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Sharing stories, claiming spaces

Graduate students Penína Sara-Lynn Harding (left) and Annie Pumphrey spent the summer collecting the stories of leaders across northern B.C. and designed a website to share them as part of the Claiming Spaces project. UNBC photo

Everyone has a story. It could be a story of perseverance. A story of resiliency. A story of finding your voice.

A new project led by two University of Northern British Columbia graduate students gives leaders in northern British Columbia space to share their stories while inspiring others to create their own stories of leadership in action.

The Claiming Spaces project is a partnership between UNBC’s Inspiring Women Among Us, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the City of Prince George. UNBC graduate students Penína Sara-Lynn Harding and Annie Pumphrey spent the summer collecting the stories of leaders across northern B.C. and designed a website to share them.

From elected officials to community advocates to fellow students, the 11 contributors to Claiming Spaces came from diverse backgrounds. They all shared how they claimed their space in leadership and encouraged others to get involved.

“Every person you see on the website, in the interviews were very excited and enthusiastic to be part of this,” Penína says. “They were excited to contribute. The response we had was very positive.”

Initially designed as a series of workshops, the Claiming Spaces project needed a new vision when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. By transitioning to a video format, Penína and Pumphrey were able to seek out a diverse group of contributors and make the project accessible to more people.

“We were all brainstorming what would work best and we came to the conclusion that small digestible videos would be a great solution,” Pumphrey said. “Everyone is online so much these days. We didn’t want to have something too intense or not accessible.”

Penína, who recently completed her term as the first Indigenous women president of the Northern British Columbia Graduate Student Society, helped to recruit some of the interview subjects.

“I was brought in to bring an Indigenous perspective to the project and also to access the network that I’ve developed,” she says.

The result is 16 videos in categories ranging from community support, leadership skills, entering politics and leading as a student.

Claiming Spaces is part of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Toward Parity in Municipal Politics initiative, a program created with the goal of involving more women in local politics through pilot projects among municipalities throughout Canada. IWAU and the FCM jointly funded Penína and Pumphrey’s positions.

The website went live earlier this fall and a virtual launch party will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 24, as part of Inspiring Women Among Us 2020: Sharing Power Now.

Penína hopes the project will continue with more videos added over time.

“In the future, we can keep adding interviews to the website. It’s not meant to be a snapshot in time, it’s meant to grow and expand as needs change,” Penína says.

The project was both a summer job opportunity for Penína and Pumphrey as well as a chance to be inspired themselves. IWAU co-founders and UNBC faculty members Dr. Zoë Meletis and Dr. Annie Booth met regularly with Penína and Pumphrey to offer support and community.

“Having this project and being able to talk to other women who are in leadership and members of other communities and hear from them and learn from them was a highlight of my summer,” Penína says.

Pumphrey echoed those sentiments and said she also gained valuable skills while editing the videos and building out the website. 

“It was wonderful to have a job where I was learning to create content in a COVID world,” she says. “I think we both gained so many useful communication skills.”


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