School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Fresh challenges for a fresh graduate – Meet Morgan Sage

MA, Geography and Planning   

by Phil Gaudreau, April 2020

Amy Cleaver

It can be a challenge starting a new job in a place you have never been before.

It is even more difficult to start a new job while also preparing to defend your thesis.

Now imagine starting a new job in a new place while defending your thesis during Covid-19.

Oh, and your brand-new job also involves helping people with food security issues.

You can just imagine the relief on Morgan Sage’s (MA’20) face when she successfully defended her Geography thesis via video conference on April 17.

“There’s so much build up to the presentation, regardless of whether it’s online or in-person, but ultimately you’re sitting in a room, or chatroom, with people who want to hear about your thesis,” she said. “Thankfully, it went much more smoothly than I thought it would.”

Morgan passed with no revisions and her committee even had a little surprise for her when she rejoined their conversation.

“For days I’d been nervous and wondering how my defense would go,” she explained. “I was defending everything I’d done in the last two and a half years of my life and a topic I’m endlessly passionate about. When I signed back on after their deliberations, all four committee members had their video backgrounds changed into balloons. It added so much humour and joy to that moment. It was so lovely that each one of my committee members was ready to celebrate with me in the best way they could.”

Morgan’s research delved into how community food organizations use fresh food to increase food access and build community and skills. Since the third year of her undergraduate degree, the Wingham, ON, native knew she wanted to attend graduate school. During a semester abroad in India, she gained a deeper appreciation for the power that local people have in their own communities. Morgan had been debating going into the international development field, but this experience shifted her focus to community organizations within small and medium cities in Ontario.

After searching out the programs which would land her that dream job, she began to identify suitable thesis supervisors. That led her to Queen’s, and to Geography Professor Betsy Donald. Dr. Donald is also Associate Dean with the School of Graduate Studies.

“I quickly realized this was the right place to be, as everyone was so accommodating,” Morgan said. “Queen’s provided a solid community of fellow graduate students, and we continue to chat and encourage one another. I also fell in love with Kingston as a city.”

Her time in Kingston had a few noticeable impacts on her studies. Morgan got involved with Loving Spoonful, a Kingston-based not-for-profit that distributes fresh food to those in need, to increase her hands-on insights for her research. She also attended an SGS Expanding Horizons workshop for arts graduates seeking jobs, and it ended up being crucial to her career progression.

“One of the speakers spoke about Mitacs internships, so I applied for one and got an internship with EcoTrust Canada in Prince Rupert, B.C. during the spring of 2019,” she said.

The position involved establishing a community food project primarily aimed at increasing fresh vegetable access for Nisga’a citizens, a group of Indigenous Peoples in the area. Morgan’s job included growing vegetables, talking about fresh food and food security, and hosting workshops on topics like making container gardens.

“My time in Prince Rupert gave me the hands-on experience I needed to do my job now, and skills I wouldn’t have acquired otherwise,” she said.

In February 2020, Morgan began a new position with York Region Food Network and York Region Food Council, an alliance of farmers, public health experts, food security organizations, and politicians in the area north of Toronto. As she prepared to start the job, she expected she would begin with in-person meetings with key stakeholders and taking some time to plan.

However, just as she landed in York Region in February, Covid-19 happened.

“A lot of the planning has been put on hold in favour of policy-related press releases and focusing on food access locally,” Morgan said. “I’m mainly meeting with organizations that are working to provide food access in York Region to ensure that we can share information and resources, and to tackle any gaps in food services, particularly emergency food services like meal programs and food banks.”

With her thesis in hand and her career off to the right start, Morgan’s path is set at least for the short-term. While the work may not be going exactly the way she planned, this spring marks the end of one chapter that she has been writing since her undergraduate degree and the start of a new adventure.

Learn more about Queen’s University graduate studies in Geography and Planning, visit the School of Graduate Studies website.