Alison Garnett sitting on table and smiling at camera

Finding the right balance: Alison Garnett

July 21, 2022
Author: Eric Zimmer

Meet this year’s recipient of VIU’s Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal

Pursuing a master’s degree while balancing a career and parenthood is no easy task.

It’s a situation VIU Master of Community Planning graduate Alison Garnett knows well, after finishing her degree this year.

Not only did she succeed, the mother of three young children is also the recipient of this year’s Governor General’s Academic Gold Medal award. The annual award recognizes the student who has achieved the highest academic standing upon graduation from a VIU master’s degree program.

“This award is an absolute highlight,” she says. “It is an amazing culmination of a lot of time and energy.”

We caught up with Alison to get her thoughts on the award, the program and her time at VIU. 

What does receiving this award and recognition mean to you?

Well, first I had to get over the shock of hearing my name called out at the convocation ceremony. As it sunk in that I had won the award, I felt delighted because it is an amazing culmination of a lot of time and energy. I was proud to accept the award with my nine-year-old daughter in attendance at the ceremony, because it’s important that she sees that sometimes hard work is highly rewarded.

What drew you to pursue your post-secondary education at VIU?

The Master of Community Planning program at VIU was the draw for me. It has a great reputation and I was not disappointed. My colleagues in the program were talented and creative. The faculty/instructors were knowledgeable and dedicated to the profession. Many of them are practicing planners who draw upon their own extensive experience for a merging of theory and practice throughout the various courses.

Can you tell us about any challenges you faced during your studies or otherwise, and how you overcame them?

Hands down, having three young children while working part time and doing a master’s degree was a constant challenge, and one that I could not have survived without my awesome husband and supportive grandparents. I try to commit to what I’m doing in the moment, whether its parenting, work or research and writing. I try to soak up the good times, ride out the bad and just keep doing the work. It also helps that I love going to school – the ideas, the creative expression through writing and the challenge of presenting complex information clearly.

What’s next for you? 

I'm focusing more time and energy on planning in the Cowichan Valley where I live with my family. I work as a planner for the Cowichan Valley Regional District, which, like many communities, faces a lot of challenges. 

How do you feel your time at VIU helped in your path towards achieving this goal?

I believe that VIU’s Master of Community Planning program has helped me become a better planner and to therefore better serve my community. I had a great experience researching and writing my thesis and owe much gratitude to my supervisor Jessie Hemphill. My research focused on First Nations and local government co-governance. I’m excited to bring this academic knowledge into practice in the Cowichan Valley.

What was the highlight of your time at VIU, and what has been the biggest takeaway? 

This award is an absolute highlight. Other highlights were the practical experiences offered through the MCP program and connecting with a network of MCP alumni to collaborate with as we tackle planning problems.

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