This profile was part of the Faculty of Public Affairs’ 75 for the 75th series, which highlighted 75 notable alumni in FPA in honour of Carleton University’s 75th anniversary. These stories were published in 2016 and 2017.
Senior Public Affairs Officer, Maritime Forces Atlantic
Master of Arts, Communication (’02)
On January 12, 2010, Kelly Williamson received a phone call: a massive earthquake had just struck Haiti and she was being sent there, along with members of the Canadian Armed Forces’ Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART).
“The thing I loved most about this experience, beyond being part of a team sent to help those in need, was being dropped into a very chaotic environment and having to figure out how to do my job effectively with limited resources,” recalls Lieutenant-Commander (LCdr) Williamson, who served as Media Operations Officer. “It was all about networking, making connections and communicating how Canada was helping in the country.”
Five years later, in Nepal, LCdr Williamson served a similar function after a violent earthquake struck that country. She says working with the DART was one of the highlights of her career. During this deployment, Williamson was a member of an advanced team of the DART who deployed to the country within 24 hours of the earthquake in order to determine how Canada could best contribute to international relief efforts.
“It was such an amazing experience to be part of a team of subject- matter experts. We arrived and began to conduct reconnaissance visits to various regions to see how Canada could best contribute,” says Williamson, who also served in Afghanistan. “Everyone is so motivated and wanted to help so much. It was really inspiring to be associated with them.”
Williamson’s work in communications was informed by both of her degrees: a bachelor’s degree from the Royal Military College (RMC) and a master’s in communication from Carleton.
“RMC presented a unique education experience combining academics, athletics, leadership and military training. I wanted a challenge so I went the military route,” she explains, adding that she has always been interested in being a war correspondent. Following graduation, Williamson received a Security and Defence Forum scholarship to pursue her master’s in communication at Carleton University.
“I was very interested in the way information is used and manipulated in a conflict so I proposed a thesis on media coverage of the military,” she says. “Then 9/11 happened and, with the help of my advisor Professor Karim Karim, I began to study how the press constructs narratives and how that helps society understand what’s going on in the world around it.”
Williamson says her experience helps her create narratives that explain the work of the Canadian Armed Forces. It also broadened her perspective and gave her another lens through which to observe the world. However, her military service on a Canadian warship required an adjustment.
“I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into,” admits Williamson. “My initiation into the military wasn’t easy. But being in the Navy has contributed to my resourcefulness, tenacity and challenged me to grow as a leader.
Williamson served onboard Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships Algonquin and Vancouver as Maritime Surface and Sub-surface Officer. She earned her Bridge Watchkeeping Certificate and eventually
became an Above Water Warfare Director, specializing in the employment of the ship’s surface and air defence systems.
Today, she is Senior Public Affairs Officer for Maritime Forces Atlantic, the largest formation of the Royal Canadian Navy based in downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia.
She has returned to Carleton, to share her experiences with students in the School of Journalism and Communication.
“I tell them to be persistent, keep an open mind and always be willing to learn,” she says.
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