|November 12, 1999||Volume 7, Number 6|
Honored student looks at economic options of rural youth
By Ann Dumonceaux
Good decisions often lead to golden opportunities.
Such is the case for Joanne Butler, a third-year PhD sociology student at the University of Saskatchewan who was recently presented with the prestigious CIBC Youthvision Graduate Research Award worth up to $30,000 over the next two years.
One of only six students Canada-wide receiving the inaugural scholarship, Butler was recognized for her academic excellence and innovative research in community economic development and youth employment.
Entitled "Me, Inc' A Study of Entrepreneurship Training and Small Business Development Programs for Young Adults in Saskatchewan", Butler's dissertation examines the role played by training programs in developing young adult entrepreneurs and the degree to which these entrepreneurs expect to contribute to their community's development.
Butler notes "the implications for the sustainability of our communities, and for Saskatchewan agriculture, are vast."
Judging by the response to Joanne's research, others share her belief in the necessity of studying rural communities. In addition to being honored with the Youthvision Award, Butler has also received the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool Agri-Business, as well as University of Saskatchewan Graduate Student Scholarships.
But Joanne's work, though of particular application to Saskatchewan, is finding markets outside the province too. Her 1998 paper, "Rural
Communities in Transition or Crisis? A Discussion of the Implications of Rural Youth Out-Migration in Saskatchewan" was presented to a panel in Lafayette, Louisiana. She has also participated in conferences in Vancouver and Toronto.
Another paper, "The Contributions of Education and Work to Sustainability and Well-Being in Changing Rural Communities," written in collaboration with Terry Wotherspoon, has been submitted to the Canadian Journal of Health.
"I recognized the increasing emphasis by both the provincial and federal government on the benefits that small business development could provide as a solution to young adult out-migration from rural communities, to young adult un- and under employment and subsequently, to community development," explains Butler.
Insisting that "what happens in rural Saskatchewan impacts on our cities and job opportunities" Butler credits her interest in rural community sustainability to issues raised during her Master's research.
While surveying high school students in southwest Saskatchewan regarding their evaluation of programs designed to ease the transition from school to work, Butler discovered something unexpected.
"Very few young people (7.6 per cent of males and 0.5 per cent of females) intended to farm or do any farming-related activities," explains Butler.
"While I was aware how the struggles of farm families had translated into entire community struggles, I knew that agriculture still played a significant role in the economy, both at the local and provincial level, so the extent of the students' rejection of farming surprised me".
Butler's research also indicated that the majority of students were intent on permanently leaving the community, primarily because they perceived for themselves a lack of viable future opportunities.
Further, Butler noted that their families supported the move.
"Their parents were warning them, don't go into farming. Don't go near agriculture".
No stranger to making tough decisions, Butler too realized the need to move in a new direction shortly after beginning her university education. Calling her first sociology class a "life-changing experience," Butler finished her French degree and immediately began her studies in Sociology which eventually included an arts certificate, master's degree, and PhD work under supervisor Terry Wotherspoon.
"Sociology is like putting on a new pair of glasses," says Butler.
"It's basically looking at the world in a new way, a critical way, and seeing things that people don't think about when they're watching television or listening to politics or reading the newspaper."
Insisting that sociology is meant to be "socially relevant and useful", Butler expects her work to be of particular interest to policy-makers.
The mother of two children, Rob and Lauren, Joanne hopes to continue doing university teaching and research following the completion of her PhD.
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