It's been a year and a half since ULethbridge's Kaleigh Watson (BFA/BMgt '21) graduated with a Combined Bachelor of Management (with a major in marketing) and a Bachelor of Fine Arts (with a major in new media).

Though COVID-19 initially stripped Kaleigh and many other alumni of the experience of crossing the stage in person, Kaleigh will soon be taking part in a special convocation ceremony celebrating the achievements of 2020 and 2021 graduates.

We caught up with Kaleigh to find out where her degrees have taken her and why returning to Lethbridge to participate in convocation means so much.

What does it mean to you to return to campus for the convocation celebrations?

I'm sure I'm not the only one who felt a sense of grief over missing the convocation due to COVID-19, and like many others, I spent a lot of time alone. When I finished my degrees online in December 2020 I hoped to attend convocation in 2021 with my family and friends. When this did not happen and I received my grad box in the mail, I held onto it so I could open it with my parents as this was a big moment for all of us.

When I opened the box, I remember being overwhelmed with emotions. I'd waited six years for that moment, and it was disappointing that it did not turn out the way I imagined, despite the support and enthusiasm from my parents. I was sad to miss that moment of celebration on campus with family, friends, peers and professors, walking up the hill and crossing the stage and "officially" closing a chapter that I worked so hard for and was so foundational to me in my career and adult life.

I think the milestone of the convocation is not only a celebration of academic achievement, but it also celebrates the people who supported me along the way. Even though it's been a while since I finished my studies, I still feel some emotions around it.

I wanted to return to campus with intention - in a way, reclaiming what COVID-19 took away. COVID-19 may have changed a lot of plans and caused an involuntary cancellation of things before. I realize now that I have the choice to attend convocation or to miss it. It's not about COVID-19 or whether the novelty of grad has worn off. It's about taking some pause, acknowledging that this is still important to me, and celebrating the accomplishment and the people. The ceremony might look different, I might be a little older and I might have started paying back my student loans, but it represents getting through those hard times and knowing I'll continue to push through challenges in the future.

Please tell us a bit about your experiential or work-integrated learning. What were your biggest takeaways from participating?

My three biggest takeaways:

I learned lots about leadership and teamwork through DSBA. I led a team for the first time and I had to overcome a sense of guilt that I felt over assigning people to work. I would offer to take some work off their plate and volunteer to do it myself, despite being busy already. I eventually realized that this was not helping me or them and that if they needed help, they would ask for it. It was best for me to be considerate of their workloads while showing confidence in their skills and abilities.

Through all these experiences, (IME, co-op, DBSA), I learned about setting boundaries around work and personal life. It's easy to have a lot on the go and to be rewarded for working overtime. Inevitably, my commitments would conflict. I had to learn to set boundaries and when to say no to something, to communicate my availability and current workload before making a new commitment. It's way easier to deal with potential conflicts upfront rather than afterward. You don't have to be a people-pleaser. It goes a long way to know what you need and to voice that.

I learned how to take ownership of my ideas and how to put them into action. IME and DBSA both provided the space to step up, voice an idea, have the resources to implement it and learn what it takes to bring an idea to fruition. This is a key skill I think for the workplace, as many organizations are depending on their employees to own and follow through on ideas and solve problems. I learned a lot about how to pitch and defend an idea, drive support, and reach out for further help from the team or externally.

What is your most memorable ULethbridge experience?

I have so many great memories, and I think I owe it to being an engaged student who participated in a lot of things, not just within the Dhillon School of Business, but also outside of it.

My co-op at Parks Canada really stands out for me. I already have a deep appreciation for the outdoors, and it was so rewarding to practice what I was learning in school and enhance the Visitor Experience at Waterton Lakes National Park. Even though I learned specific skills in school, I have a choice as to how I want to apply them and where I want to contribute. At Parks, I got to live in Waterton, go on many cool adventures and meet amazing people who I'm still great friends with. I got a taste and excitement for the life I can build for myself.

Is there someone specific who had an important influence on your ULethbridge experience?

Too many to count! The Co-op team is great, I always enjoyed meeting with Heather Hacior and Tracy Horne. Dan Kazakoff, Mike Basil and Debra Basil were all great professors. I also appreciated my peers on DBSA who challenged me, pushed me, grew with me, and have stayed in my life to this day.

How did your degree prepare you for your career?

Being a part of the Lethbridge community emphasized the value of entrepreneurial thinking and problem-solving. I've had a few jobs since graduating and wherever I went, organizations are working to emerge from COVID-19 stronger than before. I've been in roles where my team was depending on me to use my strengths and ideas to guide strategy, content and business development. ULethbridge provided me with so many opportunities to build this entrepreneurial muscle, have a growth mindset and take on problems even if there is a steep learning curve. Even being early in my career it's important to think at this high level and communicate ideas to leaders and influencers. ULethbridge provided opportunities to practice this everywhere.

Where has life taken you since you graduated?

I moved back to my home city of Calgary. I am currently working for an environmental education charity/consulting firm (Alberta WaterPortal Society/WaterSMART Solutions respectively). It's a small but mighty company. Because of this, I've taken on a lot of responsibility. I am a project manager with a team and I am also influencing the direction of our branding and positioning.

What are your hopes and plans for the future?

To an extent, I'm still figuring things out. I plan to keep building my career and taking on more exciting projects with my current experience. Along with work, I think I will pursue additional educational opportunities in Data Analytics or UX. I started backpacking in the Rockies and Vancouver Island but I want to aim toward working and travelling abroad.

What advice would you like to give those who are about to begin their journey at ULethbridge?

Say yes to things when you can. Say no when you need to protect your time and energy. Otherwise, go to that party, volunteer, sign up for that event, join that club and do things outside of your comfort zone. Learn how to adapt, learn how to fail, and learn how to recover. It is amazing how saying yes to an opportunity can change your life, open doors, build your confidence, and make you grow.

Congrats Kaleigh!

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