Mentor of Distinction
As the proverb goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Becky Cook is living proof of this and the positive influence a nurturing family, a supportive community and a network of strong role models can have on a person’s life and career.
This 28-year-old geophysicist grew up in Grand Rapids, Manitoba, a member of the Misipawistik Cree Nation, which helped cultivate her enduring connection to Mother Earth.
I was always interested in the world around me. We were always camping or fishing on Lake Winnipeg or just running around in our backyard, which was pretty much the bush
Cook is the daughter of two teachers, her father also a former commercial fisherman, one of her fondest memories is of spending time on the land.
“We went camping a lot and one of my favourite events was the yearly culture camp organized by community members, including my parents. Several families from the community would set up camp on the lake, where we would enjoy traditional activities – sweat lodges, fishing, hunting, tanning of hides and the smoking of fish and meat.”
Being raised near the lake sparked an initial inkling that Cook might someday become a marine biologist. However, once she became engaged in her math and physics courses in high school and eventually, went on to study geology and geophysics at the University of Manitoba – she discovered what it was she was meant to do.
Today, she is employed by Nexen Inc., a position that combines her love of the land and her ability to figure out complex problems. “Geophysics is the study of the subsurface; we record the physical properties of the earth using non-invasive methods,” she explains. “In the oil industry, we send seismic waves into the earth. The waves will reflect of interfaces where the density and velocity of the rock changes, By recording and analyzing the waves that return to the surface, we can create images of the subsurface and identify structures that potentially contain oil ”
Although her office is in Calgary, Cook’s work is actually internationally-based.
“Since I started at Nexen nearly four years ago, I haven’t worked on a single project that was based in Alberta. Instead, I have been part of teams working on projects in Colombia, the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea,” she says. “My current project is a development project in Nigeria’s offshore.”
Cook knows that being able to fill her passport with stamps from exotic destinations like the Nigerian port of Lagos is a fascinating benefit of her work, and she eagerly shares her travel adventures with the students she meets and mentors through Operation Minerva.
“I find my job very exciting and I try to relate how much I enjoy it with them,” she says. “The fact that I’ve traveled around the world definitely lights up their eyes.”
Cook has enjoyed the opportunities to mentor students throughout her University career and presently via Nexen’s involvement in Operation Minerva’s job shadowing aboriginal mentorship program as well as through a similar program run by APEGGA.
Although it took some time to adjust to the notion of being a role model to the students she meets, Cook says that she is now comfortable with young girls looking up to her as a successful aboriginal woman.
“A lot of the kids I talk to don’t have the same kind of family support system and role models I did growing up. I had many strong Cree women around me, from doctors and nurses to teachers, band councillors and entrepreneurs – and of course, my mom, who was always supportive. She used to (and still does) tell me I can do anything I put my mind to.
One of my favourite parts about mentoring is when the mentees find out I am Cree, from a small reserve AND am a geophysicist. I can see them just light up and think, ‘Yeah, I could do it too’ – and not just be a geophysicist, but anything they want.