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Alumni Spotlight: Natalie Hickey

What was your program at Bishop’s University?

At Bishop's, I was a double major in Geography and International Studies. Dr. McKeen-Edwards actually encouraged me to add International Studies as a major after she saw that I had taken quite a few politics and languages courses as electives (I loved my French and Spanish courses). I also used the double major as an excuse to stay for spring school to complete a few more courses, which was totally worth it.

Why did you choose your Honour, Major and/or Minor?

My favourite subjects in highschool were geography, law and history, so choosing the Environmental Studies and Geography program at Bishop's made sense to me. I really liked the course selection that the ESG program offered - specifically environmental justice, watershed management, environmental policy, and resource management sounded really interesting to me. I also knew that in the ESG program, I could take a lot of other social science electives that would allow me to expand my interests.

What were you involved with at Bishop’s?

At Bishop's, I was involved with the SRC as a recording secretary, which allowed me to help with the planning and organizing of all of the events the SRC put on. I was part of Frosh Week as a judge, a volunteer coordinator for Fashion Show, and one of the head organizers for Grad Formal. I was also a member of the Environmental Club and was part of the Model UN class that competed in New York.

What are the best ways to succeed at Bishop’s?

The best way to succeed at Bishop's is to show up to class and get to know your professors. Early in the semester, take 5 minutes and introduce yourself to the prof after class or at their office hours. Always always always ask for help when you're struggling - not just to your classmates, but to the professors. Ask for a life raft while you're still treading water, not when you're already drowning (if you feel yourself slipping in your courses and falling behind, ask for help quickly, instead of pretending it will get better on its own.) Take electives from different disciplines, if you can. Sometimes your best mentors and friends will be professors or classmates who aren't in your major. Dr. McKeen-Edwards and Dr. Martin-Brule helped encourage me to go to grad school - and I met both of them while taking politics electives in my first two years.

Best ways to succeed when you finish your undergrad?

Connect with alumni. Add them on LinkedIn, then send a message to introduce yourselves. I know there's such a strong emphasis on "networking" and it can be exhausting and intimidating, but I promise it's worth it. I try not to think of it as "networking" and as a really formal thing, but more like making a professional friend. My best advice is to find something you have in common and use that as a starting point. Ask if they would be willing to read over your CV, or if you could schedule a short phone conversation to ask for advice. Most people are willing to do this if they know you're genuine and respectful of their time. In general, I've found younger alumni tend to use social media more than older alumni, so don't be discouraged if someone doesn't answer you. Another great resource is to ask your professors if they know of any alumni in your city or that work in your field, and then they can either introduce you, or you can look them up. Staying connected to your BU bubble once you graduate will make the transition easier, but don't put too much pressure on yourself to be networking every single day. Quality over quantity with networking, for sure.

Did you complete further education, and why did you choose that specific program?

After Bishop's, I completed a Master's degree at Ryerson University, specifically Master of Planning in Urban Development. I had always been interested in urban planning in highschool, so this degree allowed me to pursue that.

What are you doing currently (work)? What are your responsibilities, and what does a typical day look like?

I am a land use planner at a law firm in Toronto. I work with the lawyers who specialize in municipal and planning law, supporting them to build cases either acting for developers or for municipalities. The lawyers are experts in Ontario planning law, which governs the entire province, and I am the expert in municipal policy, which changes from city to city - we need both elements to build a full case. I'm responsible for reviewing policy documents and providing an analysis to our clients - this usually looks like instructions for what they are allowed to build, where they can build it, how the building must look, and what elements must be included in the building or on the property. My work is not a typical "9 to 5" environment, since elements of a case can change quickly and sometimes require evening or weekend work to meet a deadline. A typical day can be meeting with lawyers to discuss the plan, coordinating with architects and engineers to get details of a project, and working with community members to discuss their rights in the legal process.

Why did you choose this career path?

When graduating from my Master's program, I had the choice to either work for the public sector or private sector planning. Many of my classmates worked in the public sector, meaning they worked for various levels of government, which usually includes writing policy, examining plans that developers submit, or advocating for community groups. I knew I wanted to work in the private sector, because I was really interested in the details of how an individual property is planned and develops and how it fits into a neighborhood. Public sector is often at a macro scale (entire cities or the entire province) and I liked the micro scale (one site, one street, one neighborhood). I also liked that the private sector is fast paced and required a lot of attention to detail. I knew I would be able to use my skills of being quick on my feet and arguing the nuances of policy - both of these skills I learned and honed during my time at Bishop's.

If you had one piece of advice for a Bishop’s student looking to pursue a career in your field, what would that be?

Take electives in as many different disciplines as you can. I took psychology, sociology, English, languages, and economics courses, and each and every one of those helped me in my Master's degree and career (a Master's degree is typically now required to work in the planning field, so plan on continuing your education after Bishop's). I also heard when I was accepted to the Master's program that they were impressed with the amount of variety I had from my undergrad, so electives can really make you stand out.

How has your Bishop’s education at Bishop's in International Studies and Geography helped you in your current career in Urban Development and Planning?

I learned so much during my time at Bishop's that has helped me in my career now. The courses in International Studies, specifically those that focus on how to work with different types of students/colleagues, prepared me for challenging coworkers and working with those with opposing interests. The small classes helped push me to be active and participate, which was great for the grad school environment, and I felt gave me a "leg up" on my classmates that were used to huge lecture classes in undergrad. I found that Bishop's professors always encouraged asking questions and being curious, which I think has helped me be confident at work, even when I find myself in a meeting with really experienced clients and colleagues.

What are you most proud of up to now? (School, work, etc.)

I'm most proud of how I am building my career in Toronto. I've only been working for 3 years since I graduated with my Master's, but I've been able to land a job at a really prestigious law firm, and am working with lawyers that have amazing reputations and so much to teach me. It was always my dream to live and work in downtown Toronto, so I'm really proud and grateful I get to do that now, in my dream career.

If students are interested in reaching out to Natalie Hickey to learn more about her career and various experiences, you can contact her through LinkedIn:

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