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Mari Otomo earned her BA in political science from SFU in 2007. She gained work experience before returning to school for a master’s degree in international social work, which connected to her background in political science. Otomo also currently completing an SFU certificate in Evaluation for Social Change and Transformational Learning.
"All of my education has created a holistic understanding of the world and the systems we interact and live in," says Otomo.
She credits her political science degree with helping her develop key skills in critical thinking, writing, argumentation and applying high-level systems and theories. This has complemented her career in social work, which often focuses on micro-level analysis and program implementation.
"Having that macro lens really helps me see the interactions between state and society that social workers have to navigate and operate in," she says.
Otomo’s career path has been anything but traditional. Her first job out of university was with Katimavik, a federally-funded program that allows youth to explore Canada and gain skills. She then spent several years working in non-profit organizations managing volunteers. During this time, Otomo began to dream about something more. She wanted to be able to make personal connections in the international sphere and to affect political and social change. Consequently, she made the switch into social work with a specialization in international and community development. Her master’s included an international practicum component, in which she was fortunate to work for a UN agency in Japan for four months. She currently works for the Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society. Her first role there was on the front lines working with Indigenous children and their families. She has now transitioned to a research and policy-based role in the agency. On the side, Otomo, with her business partner, runs asocial consulting business, where she connects her passion for development work with businesses looking to make meaningful social change.
Her consulting company, Social Root Consulting, recently won an award for social impact. It was a significant milestone for her company's work to be recognized.
In Otomo’s words, "that's the reason we do the work that we do; to be able to create those positive system-level changes within the communities and the businesses that we work with."
She advises current students to take any opportunities that come their way. Often, students may feel that there's a certain path that their degree will take them. However, by remaining open to options that may not be directly related to their degree, they can come across opportunities that they wouldn't otherwise have seen. As a result, further doors will be open.
"Political science offers students development in many different skills that are applicable to so many sectors, so many positions and so many roles," Otomo says.
She remembers that her SFU instructors were very knowledgeable about the high-level political systems that we interact with. The instructors’ approach to teaching made her coursework very meaningful in increasing her understanding of the subject matter.
"Having a political science degree really has shaped my worldview and the lens through which I perceive and understand the world,” Otomo says. “It allows me to be really curious about the world, and for that I am super grateful."