Inaugural recipient of Amy Dietz Student Advocacy Award selected

Miriam Pallard, a graduate student in the School of Labor and Employment Relations, has been selected as the inaugural Amy Dietz Student Advocacy Award recipient. Pallard is pursuing her Master of Professional Studies in Human Resources and Employment Relations (HRER) through Penn State World Campus.

The Amy Dietz Student Advocacy Award recognizes a World Campus student enrolled in any of the school’s online programs who is actively engaged in advocacy on behalf of an issue, cause, or group. Nominees must be enrolled in at least one online class at the time of their nomination and all school students are eligible for consideration, regardless of academic standing or program.

The award honors the memory of Amy Dietz, a beloved member of the school who passed away in 2018. Amy was part of the school’s staff, then earned a degree in labor and employment relations and a master’s in HRER. She went on to become an academic adviser and faculty member. She is remembered as a tremendous advocate for her students.

“We selected Miriam because she best epitomizes the spirit of the award,” said Kim Trahan, a member of the award selection committee and assistant teaching professor of organizational leadership. “With her tireless work to help people achieve homeownership through Habitat for Humanity in the Northwest Territories of Canada, she’s a fitting first recipient of the award. Her efforts have changed the lives of others and her personal experience has been truly inspirational.”

Pallard grew up in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, and now lives in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories (NWT). She began volunteering to get to know more people in the community, but her own experience with homelessness also fueled her passion for helping others achieve homeownership with Habitat for Humanity.

“I was a single mom and things started to get hard between having a newborn and paying rent,” Pallard recalled. “I moved in with a cousin for a year, but their family was growing as well, and they needed their space. I found another apartment, but the area was not great. There was a lot of police activity and drugs in the building, so I ended up on a friend’s couch. I knew I had to change things.”

Pallard said that before she started her studies at Penn State, she completed a certificate in human resource management.

“I did well and enjoyed the work,” she said. “I applied as a recruiter for the government and got the position.”

Her next step was applying for housing support from NWT Housing Corporation. She was accepted into the program and after completing it, she received the money for a deposit on her condo. Pallard added, “The feeling I had owning my own home, a safe and stable environment to raise my son, meant the world to me.”

With things starting to look up in her life, Pallard decided to continue her education and give back to her community.

According to Pallard, there is a housing crisis in the NWT. Yellowknife is home to approximately 20,000 people and 43 percent of dwellings need major repair or are too small for the number of people living in them.  

In 2016, Pallard volunteered as a coordinator for Habitat for Humanity NWT. She said that at that time, they were a relatively new nonprofit in the NWT. The organization had just completed their first duplex a few years before. Pallard oversaw organizing local volunteers and volunteers who traveled to the NWT to help build. She also worked with the build chairperson to ensure the volunteers knew when, where, and what needed to be done when they arrived at the site.

“I enjoyed watching the homes be built from scratch and when families got to see their homes for the first time,” Pallard added. “I eventually started volunteering on the board of directors for Habitat for Humanity and learned more about the organization and how they wanted to grow.”

Part of that growth was reaching the indigenous communities of the NWT.

“More than 50 percent of the population is indigenous, so our next step was working with the aboriginal governments to start building Habitat homes in their communities,” she said.

Pallard added that the coronavirus pandemic changed the way Habitat for Humanity works. Supplies are hard to get, so they have had to purchase and modify prebuilt homes. Pallard has still been working with families to ensure they get their 500 sweat equity hours, which are community service hours families complete to get their Habitat for Humanity home. Currently, Pallard is serving as the chairperson of the family services committee. She is responsible for finding families that would be a good fit for the program.

“This means doing presentations about Habitat, what we do, and the difference we can make in people’s lives,” she said. “We are currently doing two builds this year, one within an aboriginal community and the other in Yellowknife.”

Early in her academic journey, Pallard was one of Amy Dietz’s advisees. That connection makes receiving this award even more special.

“I sent Amy many emails and had many phone conversations with Amy when I started at Penn State,” Pallard recalled. “I never got to meet her in person, but knowing who she was and what she did for others made being the first recipient of the award the best feeling.”

Pallard added that being recognized for her work with Habitat for Humanity strengthens her commitment to the organization.

“I believe my part in volunteering with Habitat does make a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “I’m married with three children now. I’ve been blessed with a safe and decent place to live. When I get to inform families that they’ll get to have a home too, it’s priceless.”