Art history student Karen Quinn: volunteer experiences
Dr. Karen Quinn's story
After a seven-year career in postdoctoral biomedical research, Dr. Karen Quinn, PhD, returned to university in hopes of finding a new career direction. Quinn came back to the University of Calgary in the hopes of pursuing a degree in English, but found herself unsettled in her new field of study.
As a mature student switching majors, Quinn found it difficult to connect with other peers and find a sense of belonging. An appointment with Career Services helped her connect with an advisor, who worked with Quinn to discover opportunities that aligned with her skills and interests, more specifically, the roles of peer helper and tutor.
These volunteer roles provided a sense of connection and meaning, while also providing opportunities for mentorship — experiences she wasn’t necessarily finding in the classroom. After several volunteer roles, Quinn realized what she needed wasn’t necessarily a new degree, but hands-on volunteer experience to understand more about how her skills could align with her interests.
Experiencing these roles allowed Quinn to view the university as a holistic experience. After several successful stints volunteering in various roles, Quinn went on to become an academic advisor at UCalgary, where the combination of her volunteer, education and career experience came in handy — even her lab-based experience in problem-solving, analytical thinking and team collaboration complemented her role in advising students.
At a glance: Karen's other experiential-learning activities
- Volunteering at the Student Success Centre
- Grad Success Week
- International Student Conversation Group
- Peer Helper
- On-campus employment: Tutor for the Read, Write, Review, Develop (RWRD) Program
- Grad coach: Grad Writing Community
Experiential learning didn’t just help me find a career direction or a job, it helped me find a purpose.
Dr. Karen Quinn
Road to a new career
The volunteer roles Quinn participated in allowed her to articulate her transferrable skills and see them apply to other career options, even a career completely out of her original field.
“There is an assumption that, once you enter university and graduate, then you know what to do afterwards,” says Quinn. While an arts degree does not always provide a linear path forward, she says, it does allow for flexibility and exploration. Specifically, participating in experiential learning as a mature student helped Quinn find that sense of direction.
After several volunteer positions at UCalgary, Quinn now works as a full-time academic advisor for prospective and open studies students at UCalgary’s Student Success Centre.
About the Peer Helper Program
Peer helper positions are open to all University of Calgary students within a variety of departments and offices. This immersive opportunity provides students unpaid leadership positions that create immersive and meaningful learning opportunities. Peer helpers receive leadership training, co-curricular record credit and unique skill-development opportunities. By working closely with professional mentors, students also build their network.
Explore peer helper positions and how to apply here.
Consider signing up for an Involvement Advising appointment where you can talk about peer helper and other positions on campus.