The road between accepting an athletic scholarship and being the first in her cohort to defend and pass a Master of Science thesis is long, but Katie Lafreniere has travelled it well.
Originally from Winnipeg, Lafreniere expected to start her post-secondary experience as a basketball player at the University of Manitoba, but that reality vanished when she broke her ankle in her senior year.
Despite her injury, Lakeland College offered Lafreniere a sports scholarship and two years later, with a business management diploma in hand, she set her academic sights on the University of Lethbridge.
Lafreniere says that her decision to attend the U of L was an easy one to make because an existing transfer agreement between the two institutions allowed her to immediately enter into her third year of a bachelor's degree in management.
"It just made sense for me to come here," says Lafreniere. "It worked out really nicely."
Lafreniere spent the next two years developing a deep interest in social marketing, a process she believes was made possible because of the knowledge and support of the faculty members she encountered along the way.
"It's still a new discipline and we have professors here who know a lot about the topic," says Lafreniere. "They were the ones who were able to show me what, exactly, I wanted to do in life."
Later, as she readied herself to take the next step on her journey, Lafreniere realized she would be able to build her thesis on something that both her parents and her Aboriginal heritage had instilled in her since she was a child - a genuine sensitivity toward and tremendous respect for the environment.
"It opened my eyes. It just became a passion for me," says Lafreniere. "I want to have that practical aspect of it in my life, where I'm contributing to an actual cause in the real world."
Under the supervision of Dr. Sameer Deshpande, Lafreniere began her master's research in the spring of 2010; her work revolves around defining the perspectives and subsequent decisions of irrigators in the Cluny, Alberta, area who voted on a 2007 water-rights agreement between Balzac and the Western Irrigation District.
"Social marketing is a process that applies marketing techniques in order to influence behaviours to benefit society," says Lafreniere. "My research . . . would be how to convince irrigators who have more than enough water . . . to give the water that they're not using to other people who do need that water."
Over the next several months, Lafreniere plans to explore a second phase of her research by crafting a marketing campaign based on the findings of her research.
"We're very close with . . . water management organizations in Alberta that want our research and they want to apply it in what they're doing now," she says. "That's kind of the beauty of it; I don't have to convince anybody that it's important."