Leah Schmidt Web Hero Image

Leah Schmidt, BA'17 (Women's Studies), BA'17 (International Relations)

Arch Award Recipient - Early Career Achievement Award

Recognizes professional accomplishment or creative leadership in any field by graduates aged 30 or younger (as of December 31, 2023). The award honours recent graduates whose career success has brought distinction to themselves and credit to the university.

There are plenty of quotes from ancient historians and theologians who will wax poetic about the nobility of gathering wisdom and skill only through years upon years of experience and sacrifice.  
Fine enough, but, to paraphrase a modern storyteller: “Everyone in the world is born with genius-level talent. Apply yourself to whatever you’re a genius at, and you can do anything.”

If we examine this mantra further, then the success we see in our 2023 Early Career Arch Award recipient should not be measured in the short amount of time it took them to attain, but rather the short amount of time it took to unlock it.

At just 29 years old, Leah Schmidt, BA’17 (Women's Studies), BA'17 (International Relations), has already established herself as a trailblazer in her field, known for putting her whole heart, mind and positive energy into each opportunity that she is involved in. From working at the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations in New York City, to starting her Doctorate of Philosophy in Multi-disciplinary Gender Studies at the University of Cambridge, to being a Fulbright Killam Fellowship recipient, Schmidt has made a significant impact in the short five years since completing her undergraduate degrees. As a self-identified non-neurotypical queer woman with physical disabilities, she has made a strong commitment to furthering the representation and inclusion of diverse identities in all her work.

“I really admire her ability to put her whole heart and mind into her relationships, despite what I imagine is an overwhelming to to-do list.” says nominator and friend Teri Jones, BFA’08. “She is one of the best people that I have had the privilege to know.  – I am grateful that my seven-year-old daughter has an incredible role model in Leah.”

While still early in her career, Schmidt has already contributed significant and positive impact as a federal public servant. While on the G7 /G20 Summits team with the UN, she Schmidt played a critical role in the conception and operationalization of a Canadian G20 initiative to promote women's economic empowerment and private-sector leadership.

Schmidt previously served as a public servant to Environment and Climate Change Canada's (ECCC) Centre of Gender Expertise, and recently began a new role in the Government of Canada's Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada's asylum branch. Her previous work involved diversity reviews of all major federal documentation processes including Memoranda to Cabinet, budget proposals, and Treasury Board Submissions. In addition to this high-level work, which included clients such as the Privy Council and the Prime Minister's Office, she helped support the first climate security assessment for Canada's National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, and supported the development ECCC's first intersectional Disability-Inclusive Climate research group. As mentioned she is currently residing in England where she is taking her Doctorate of Philosophy in Multi-disciplinary Gender Studies at the University of Cambridge.

Outside of her career, Schmidt is also an award-winning published artist and poet; a Royal Conservatory jazz pianist; a former internationally ranked competitive Irish dancer; and she has performed as a classically trained operatic vocalist for more than a decade. As if her plate isn’t full enough, Schmidt is also an aspiring Olympic weightlifter. As she continues to push the boundaries of what is, and what could be, Schmidt’s journey is still, remarkably, just beginning. The future for Schmidt, and the wide net she casts in her professional and personal pursuits, promises a future filled with even greater accomplishments and transformative impact on our world.

Leah Schmidt

Attend Alumni All-Access

As in previous years, the Arch Awards kicked off Alumni All-Access (Oct. 12 to Oct. 22, 2023). Everyone is welcome to join in on ten days of amazing events to discover new ideas, explore what UCalgary has to offer and have fun! 


I am incredibly grateful to the nominators, supporters, mentors, and friends who have made my journey possible thus far. From being a shy, anxious second-year undergraduate student who was surprised that Teri Jones remembered my name, to learning under the empowering experiential teaching of Dawn Johnston and Lisa Stowe, my time at the University of Calgary truly shaped me into the person I am today. I am so thankful for my UCalgary experience, and I can't wait to see what adventures the future holds!

Leah Schmidt

BA'17 (Women's Studies), BA'17 (International Relations)

Getting to know Leah Schmidt

Was there any particular moment that stands out for you from the University of Calgary? A cherished memory? 
Too many to recount! I was fortunate to be able to cram my undergraduate degrees with as many adventures as I could. The Faculty of Arts experiential-learning food culture program in Spain taught by Lisa Stowe and Dawn Johnston was a favorite. Not only were the classes phenomenal and the food delicious (the tapas!), [it was also] the first time I began solo travelling, which is now one of my favourite confidence-boosting activities. [Even] Orientation Week 2013 with Teri Jones, where I forced the O-team to wear Dinos-themed tutus and crowns all week as we enthusiastically welcomed incoming students.

