Supporting Student Mental Health in the Classroom – Kristin Brown

Student behind a pile of text books.
Image used under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license.

Student mental health is an issue that is close to my heart. During my graduate studies, I co-founded Stand Up to Stigma, a student-led mental health initiative on campus partnered with Counselling Services and Health Services. I also created a CTE workshop regarding how instructors and TAs can support student mental health. I wrote a similar post to this one more than two years ago, but given the recent creation of the University of Waterloo’s President’s Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health and Mental Health Wellness Day this week, I think it’s time to revisit it. Student mental health has been on the minds of many instructors and TAs; this blog post provides some of the resources available to help students in distress and promote mental well-being in the classroom.

 What’s the issue?

A recent survey conducted by the American College Health Association (2016) highlights the current issues University of Waterloo (n=1,955) and Ontario post-secondary students (n=25,168) are facing with respect to mental health.

Within the past year, percentage of
post-secondary students who had…
University of Waterloo Ontario
Felt academics were traumatic or very difficult to handle 58% 59.3%
Felt overwhelming anxiety 60.8% 65.4%
Felt so depressed that it was difficult to function 44.5% 46.1%
Been diagnosed or treated by a professional for anxiety 14.2% 18.3%
Been diagnosed or treated by a professional for depression 11.4% 14.7%
Seriously considered suicide 5.0% 4.4%

Continue reading Supporting Student Mental Health in the Classroom – Kristin Brown

Third time is the charm: Management Engineering Case Days

MSCI 100, a first year Management Engineering course taught by Professor Ken McKay, introduces students to the main concepts of the discipline in their first term. The course’s main goals are to introduce the core principles that students will apply throughout their undergraduate studies and to prepare them for their first co-operative education term.

The course was pedagogically redesigned based on including authentic self-directed learning, and providing students with opportunities to develop their professional skills (especially teamwork, project planning, time management and critical thinking). Professional Skills and Communication were taught within the context of the specific discipline as recommended in [1]. The overhauled course is composed of several activities/deliverables for students to experience multiple constructive failure-recovery cycles as a way to teach students the advantages of making mistakes [2].

In this blog post I will talk about the ‘case days’ experience, one of the cornerstones of the course that I helped plan and facilitate with the course’s teaching team. Three ‘case days’ were designed to provide an intense and deep learning experience regarding problem-solving, teamwork, and project management. On each case day, students, in teams, were given the case study at 8:30 am, their final product was due by 4:30 pm. There were no other courses, lectures, labs, or tutorials on these days. The requirements were vague, the problem was ill-defined, and the students were given ample opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them. Furthermore, not everything they needed to know had been taught in class and they had to teach themselves new material during these days. The students were expected to meet specific deadlines throughout the day and were given extensive rubrics. The student teams were assigned advisors (staff and faculty volunteers) who provided guidance throughout the day. The role of the advisors purposely diminished each case day. The teams eventually met requirements on their own, without any hand holding. Continue reading Third time is the charm: Management Engineering Case Days

Learning to Learn – Paul Kates

person studyingNew undergraduates are already successful students when they arrive at university.  They come with learning habits developed over a decade’s time at school where “work harder” is a commonly followed injunction for improvement or to remedy declining achievement.

But learning at a university is more challenging than high school.  Students face increasing rigour combined with more and denser material all at a quicker pace.  Can students at university work smarter, making better use of their limited time? Continue reading Learning to Learn – Paul Kates

Five easy ways to support your students’ professional development – Charis Enns

5621810815_185b86a50d_bIt is that time of year when instructors receive a greater number of reference letter requests, as undergraduate students prepare applications for jobs, graduate school or professional degree programs. I have received a few of these requests from former students as of late, which has led me to reflect on ways that I could assist students in achieving their long-term career and academic goals in addition to writing letters. Although a positive reference letter may help students achieve their goals, there are many other simple steps that I could take to further support students’ professional development. Here are five practical suggestions that I have (or plan to) implement in my own teaching, in order to further support my students’ professional development: Continue reading Five easy ways to support your students’ professional development – Charis Enns

Graduate Student Teaching on Campus

As a Graduate Instructional Developer who works mainly with CTE’s Certificate in University Teaching (CUT) program, I have the privilege of observing graduate students teach in classrooms across campus. Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to observe over 35 classes taught by graduate students in all six faculties. I have been incredibly impressed by the quality of teaching by graduate students. They have taken concepts from CTE workshops (e.g., active learning, group work, formative assessment) and applied them directly in their teaching. They are using innovative teaching strategies, technologies, and engaging students in their lessons. The University of Waterloo community should be proud of graduate students’ dedication to, and passion for, teaching.

