Political science student tackles poverty by volunteering

As a board member with a United Way supported agency, Erin LaRocque is connecting her learning with her life.


Erin LaRocque talks about her volunteer involvement, which includes serving on the board of the Edmonton Social Planning Council, a United Way supported agency.

Political science student Erin LaRocque is hard at work putting the theory she learns in the classroom into practice in her life. As a board member and volunteer with United Way supported agencies, Erin is part of the poverty solution.

An active volunteer, she’s involved both on and off campus. Her list of volunteer work is substantial: Project Feminist U, APIRG, the Water Wings employment readiness program at Boyle Street Community Services, and placements through the U of A’s Community Service-Learning Program. But her biggest role may be the one she takes on as a board member with the Edmonton Social Planning Council, a non-profit organization that focuses on social research, particularly in the areas of low income and poverty.

A non-profit board isn’t the first place you’d expect to see a 22-year-old student spending her spare time, but for Erin, it was a natural fit: “As a political science student, I’m so interested in everything that I’m studying, but sometimes I worry that the things that we’re talking about are a little bit removed from what’s going on on the ground. I wanted to get involved in something that would connect this theory to practice and that would connect with a lot of my own interests and the causes I think are important.”

Be a problem solver

Watch for your email from Chancellor Ralph Young with your personalized link to make your pledge.

Learn more

The Edmonton Social Planning Council fit perfectly into Erin’s interests as an organization whose role it is to conduct research, develop reports, educate the community and provide recommendations to inform both the public and policy-makers on important social issues, often in collaboration with other organizations.

“One thing that ESPC does very well—and one I think is very important—is to provide information to open up conversations on various issues,” she explains. One of the most significant impacts she’s seen was the organization’s support for the City of Edmonton Youth Council’s We Are Listening forum and subsequent recommendations, which played a major role in changing the Alberta government’s position on gay-straight alliances, bringing about amendments to Bill 10 that protected students’ right to form GSAs in their schools.

“Something like that, giving people the platform to talk about these personal experiences, is so crucial when you’re talking about important issues.”

The council’s impact can also be seen in projects such as the City of Edmonton’s low-income transit pass proposal, and its research has played an important role in the End Poverty Edmonton strategy. Erin is also proud of the Vital Signs report, produced annually in partnership with the Edmonton Community Foundation, that offers a snapshot of a specific demographic group or issue. This year’s Vital Signs report focuses on the lives of Indigenous people living in Edmonton.

“Things like that are what we need to have those front-line services, to assess where those front-line services are needed. We need that research to figure out where those gaps are and how to fill them.”

Erin says her volunteer work allows her to see how what she’s learning in the classroom applies in real life, and her learning in her volunteer roles supports her academic life. “I’ve done some research for professors at the university as well, and the volunteer experience that I’ve had out of school made that research so much more meaningful.”

It’s also broadened her understanding of what political science means as a discipline—that it isn’t only about systems and institutions. “Politics is not just the political system; it’s power everywhere, in families, in communities.”

Erin believes strongly in the importance of United Way support in making the work she does possible. “It’s a privilege to see that work on the ground, and all the amazing work that all the individuals who work in these organizations do—especially being able to see exactly the proven effects, and the outcomes. I feel so privileged to be involved in this work that United Way funding supports.”