UOW human geography graduate reflects on opportunities to travel, volunteer, and make an impact
When Taneesha Amos-Hampson looks back on her time at the University of Wollongong (UOW), she can’t quite believe how much she has managed to fit into her four years of study.
Student exchange. International field trips. Research. Volunteering. Internships. Taneesha has jumped at every opportunity that has come her way.
As she embarks on her Honours year, after graduating with a Bachelor of Social Science Dean’s Scholar (Distinction), majoring in Human Geography, Taneesha credits her rich and diverse university experience to the power of networking and her own desire to make the most of her time at UOW.
“I was so fortunate to be able to do so many amazing things. I studied in the School of Geography and Sustainable Communities, and I think it helped that the school is really small, so it is easy to get to know people.
“In my first year, I made some great connections and that has led to so many different opportunities. Looking back, I can’t quite believe how much I have managed to fit in.”
In her first year at UOW, Taneesha was given the opportunity to co-edit a book with Professor Noel Castree, titled Companion to Environmental Studies.
Two years later, she took part in fieldwork being conducted by Associate Professor Nick Gill in Mount Kosciusko, surveying bushwalkers, in bitterly cold conditions, in a bid to combat the spread of weeds. Both projects provided her with an insight into the research underway to examine the connection between humans and the natural environment, a theme that would dominate her degree.
Growing up near Port Macquarie, on the north coast of NSW, Taneesha always had a love of nature and a curiosity about the world around her, but wasn’t quite sure how to harness that into a career.
She had planned on studying psychology, but took a one-off class in human geography during her first week of university. It was a decision that would change the course of her major.
Human geography was a perfect fit for Taneesha, who said she is happiest when she is in nature and exploring her surrounds.
“I have always loved being outdoors. When I moved to Wollongong, I loved discovering the coast, the mountains, the hikes,” she said.
“When I was growing up, we travelled overseas a lot, but my parents were not resort people. They always took us to rural areas, where we would hike and see waterfalls and camp. I love being in a natural environment. If I’m feeling a bit down in the dumps, just getting out in the fresh air and being in nature has such a calming impact on me.”
One of the things that drew her to human geography was the focus on critical thinking. It taught her to dissect complex issues and to evaluate the role of research in society.
This, compounded with the extensive travel she was able to undertake during her degree, gave Taneesha an insight into how she can make an impact in the world and contribute to the conservation of the environment.
“I learnt all the important technical skills but the critical thinking was so essential and was the most valuable part of my degree,” Taneesha said. “We learnt how to examine data and research, how to approach issues from a different perspective, how to challenge the status quo.”
As part of her degree, Taneesha took part in an international fieldwork trip for the subject, Geographies of Change, which saw a group of social sciences students travel to Bali at the start of 2019. It was a cultural immersion, in which the students were able to see conservation projects taking place in the field, engage with different cultures, and travel to different areas of the island. She took part in projects such as monitoring and building bee boxes, coral conservation, and sea salt farming.
“It was an incredible experience,” she said. “The main thing I took from being in Bali was how it challenged our preconceived idea of who is an expert in their field. In the Western context, an expert is someone who has a PhD in their field, but in the developing world, an expert is the sea salt farmer who has spent 60 years working in the field, who lives and breathes that work.
“Taking part in that trip was truly an unforgettable experience and a highlight of my time at UOW.”
Just a week after leaving Bali, Taneesha flew to Sweden, where she spent a year on exchange at Karlstad University. She studied sustainability from a Nordic context, which gave her a greater understanding of the way different countries are approaching issues such as gender equality, sustainability, human geography, and climate change.
“I was based in rural Sweden, in the centre of the country, and it was so beautiful. The University backed on to this gorgeous forest, and every part of campus life was outside. I was ice skating, swimming in the lake, it was such a different experience to the hot, dry Australian environment. I didn’t speak any Swedish, so it was big challenge but super rewarding.”
In addition to the travel opportunities, Taneesha also found the time to undertake internships at Boomerang Alliance and Healthy Cities Illawarra; she worked for UOW’s Global Communicators Program; and volunteered for Citizen Blue, Plastic Free Wollongong, and Surfrider Foundation.
She is spending this year on an Honours thesis, which further expands on her love of the environment and the importance of being able to experience nature in urban areas.
“My thesis it titled Everyday Urban Natures and my supervisors are Dr Leah Gibbs and Professor Pauline McGuirk. The project aims to understand how urban dwellers encounter diverse aspects of urban nature in their everyday lives and consider unruly urban natures that do not conform in ways we expect.
“We’re hoping that this research will inform policy-makers about the importance of these everyday forms of nature that exist outside designated, planned parks and gardens across the city.
“These skills and interests are particularly fascinating to consider given the current context of things and how our relationship with nature is changing during COVID 19 and how nature itself is changing during COVID 19.”
While Taneesha has plans to travel and work overseas once the borders open again, at the moment, she is focusing on her research and on plotting a career path once her time at university ends. The myriad experiences of her university years have been invaluable in helping Taneesha explore the many threads of human geography.
“I have so many different ideas of what I would like to do after I finish my Honours year,” she said. “Human geography really gives you so many different options, and it’s very exciting to be able to explore all of those.
“I am so fortunate to have had so many opportunities during my studies. In my first year, I said yes to the chance to work alongside the researchers in the school and everything has built from there.”