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Class of 2017: UCalgary education gave Sam Hossack the courage to ask the right questions

Outgoing president of Graduate Students’ Association plans to continue studies in military history and human rights

Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies master’s student Sam Hossack is graduating in June, 2017. Photo by Riley Brandt

By David Cogion

For as long as she can remember, University of Calgary student Sam Hossack has had an interest in world events. Her interest was sparked early, when as a child growing up in Calgary she learned about a world across the seas from her grandfather, a former Royal Canadian Navy seaman who served immediately after the Korean War.

“My grandfather would tell us about what life was like in the Navy — about going to sea for months at a time. I found his stories fascinating. I was always pestering him with questions,” says Hossack, the outgoing president of the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA).

This curiosity in world affairs motivated her as an undergrad (she completed BA Honours degrees in military history and English) and, most recently, as a graduate student at the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies (CMSS). On June 7, she will convocate with a Master of Strategic Studies degree.

Graduate project involved researching military history records

Researching her graduate project, she spent the last two years combing through archival records investigating how intelligence organizations interacted with political leaders to shape past Soviet and U.S. invasions of Afghanistan. She also worked as a junior research fellow for the Atlantic Council of Canada, contributing papers on security issues on everything from the Middle East to Arctic politics to Canada’s role in NATO.

“It’s really important for us as Canadians to be thinking about the bigger global picture and where we fit in as a country,” explains the 25-year-old.

Hossack credits UCalgary for not only giving her a chance to grow academically (she’s been a Chancellor’s Club Scholar and part of Scholars Academy) but also to get involved on campus.

Getting involved inside and outside the classroom helped overcome shyness

And, certainly, she’s kept her calendar busy with different roles: She’s been president of the university’s Political Science Association and speaker for the Students’ Legislative Council. She’s been a lead organizer for the Model United Nations conference that gives hundreds of high school students an opportunity each year to debate international topics. And over the last two years, she’s served first as vice-president of finance and services, and then as president of the GSA.

But to succeed on campus, Hossack initially had to overcome shyness. David Bercuson, a renowned Canadian military historian and the director of CMSS, remembers meeting Hossack for the first time when she was an undergraduate. Struck by the quality of her written work, he met with her to offer mentoring advice.

“I thought this quiet-spoken person has really got tremendous potential. So I encouraged her to speak up. Since then, she’s elbowed aside any barriers like shyness. She’s emerged as a confident person who’s not afraid to put forward her opinions. And she’s certainly become a star in our program at CMSS,” Bercuson says.

Life-changing experience on campus leads to further military history education

For her part, Hossack says being at the university has been a defining experience. “In many ways, it’s helped me to find myself.”

Looking back, she considers it one of her life highlights so far to have introduced then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at a campus speaking engagement last year for International Youth Day.

“It’s a meeting I’ll never forget. I had a chance to ask him about the role of students to create solutions. And he said, ‘Get involved. Find out what matters to you. Don’t be afraid to ask the right questions’,” Hossack says.

Certainly, that’s a message she’s taken to heart, as she sets her sights on furthering her education as a military history student, looking at how the Second World War influenced human rights development in the country. She’s been accepted into the University of Waterloo’s PhD program, and ultimately hopes to secure a position as a researcher either in academia or at a policy think-tank.

“My experience here has taught me how to ask questions and not to be afraid to ask questions — and that it’s OK not to know all the answers.”