For Talissa Watson, getting an education was a means to empower others as well as herself. As she gained new skills, she consistently sought to use them to give back to communities.
“Volunteering and altruistic ends are really important to me so I wanted to work on that and see if I could bring people along with me on that journey,” she said.
While on a class trip to Cuba during her undergraduate program at Western University, Watson noticed how grateful people were for even small acts of kindness. She and fellow students received a warm reception as they picked crops for farmers, painted the fence line of a seniors’ home, and repainted rooms at a school for students with disabilities. Back at Western, she volunteered in a variety of ways. She taught English to international students through Volunteers in Progress and was global issues commissioner for London Hall residence. She also volunteered with London Cross Cultural Learner Centre through Western’s Community Engaged Learning program as part of her Spanish certification.
Bringing analytics skills to the community
During the MSc program, she continued that trajectory. Watson created the Ivey MSc Pro Bono Analytics Club, where MSc students provide free consulting and analytics services to small businesses and non-profit organizations predominantly in London, Ont. More than 60 students participated in community projects, such as donation optimization for the Eldon House museum, client management for Single Women in Motherhood, and schedule modelling for Sidetrack Café. The students contributed about 1,623 hours of outreach within its first year, and Watson said she hopes the organization will continue to grow in the future.
“I hope this initiative becomes even bigger. The same way you have probono legal clinics that serve the community, I’d love to see Ivey as the place for analytics, strategy and innovation for the community of London, Ontario,” she said.
Watson was also an active member of the Ivey Management and Policy Forum (IMPF) launch team, led by founders Ryan McCuaig and Philip Couto. The IMPF operates as a student-run think tank that applies management science research and concepts to Canadian and global policy issues. Watson will continue to support this organization and produce research post-graduation as a research fellow.
Transforming through the Ivey experience
Although she is naturally quiet and introverted, Watson said the Ivey experience brought her out of her comfort zone.
“Since Ivey is case-based, I had to restructure the way I was learning. It was more about active listening and being engaged. Initially it was a challenge for me because I’m more introverted, but I was able to overcome that and really participate and learn from my peers,” she said. “I think that’s where the main learning comes. You prepare before you come to class, but the main learning is in the classroom. It was a challenge that ended up becoming a highlight for me.”
As she came out of her shell for class, Watson made a conscious effort to interact with her peers and participate in activities. Among other things, she entered and won two extracurricular case competitions, co-authored an Ivey case with the executive team of the Ivey Pro Bono Analytics Club, and contributed to a high-profile study on gender diversity in manufacturing while working with the Trillium Network for Advanced Manufacturing.
And when COVID-19 forced the MSc to go virtual three months into the program, Watson found creative ways for her classmates to bond. Along with MSc student Mayank Shukla, she organized a semester-end virtual social in April 2020. She also worked with her classmates, Shukla and Echo Zhang, to organize a virtual coffee house that featured a professional jazz singer and musicians from the MSc class. The event included a raffle ticket sale, which raised $382 for the Canadian Music Therapy Fund.
People took notice of her efforts. Watson became a MOM (Master of Masters) in the program and mentored incoming students from the next cohort. She was also named valedictorian for the MSc Class of 2021.
Watson said getting involved made her Ivey experience more rewarding and has inspired her to continue to pursue meaningful initiatives. After graduation, she’ll join the Montreal-based economics consulting firm, Analysis Group, as a research professional, and will continue to seek opportunities to give back to society.
“I didn’t know initially that I’d be taking on so many different hats in the program, but I’m happy I did. I know it’s going to prepare me for the future to make sure that I’m making a difference in any space that I’m put in,” she said. “And doing it during COVID-19 added pressure, but I learned about resiliency and how important it is to stay motivated and be intentional. Those are things I’ll be able to take into my future career and other social initiatives down the line.”