Scholarship and leadership go hand-in-hand at Waterloo

Tahnee Prior’s passion for the Arctic is as vast as the land itself. And the conversation the world has about it, she says, should be larger than minerals and oil.

Tahnee Prior

"It's a big goal of mine to shift that narrative more towards the people and the environment, and what it takes to properly govern both of them", says Prior, a University of Waterloo PhD student who earned a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholarship and a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship in 2015.

Her doctoral research at the Balsillie School of International Affairs proposes a better model of care for the Arctic region — one that sets aside the national interests of the eight countries in the Arctic region in favour of a transnational approach to help the people most affected by climate change and resource opportunities.

This isn't top-down governance, where a body of decision-makers writes the script for northern people to follow, she says. It's a process of policy-building that involves Arctic residents, and respects the traditions of the region’s indigenous peoples.

Committed to the connection between strong scholarship and strong communities, Prior stands out as an example of the leaders emerging from the University of Waterloo. In academic programming, the University doesn’t take a top-down approach, either.

It provides an incubative environment, bringing faculty and students together to collaborate on regional, national and global challenges.

Waterloo ‘gives us so many opportunities’

“I became enamoured with this place,” Prior says of the Balsillie school and the University of Waterloo. “It gives us so many opportunities.”

She has two leading supervisors supporting her work: Neil Craik, director of Waterloo’s School of Environment, Enterprise and Development; and Thomas Homer-Dixon, Centre for Global Innovation chair of Global Systems, and a professor of political science.

“Her leadership style is facilitative and community-oriented,” Craik writes in a letter accompanying Prior’s Trudeau Scholarship application. “She is highly respectful of others and is genuinely motivated by a desire to contribute to positive change across the various communities of which she is a part.”

“The effectiveness of her leadership style is evident from her accomplishments.”

Taking a global perspective

A true internationalist, Prior calls a number of places “home” — Finland (where she was born), Canada and Switzerland — among them. She did a master’s degree in global governance at the Balsillie school after graduating from Franklin University Switzerland with a Bachelor of Arts in international relations.

Prior’s other work includes examining the nature of human security in the Arctic as a team member on a research project at the Arctic Centre at the University of Lapland, in Finland. She is also a co-builder of the Thousand Network, a group of young people living around the world who share an interest in social progress.

Few researchers, she says, are examining social change in the Arctic as an international policy priority, where solutions aren’t confined by national borders. But she and her colleagues are “incredibly supportive of this idea.”

“We’re hoping to understand how you can translate these theories around social and ecological resilience into actual legal doctrine,” she says. “That’s big.”


Research like Tahnee Prior's demonstrates how Waterloo is educating its graduates to address the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

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