You’ve had such an impressive career path in a short amount of time, is there anything you wish you knew in the past that you know now? 
This is probably not your usual answer, but, to be completely candid, I wish I had gone to therapy earlier. Sometimes it's very easy to get stuck in an "overachiever" headspace where you keep setting more and more ambitious goals for yourself, and the failures (rejected articles, not getting an award, etc.) loom larger than they should. Having a neutral third party allows you to step back, take stock of your accomplishments, and ensure your ambitions are healthy, sustainable, and true to your values.

Is there anything in the work you do that you think is maybe too often misunderstood or ignored by the public? 
Oh yes, you should see the various reactions I get when I say I work in gender studies! I think it's sometimes easy to get discouraged by negative first impressions in a field that's so political and politicized, but those reactions really emphasize the importance of finding a supportive community and effective language that bridges miscommunication gaps, particularly when you work across multiple disciplines, as I do. And having a sense of humour about yourself and your work definitely helps!

What is the most rewarding part of what you do? 
Seeing a clear connection between the work I am doing and a positive impact on Canadians. It's easy to stay motivated when you can directly see your work making a difference.

You have already accomplished so much.  - What’s next? 
Well, I'm starting my Doctorate of Philosophy in the Fall at Cambridge, while maintaining a full-time role with the Government of Canada, so that will definitely be a juggling act! I have some exciting research projects on Women, Peace and Security issues coming up that I'm looking forward to digging into, in addition to semi-regular commuting between the UK U.K. and Ottawa.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Achieving a holistic understanding of the self while maintaining forward momentum. Or a warm cat sleeping on your lap and a good book.

What is your greatest fear?
Not feeling fulfilled and satisfied by my work. Also, cars, from when they made all the junior high students go to a very graphic and very effective anti-drunk driving seminar at the Foothills Hospital in Grade 8. That seminar is also where I learned I am far too squeamish to ever be a doctor!

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I struggle with worst-case-scenario thought patterns. I think those anxious gut reactions have prevented me from attaining opportunities in the past, but, luckily, changing thinking patterns is a learned skill (and one that I'm working hard at!).

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Lack of empathy or sympathy towards people who have lived different lives from yourself.

What is your greatest extravagance?
My cats, who want for nothing. I continue to stage an elaborate birthday photoshoot for them every year, which they continue to hate.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
"No worries!" In reality, it's usually quite a large number of worries.

Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish I was better at languages! I have so many incredible first- and second-generation friends who are multilingual, and my brain just wasn't trained from a young age with the ability to switch between languages, so I'm very jealous of that skillset!

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Ability to succeed without any sleep or caffeine! Also, I wish my hair was naturally pink.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Winning this award, of course!

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
A pampered housecat, belonging to a double-income cat-person household with no children.

Where would you most like to live?
I attended a conference in Japan last year, and absolutely loved it. The ramen! The vending machines! The efficient and reliable public transit! 

What is your most treasured possession?
I have doggedly kept a letter I wrote to myself as a seventh-grade assignment to be opened on my 30th birthday. I am very excited to see what my 12-year-old self guessed my life would be like! And to see how far I've come.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I feel the pressure to say a household name who changed the history of the world. But, honestly... Anne of Cleves, fourth wife of Henry VIII. She was declared "too ugly" to be queen and stayed out of court drama, ending up with a tidy divorce, a handsome settlement, her own land, and a surprisingly lengthy friendship with King Henry. She outlived all seven of his other wives by keeping it low-key, politely refusing to comply with social expectations of the time and working on her own projects. She knew what she wanted, and it was not to be beheaded. What a badass.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Teri Jones, Dawn Johnston, and Lisa Stowe, my incredible nominators! Also, my wonderful partner, Michael, who is one of the most determined and intelligent people I know, in addition to being the unpaid copy editor to my many, many rough first drafts.

What is your greatest regret?
I get really intimidated by accomplished people, and there's many times I wish I could have just gone up and introduced myself to someone I admired. Overcoming that anxiety is still a work in progress — but I'm getting better!

These incredible alumni are changing the world with vision and purpose. Meet the 2023 Arch Award recipients.