Jessica Jennings, artist, mother, and psychology student at Mount Royal University, is a member of the Dene First Nation in Cold Lake. Jessica is the inaugural recipient of the CPA’s undergraduate Indigenous Student Award.
Jessica Jennings is an artist. An outgoing, gregarious person in her daily life, she has channeled a lot of that joyful spirit into art over the years. Of late, however, she has developed another passion. Her plan is to soon be an artist – and a psychologist.
An undergraduate student at the University of Mount Royal in Calgary, Jessica is all about people. Connecting with people, meeting with them, going out and doing things. When we spoke, we did so over Zoom – one of the first times she has used Zoom in her life! While the rest of us have become overly accustomed to virtual platforms, Jessica has been finding people who share her craving for personal connection and eschewing, as best she is able, the constantly plugged-in online virtual world.
It was this love for people, and a desire to help them, that led Jessica toward her current career path. She considered other helping professions, like nursing and midwifery, but said it was her intuition that led her toward psychology.
“I had a professor who talked about how he had made decisions in his career, and how he didn’t listen to his intuition when it came to what he wanted to do. He had a law degree, and several other degrees, but said that had he listened to his intuition he wouldn’t have gone down this path.”
Jessica grew up a member of the Dene First Nation in Cold Lake Alberta, where Indigenous people face a lot of hardships and problems. This is where she hopes to go with her own career, where she says she would love to work with Indigenous women in addictions counselling. She saw first-hand growing up how people in her community, including her mother, faced difficulties with alcohol and other substance use. Enrolling in a psychology program was the first step toward that goal, and so far so good – everything she has done in school thus far has been exciting, stimulating, and has reinforced her belief that she made the right choice.
“I’ll be in school for the next five to seven years, potentially, so it’s really hard to predict what my outcome will be. I’m sure my plans will grow and develop within the next few years. But I see that people in my community are struggling, and I’d love to be a part of their healing journey.”
Drawn in particular toward personality psychology, Jessica says she’s a sucker for personality tests. She mentions she’s recently taken the Enneagram Personality Test, which identifies nine different personality traits. While none of those tests can reliably call Jessica an ‘extreme extrovert’, that is how she describes herself – an early self-diagnosis from a future psychologist who will one day be able to make those distinctions for others.
A mother of two young boys, Jessica is embarking on her academic journey a little later than most. This is her first real foray into higher education (she doesn’t really count the brief stint at a Saskatchewan bible college). Her boys are thrilled and proud of their mom’s decision to take on such an arduous academic path, although she says they’re not too keen on being kicked out of the bedroom so she can study. There’s a lot of studying!
A lot of work also goes into applications for scholarships, bursaries, and awards – the recipient of an award from Mount Royal a few years ago, Jessica says the financial boost that came from that has carried through her schooling and helped a lot. This year, she spent 15 hours preparing her application for the CPA’s inaugural undergraduate Indigenous Student Award. In fact, she had to create a CV for this express purpose, not having had one for several years. That work paid off, Jessica won the award, and the first year at Mount Royal will be (financially, at least) a little easier as a result.
A passion for psychology will take Jessica a long way in the future – here she is only a year in and she is already the recipient of multiple awards! But it is her passion for art that has sustained her until now. For years, she has developed a repertoire and a reputation, such that she is still getting commissions from friends and selling pieces to this day. She does acrylic oil and watercolour work, and recently got into ‘art pours’, where paint gets poured into a design to create beautiful patterns.
Of course, school – especially an intensive program like psychology – combined with raising two kids leaves precious little time for art. Jessica says that while art has taken a backseat to the pursuit of a psychology career, when school is out she gets right back into it.
“I always have people, and friends, who want a painting. So I try to focus a couple of days a month into just fully doing it. But it’s so tough to find the time!”
In her time in Calgary, Jessica has embraced the best of what culture the city has to offer – she takes her kids to the mountains to teach them snowboarding, and she speaks in glowing terms about the high quality and incredible variety of restaurants in the downtown core. She’s even embraced country music, and is still buzzing about going to see Nate Smith’s first ever show in Canada.
Although it’s impossible to know exactly what path lies ahead for your education and your career, especially in your first year of studies, Jessica has a pretty good idea of how she wants that path to look. She’d like to do her graduate school here in Calgary, the city she loves and that her kids call home. And from there, she’d love to become a registered psychologist and work in the Indigenous substance use mental health space.
One thing is for certain – with a personality as vibrant as Jessica’s whether in class, on the ski slopes, at a concert hall or gallery art show or even (maybe!) on Zoom, she’s going to make a lot of friends, and lifelong connections, along the way.