Graduates Feature: Naomi Pearson, MIPP ’19

What is your current position?

Death Review Project & Committee Manager for the Nova Scotia Medical Examiner Service / Justice & Community Safety Consultant for Wahnapitae First Nation.

What attracted you to your program of study at the BSIA?

The MIPP and (BSIA in general) had a reputation with undergraduate students in Waterloo as the graduate program where students who were passionate about policy and international relations attended. At first I wasn’t sure I’d be able to handle the math/statistics side of the program so I went in another direction and obtained an MA in Religion, Culture & Global Justice. In the end, my passion for intersectional issues, security, and access to justice still placed me firmly in the policy sphere – and I was still interested in furthering my education and skills. I had been volunteering for Dr. Alistair Edgar at the time – who was affiliated with the MIPP – and he strongly encouraged me to apply. I was accepted, survived the program and the rest is history!

What was the most impactful experience you had while completing your graduate degree?

This is a hard question to answer because the program impacts and changes you in many ways. I won’t lie – the program is hard and tests you in ways you don’t expect, but it’s worth it. If you want to work on complex or ‘wicked’ policy problems, you need to be prepared to have the gauntlet thrown at you. In many NGO and government sectors, issues can arise very quickly, which require an immediate, measured and informed response. The structure of the MIPP really teaches you how to handle this pressure and look at policy issues from multiple angles. For me, the combination of amazing professors, the Graduate Fellowship, and the comradery in the program were extremely impactful and still affect how I carry out my work today.

Tell us about your job, what do you do?

In my day job, I work for the Nova Scotia Medical Examiner Service. This is a relatively new role for me but I absolutely love it. Death investigation and death review is currently a big topic in both public health and justice circles, so I’m thrilled to be able to help with this work. My role is working directly under the Chief Medical Examiner (Dr. Matthew Bowes in Nova Scotia) as the project manager for provincial death review committees which have been stood up by the minister of justice. When people die under certain circumstances, according to the Fatalities Act there is a duty to investigate/interrogate the systems at play. Largely these committees are looking towards improving systems and being proactive in public health, so as to not just respond to death, but see if it can be prevented for the public good.

In my “after hours” role as Justice & Community Safety Consultant for Wahnapitae First Nation (located in Capreol, Ontario), I work in helping to create greater access to justice services for the community. This means liaising with the Courts, Anishinaabek Police Service, and government to help make WFN safer for its members. It also means advocating for greater recognition of the inherent rights of Indigenous persons and communities to create and enforce their own laws, on their own lands, for their own people.

How does your work help make a difference?

My work with NSMES and the Death Review Committees has the ability to recommend changes to systems throughout government, and the end result of this will hopefully be to save lives. It’s not necessarily easy to measure success in this area, because if all goes well, no one will ever hear about the situations which the committee’s work and recommendations have changed, because they will never end up as a fatality – which is the ultimate goal! For my work with WFN, making a difference can simply be answering the phone and helping an Elder access resources which they are struggling to find, or coordinating with police and emergency services to respond to an emergency on the Reserve. It may also be putting safety planning in place which prevent accidents or altercations from occurring, which has the same result as my other job – if I do it right, I’ll never know! I truly do believe that as a public servant, assisting folks with even the smallest of issues, or helping even a single person have a better day, is making a difference.

What are the next steps in your career progression…where do you see yourself going?

I’d like to continue doing the work and roles I’m currently in for a while. I’m quite happy and fulfilled in the work that I do. I believe there is a lot of potential for good in both of my current roles, and I don’t plan on going anywhere, anytime soon!

What advice to you have for a potential student looking to complete their degree at the BSIA? Or for someone looking to work in Global Governance and International Policy?

DO IT! Really though, don’t let the potential intensity of the programs, or the big fancy building scare you off. If I can do it, you can! If you’re considering BSIA, look at the faculty list and find a Professor whose specialties pique your interest. Reach out to them! Staff at BSIA also have a wealth of knowledge, which is there to be shared. Also, don’t be afraid to say ‘yes’ to new and scary opportunities (as cliché as that may sound). Volunteer for whatever piques your interest, go to talks and events in the evenings – not just for the free food – though the food IS great! Have fun with your time studying and with your career. Also, don’t get stuck in the ‘federal government or nothing’ mindset for your career. Look at provincial and municipal policy positions to see if they are careers which you might want one day. Look at Indigenous organizations and their policy/governance roles! First Nations and Indigenous self-government is a massively growing area with a big need for talented and passionate professionals. Lastly, if I may be sappy to close this out – don’t be afraid to ask questions. Whether in your graduate studies or in your future career. People are usually more than willing to help you learn as long as you are humble and respectful.

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