Making her mark

Jun 13th, 2014

Janet Harron

Making her mark

Originally from Millertown in central Newfoundland, MA student Janelle Skeard is definitely making her mark here at Memorial.

Her thesis, Hope Springs Eternal, examines company and community in the former mining town of Buchans. 

Growing up 20 kilometres from Buchans, Ms. Skeard comes from a long line of Buchans miners and has always been attracted to its history as a company town. Although the announcement of the mine’s closure was made in 1982, people were kept on staff until 1984. The economic struggles of the town led to strong bonds being shared by all 690 residents (down from 3000 in its heyday) – Ms. Skeard’s argument is that this attachment has underscored all developments post-closure.

“There is still a lot of hope and optimism in Buchans – a feeling that the brightest day of Buchans hasn’t come yet, that they haven’t yet found the motherlode,” said Ms. Skeard.  “This is what I’m hoping to reflect in my thesis – that hope draws from and keeps fueling the community.”

She notes that using oral history as an approach has been important to the process. 

“Talking to the people who lived that life, who experienced both the glory days and the deindustrialization and who still call the community home, has been an enlightening process.”

Ms. Skeard, who took a geography course “on a whim” early in her undergraduate career, says she remains enthralled by the subject because it encompasses so many things.

“I consider myself both a human and rural geographer whose heart lies in rural Newfoundland.”

Her work in the area of resource development has led to her current contract as research coordinator with Women in Resource Development whose mandate is to promote and encourage women to take on traditional male roles in science, trades and technology occupations.

She cites childcare for workers on large construction projects as an example of the multiple issues she is working on for the organization.

“There is definitely a gendered nature to this – it all comes down to equality.  To give women the same opportunities as men, you have to acknowledge there is a cultural expectation for women to do the majority of the caregiving.  And you have to ask how we can change society to address this imbalance.” 

Her supervisor, Dr. Arn Keeling, says Ms. Skeard’s enthusiasm and commitment are infectious.

“Janelle’s work with Women in Resource Development is a natural outgrowth of her interest in how resource communities (and particularly women in these communities) cope with development and change.”

Eighteen months ago, Ms. Skeard founded Voices for Choice NL, the only exclusively pro-choice group in the province, in order to counter regular pro-life events.

“I think it’s important to have an active body in the province that stands in solidarity with other pro-choice bodies in Canada,” she said.  “Feminists younger than me assume that the battles have all been won but we can ‘t take anything for granted, especially when you have people standing outside clinics bullying and harassing  clients.”

She believes her ability to get actively involved in causes close to her heart stems directly from her university education.

“I wouldn’t have had the confidence to take on that role before or have the ability to speak up when it comes to those issues before attending Memorial. My education has turned me into a researcher.  I saw these people harassing women and decided to go home and educate myself.”

Ms. Skeard believes that good research “tells you where you’re coming from, where you are and where you can go” and says that it is unfortunate that the social component of research is often undervalued.

“I’m the only person at Memorial that I know of who’s done research on the social aspect of the Buchans mine closure. Any job that you see on Job Bank or Jobs NL calls for a science or engineering background – as a social scientist, it makes it really difficult to explain to people that what you’re doing is valuable.”