Alisha wearing a blue sweater standing in front of a fence

Reducing inequality through community planning

November 18, 2023

From classroom to career: Alisha Feser

Alisha Feser’s decision to pursue a Sociology degree at Vancouver Island University would ultimately lead her to the Master of Community Planning program. Fueled by her drive to find a career “dedicated to reducing human inequalities,” Alisha embraced every opportunity for growth and self-discovery that VIU offered her. The Nanaimo-raised graduate now works in a leadership role with the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District. Here’s what she says about her time at VIU and her current career.

What made you decide to attend VIU? 

I am lucky to call Nanaimo my home. It is where I was raised and still live today. I did my first year of university at the University of Victoria, but ultimately decided to come back to Nanaimo and go to VIU as it was closer to my family and more financially viable. I began my journey at VIU in 2016 and little did I know, I wouldn’t leave until 2023.

What did you enjoy most about studying at VIU? 

For my undergraduate degree, I majored in sociology. What I enjoyed most about studying sociology were the classroom sessions where conversations became controversial, the assigned readings (many were stories of human experiences, rather than textbooks) and the professors. I experienced lot of self-discovery and growth through my VIU career, but I truly champion my professors who guided me along the way. The professors are the best part about VIU. Mine encouraged me to take risks and to never say no to opportunities. They helped shape me into the working professional that I am today. VIU offers a ton of opportunities for students, but they can be scary to jump into without encouragement. My biggest thanks to Drs. Sylvie Lafreniere and Pam Shaw for providing that encouragement.

In what ways did you get involved in the VIU community?

During my undergraduate degree, I applied and got accepted into an interdisciplinary course called Community-based Applied Interdisciplinary Research, where I got to work with three other students from different programs on a year-long project in partnership with a local non-profit organization. This was an incredible learning experience working in a team and representing VIU at conferences in other cities to present our research. I also took a job with the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Research Institute as a research assistant, where I worked with a team to create the first community profile for the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region. It was a three-year project and I was travelled to Ottawa for an annual meeting with the funding organization. These experiences led me to become passionate about a career dedicated to reducing human inequalities. This desire led me to VIU’s Master of Community Planning program. Pam Shaw, the Director, introduced me to the topic of city planning during my undergrad. I quickly learned that city planners can play a significant role in reducing societal issues if done through empathy and advocacy. I finally felt like I was on the right path! I graduated from my undergraduate degree in 2020 and I graduated with my master’s degree in 2023.

How do you think your time at VIU has prepared you for your career of choice? 

Lessons in the MCP program prepared me for job interviews and what I might expect in the planning field. The projects I completed in my undergrad prepared me for project management, and the overall experience of university prepared me for handling stress and a large to-do list. As I was finishing my master’s thesis, I was fortunate enough to get myself a job as an Airport Planner with the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District. This role is a community planner and project manager all in one, focusing on projects for the two airports that the regional district owns and operates: the Tofino-Long Beach Airport and the Alberni Valley Regional Airport. My biggest upcoming project is to lead the update on the Tofino-Long Beach Airport Master Plan.

Do you have any advice for current or future VIU students?

Say yes to everything and get to know your professors. These two things alone will provide you with so much knowledge about yourself and what VIU has to offer. Also, don’t be afraid to take courses in different disciplines than your major. I think it’s important to explore as many topics as you can. When you are approaching graduation, continue to look for opportunities – whether it be a graduate degree or a career. The people at VIU will be there to help no matter which road you take! Don’t be afraid to ask.

Professor testimonial

“Alisha was a stellar undergraduate student and shone even more brightly as a grad student. She took every opportunity to learn, grow and get involved with the wider community. That’s the VIU advantage: there are so many prospects available to students, and Alisha was an amazing contributor to both campus life and to the places around us. Grad studies can be a very different experience for students, with a shift to self-directed learning and a major focus on research. Alisha stepped up to every challenge and her research on retail change in Nanaimo was exemplary. I’m delighted she decided to stay at VIU for both of her degrees. Alisha has clearly found her path, and I am delighted to have had a chance to be on this journey with her.”

-       Dr. Pam Shaw, Director, VIU’s Master of Community Planning program

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