at the Student Academic Conference.

At the conference, Specht had to present her work to a room full of professors who are typically seen by students as experts. “It was a good presentation. I was really nervous,” she said.

“They were all looking at me because I was the expert, I was supposed to have the answers,” said Specht. “I realized I knew 50 times more about this topic than anyone else sitting in the room.”

Beyond the Student Academic Conference at Augustana, Specht also presented her work at the Wildlife Society’s Annual International Conference in Winnipeg. Her presentation in Winnipeg is featured in an [article on] (

At the conference in Winnipeg, Specht met with other leading researcher in her field. “It was really cool to be surrounded by other people who were all passionate about wildlife and the environment, and were seeking solutions,” she said.

Specht is currently working at the Alberta Centre for Sustainable Rural Communities developing a social science framework for Alberta Parks to incorporate evidence and data into decision making. “[We’re looking at] how to do that in the most integrative and effective way,” she said.

Post - Brittany Johnson 2Brittany Johnson

Brittany Johnson recently won the $20,000 Métis Education Foundation’s Métis Scholar Award, the highest award granted at the university. Johnson graduated from Augustana in 2015 and is now pursuing a Master’s Degree at the Faculty of Native Studies in Edmonton.

Johnson was heavily involved on campus in her time as a student. She did a lot of work with the Aboriginal Students’ Office and served as the Aboriginal Students’ Representative on the Augustana Students’ Association for a year.

“I love Augustana so much,” said Johnson. “I’m still very involved on Augustana campus even though I no longer go to school here.”

It was Johnson’s experience at Augustana that lead her to pursue graduate studies at the Faculty of Native Studies.

“It was actually some senior level English courses I took. I started studying aboriginal literature written either by or about aboriginal women,” said Johnson. “And it just started making me think about a lot of different things that need to be studied, things that haven’t been brought to the forefront.”

Johnson is nearing the end of the course work portion of her masters and getting ready to begin work on her thesis. Her thesis, tentatively called “Sex, spirit and the indigenous erotic,” will explore the intersections between sexuality and spirituality.

With two kids at home, ages 6 and 8, the award money will be a big help for Johnson. She said she plans to use the money to pay tuition for her thesis, pay off credit card debt and put a portion into savings. She also plans do some little things for her kids.

“I want to plan a little weekend trip with the kids to Calgary and go to the zoo,” said Johnson. “We don’t normally get to do things like that so I think it would be really nice to get away with them.”

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