May 31, 2019

Class of 2019: Arts grad's appetite for change takes him from military history to women's studies

Nolan Hill's best-laid plans took a detour, landing him in the perfect place to thrive and make a difference

When Nolan Hill started studying history and English at the University of Calgary in the fall of 2011, he had “all these hopes and dreams and goals” and he knew exactly what he wanted to do: “I thought I wanted to be a historian who was going to work in a museum and focus on military history.”

But that’s not quite how it turned out. Hill, who is graduating with a Women’s Studies degree, wants to work in sexual health with a focus on gay men’s health. And he credits volunteering with Leadership and Student Engagement, working with the Students’ Union and a year studying abroad in Copenhagen for the “total switch” in his plans. 

“I really learned a lot about who I was and what I actually wanted out of life, and recognized that the world is so much bigger than I thought it was in high school,” says Hill. “Getting the opportunity to experience these other things and learn about these other opportunities really helped me realize that I didn’t want to do what I thought I wanted to do.”

One of his many memorable experiences outside the classroom was going to New Orleans to work with local urban farms and community organizations in poverty-stricken areas of the city. In fact, he signed up for the Building Healthy Communities program twice. His time in New Orleans helped him clarify that he wants to build a career engaging with and contributing to community.

“Nolan has an unwavering passion for social justice and a deep level of compassion,” says Teri Jones, manager with Education Abroad who worked closely with Hill at the Leadership and Student Engagement office. “Nolan is the perfect example of a student who took complete ownership over their university experience. He took advantage of every opportunity that presented itself. He leaned into the process of discovering who he is and the impact he wants to have in his community.”

Hill, who is working as the gay men’s health specialist at Calgary’s Centre for Sexuality, plans to take a master's degree in public health. “He took the time to navigate his values and what was important to him in his life. This self-awareness has led him to a role in which he is truly making a difference and is thriving,” says Jones.

It wasn’t always an easy road. Hill had some personal and mental health struggles over the years and has learned a few hard lessons along the way. “I can give a lot of myself to other people, other programs but at the end of the day if there is nothing left to take care of myself then that is a challenge,” he says. “I only have so many hours in a day and so much energy to give.”

And he’s also learned to be open to change. “I never thought I’d graduate with a Women’s Studies degree; I went through three different majors before I ended up with this one,” he says. “The best-laid plans don’t always work out.” And for Hill, that’s definitely for the better.