So how can we support graduate students in continuing to develop their teaching skills?

  • I think many of us would agree the best way to improve our teaching is to practice. In some departments, it’s difficult for graduate students to access teaching opportunities, but guest lectures are a great way to gain experience. If you’re teaching, consider asking the graduate students you supervise and/or your Teaching Assistants whether they’re interested in giving a guest lecture in the course.
  • If you know a talented Teaching Assistant or graduate student instructor, please nominate them for an award! Information regarding Graduate Student Teaching Awards can be difficult to find, so I’ve compiled a list here. If you know of any that are missing from this list, please post a comment and we will add them.


Graduate Student Teaching Awards

A) University-wide teaching awards

Amit & Meena Chakma Award for Exceptional Teaching by a Student (deadline: February)

B) Faculty-wide teaching awards

C) Department teaching awards

  • Biology – “Outstanding Graduate/Undergraduate Teaching Assistantship Award” (no link available)


Teaching Resources for Graduate Students:

Self-Care Through Your Studies – Natasha Knier


The fall term of the school year is a busy one for not only staff and instructors, but also for the undergraduate students on campus. This is especially true for students that are starting university for the first time or students who have transferred from another university or program. Many adjustments need to be made in one’s life when entering a new school year, like how students can spend their time and the work demands that are placed upon them as the semester unfolds. So how do students go about managing all of these different deadlines, extracurricular activities and other aspects of their lives? Well, the key to this is to constantly work towards overall wellness. This encompasses both the physical and emotional parts of self-care, renewal and management.

As a Residence Life Don, my position with the university has a similar goal to that of a professor or instructor, as we are both striving to teach students new skills and ways to prepare for their future endeavours. One of the main things that makes us different, however, is that my time spent with them and my area of knowledge and resources is generally during the time that they aren’t spending in the classroom. So what does this mean? This means that I’ve seen several students struggle with the balance between different aspects of their lives, such as maintaining good grades as well as making new friends, or trying to get involved with extracurricular activities but still being able to get enough sleep. I will admit, however, that most of my advice and knowledge comes from experience. As an upper year student who has learned (and is continuing to learn) how to best manage a full course load, co-op applications, part-time jobs, and a long list of extracurricular activities, I have become passionate about helping first-year students learn from my own experiences, failures, and successes. So, here are my top 10 tips for maintaining a healthy, balanced, lifestyle throughout an undergraduate degree:

