Puneet Kaur Aulakh wants to understand the challenges faced by women
August 8, 2023
Puneet Kaur Aulakh
International Community Achievement Award recipient
Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Economics, Philosophy and Political Science
Okanagan (Kelowna, BC)
Gurdaspur, Punjab, India
"I think the most valuable thing that UBCO has given me is a sense of belonging and home. I’ve found my community here and I’ve been welcomed and accepted; I have my own voice and feel heard."
Why did you choose economics as your area of study?
I’m originally from a minority group in a small border town in Punjab, India. There I witnessed how poverty—especially among women—and the dependence on male household figures led to abuse and the oppression of their choices. I would repeatedly ask questions like: what makes someone rich or poor, what is the role of governments in uplifting these individuals, why aren’t minority women like me represented, what leads farmers from my community to commit suicide, leaving behind their wives without any means of survival?
Economics, political science and history are where I started finding answers. I first worked as a Research Assistant with the Rural Health Equity Social Enterprise and Technology Synergies team, where I focused on the comparative analysis of various social enterprises, especially those led by women. I also helped explore the challenges faced by women in Canada and other countries of the world. Currently, I’m working as a Research Assistant in collaboration with BC Agriculture Climate Action Research Network on a project for drafting enterprise budgets for farmers in Southern Interior BC. This project uses best management practices like cover cropping and relay-cropping to help the environment while also leading to profits for farmers.
My research reminds me every day of the reason I started on this journey. I wanted to learn about public policy and economics so that one day I can be a woman of colour from a minority Sikh community, representing the interests of my people on a level where our voices get heard.
You’re the recipient of an International Community Achievement Award. What does this mean to you?
The International Community Achievement Award (ICAA) is prestigious to me. It recognizes international students who are contributing to the university community while maintaining excellent grades.
My video call with my parents turned into a teary-eyed conversation when I told them I was selected as an ICAA recipient. If it wasn’t for the awards and scholarships from UBCO, I could have never imagined studying in such a big institution. ICAA came at a time when my younger brother was starting his first year at UBCO but my family was struggling to afford both of our tuitions. ICAA gave me hope that we both could make UBCO our home and that it valued me and my hard work.
What’s the best advice you have for new undergraduate students?
Take vastly different courses in your first year, like history and computer science, or creative writing and math. These diverse courses can help you realize what you really want; even if you think you want to be a computer science major, you never know. There could be an artist hidden inside you.
Why is it important to get involved on campus?
It’s important to devote time to courses, but also join clubs, do extracurriculars, attend university events and just generally be part of the UBCO community. Each of these activities will give you life skills and memories to cherish. Getting involved on campus helps you meet people who have similar interests and offers you different support chains.
What are some challenges you’ve faced so far in your academic career?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced in my academic career is discovering what I really want to do. Even though I believe I know my purpose in life, figuring out how to achieve that purpose has led to a lot of thinking. This challenge, however, has taught me that it’s okay if you don’t have everything figured out right away—the journey teaches you a lot. Another challenge has been managing an adult life all alone, thousands of kilometres away from my family. Nostalgia, longing, sickness and feeling overwhelmed due to work have been a real struggle.
What do you think makes UBCO great?
I think the most valuable thing that UBCO has given me is a sense of belonging and home. I’ve found my community here and I’ve been welcomed and accepted; I have my own voice and feel heard. My hard work has always been valued and appreciated, whether it is through academics, extracurriculars or my jobs at UBCO. The warmth that UBCO provides makes it more than just an educational institution; it makes it home.