NIC Alumni Spotlight: NIC field school leads to international research career

NIC alumni Dr. Laura Strachan visits a Bedouin camp north of Najran, Saudi Arabia.

NIC alumna Dr. Laura Strachan was determined to work towards a university degree, despite being a young mother and balancing full-time work to support her family. 

Strachan is now an assistant professor and archeology-anthropology researcher in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – a career she never imagined having until she came to NIC. 

“As a young mother, I was dedicated to raising my family, but I had promised myself that one day I would pursue a university degree at NIC. Once my youngest child was in elementary school, I decided the time was now or never to begin my higher education journey,” she explained.

Strachan was not sure at first about what university degree she should focus on, but she was soon inspired by a few of the NIC faculty. 

“I took an elective in anthropology and the instructor was filled with passion and shared films from around the world. From that moment onwards, I was hooked,” she said.

As part of her anthropology studies at NIC, she travelled to Jordan to participate in one of the college’s field schools.

“This is where I was introduced to Bedouin culture. The experience was transformational and led to my future graduate degree studies investigating Bedouin tribes and environmental protection,” explained Strachan.

Strachan completed two associate degrees at NIC in science and arts. She went on to complete her bachelors degree, a collaborative masters and completed her PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology – all inspired by experiences in southern Jordan.

“The Wadi Rum Protected Area was in its infancy when I first visited it in 1999. I didn’t realize at that time that it was a new conservation area or its significance in terms of my future studies,” said Strachan.

After completing her PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology at McMaster University with her research focused on Bedouin, tourism and protected area management, she also became involved in the team that nominated the Wadi Rum Protected Area as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Shortly thereafter, she began working in private universities, starting first with a role as an Assistant Professor in Oman, and most recently at Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia.

While her work as a professor takes up most of her time, she has still been very dedicated to maintaining ground-breaking research that has focused on human-environmental interactions, traditional and local knowledge systems and sustainable development.  Her current research has been focused on investigating petroglyphs of the goddess Alia in southern Saudi Arabia in addition to collecting oral histories to learn more about the cultural impact of Saudi Aramco, one of the largest oil production companies in the world, on the lives of Saudi Arabian citizens.

When Strachan looks back on her career that has taken her to Jordan, Oman and Saudi Arabia, she realizes how important her experience at NIC has been for her professional development. 

“I was looking at the NIC website one day and saw the phrase, ‘Start your career at NIC’, which made me realize that NIC was truly where I did just that. I have been so fortunate. As a mother, I went to NIC with a dream and started a career that I never even knew existed,” explained Strachan.

Applications are open for NIC’s Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees, starting this fall.