  1. Make exercise a priority. Adults are recommended to have two and a half hours of moderate to intense aerobic activity and muscle strengthening activities per week (World Health Organization, 2010)! For those that don’t have a lot of experience with exercise, this may seem daunting, however the university provides many opportunities to make physical activity a convenient and fun process. At the University of Waterloo, students have the opportunity to try a wide variety of fitness classes by buying a “Shoe Tag”, which allows them to attend any class offered that fits their scheduling needs. There are also three gym and recreational facilities, with one of them located right in our very own Ron Eydt Village (REV) residence!
  2. Try to get at least 6-8 hours of sleep. Sometimes this can be hard with lengthy assignments, midterms and exams to prepare for, but getting enough sleep is actually really beneficial to improving your grades and allowing you to focus during lectures (Moore, 2008).
  3. It’s okay to slow down. This is especially true for when you are sick and/or recovering from an illness. Your body often needs time to recover and heal, and by continuing to push yourself through this time, you can do more harm than good. Sometimes there are commitments in your life that are fixed, such as assignments, work, and other responsibilities, but if you do your best to minimize other activities and take time to rest, your body will thank you.
  4. Set aside time for yourself. This could be done in a variety of ways, depending on whatever activities you do that make you happy or help you to recharge. As for myself, I spend time doing something relaxing or working on a hobby that I enjoy, like walking my dogs or updating my blog. This step is easily overlooked even though it is one of the most important.
  5. Learn how to say “no”. One of the hardest things I had to overcome during my first two years of undergraduate studies was learning that it’s impossible to do everything. Of course, getting involved is an amazing part of the university experience, but it’s important to have a realistic approach to what you can handle during your busy class schedule. In addition to that, don’t be afraid to lessen or increase the amount you take on during your years in school.
  6. Be open to talking with someone. When times become stressful or difficult, it is important to be open to sharing your feelings and concerns with someone else. This could be a counsellor, a friend, a Don, or another trusted individual that will be a listening ear. Even just having someone to listen to you can help calm stressful feelings.
  7. Be someone for others to talk to! Relating to my previous tip, why not be a friend to someone else in times of need? Even if you feel like you don’t know what to say, sometimes people just want someone to listen to them to feel better. Besides, it always helps to know that you are not alone in your struggles.
  8. Find a mentor. A mentor is someone that you can look up to and gain insights from his or her life. No, this does not mean that you will find a “perfect” person, however, someone who is more experienced in life or who has traits that you admire can often provide useful guidance or words of wisdom. For example, if you know someone who has great stress or time management skills, this would be an excellent person to ask for advice when you are having trouble managing those areas in your own life. Many of the faculties at UWaterloo offer different mentorship programs so that first year students can learn from upper-year students.
  9. Learn management skills. This could mean learning how to manage time, stress, academics, or whatever is affecting your mental health. How does one go about doing this? Well, this could involve many of the above steps, such as reaching out and talking to someone, focusing on your physical well-being, or learning more about different management strategies. There are several different workshops and services on campus that can help students develop strategies for success, such as the Student Success Office (SSO) and Counselling Services.
  10. Develop a plan! Now that you know about different resources and options available to helping create a balanced lifestyle, it’s time to act on it! Create new habits that point towards a healthier lifestyle. Even slow, small changes can make a huge difference!

So there you have it – those are my top 10 tips for helping to create balance and finding wellness during the journey of pursuing an undergraduate degree. Hopefully this helps anyone reading this in any way that is beneficial to them – whether that be trying out my tips or offering some new knowledge to a friend. If you have any additional tips or comments about what I’ve said, leave a comment for me and for the readers – we’d love to hear what you have to say!


Photo taken by Natasha Knier, October 2015.


Moore, M., & Meltzer, L. (2008). The sleepy adolescent: Causes and consequences of sleepiness in teens. Paediatric Respiratory Reviews, 9(2), 114-121. Retrieved November 13, 2015, from

World Health Organization. (2010). Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health. Geneva, World Health Organization

Economic Repercussions of Illiteracy- Arifeen Chowdhury

18510337363_234bcff910_mAttending or working at a renowned institution like the University of Waterloo, issues such as illiteracy may escape daily conversation or thinking, especially in an academic community like ours. Measuring illiteracy is debatable; the most common method is a formula developed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization that accounts for the size and structures of a country’s economy [3]. Despite the common belief that illiteracy most affects the developing world, a recent report from the World Literacy Foundation (WLF) shows otherwise. It highlights that workforce illiteracy cause losses of about $898 billion every year in developed countries and $294 billion in emerging economies— the global economy will lose $1.2 trillion in 2015 [5].

Although many believe Canada is well prepared and established in the education front, the fact is nearly half of the adult population have low literacy skills (42%, between the ages of 16 and 65) and for the past 15 years there has been little improvement [3]. Things aren’t getting any better either. It is projected that by 2031, more than 15 million adults in Canada (3 million more than today) will have low literacy rates if the problem isn’t addressed immediately. All this equates to a $32 billion loss in the Canadian economy this year [5]. Across the border, the United States is projected to lose $362 billion [5] — more than any country in the world. While Canada does have one of the best literacy rates in the world, how literacy is defined distorts the gravity of the situation. With nearly half the working population having low literacy levels, productivity and efficiency is not even close to its best. This extends beyond the bank; low literacy can result in poor health, hygiene, safety and family planning. Andrew Kay, CEO of the WLF expressed, “There’s evidence that a person who is either completely illiterate or has functional illiteracy; that has a lifelong impact on them and their employment, and their ability to earn income. That’s [true] in all countries and all economies.” The Canadian Literacy and Learning Network states that a 1% increase in the literacy rate would generate $18 billion in economic growth every year, and investing in literacy programming has a 241% return on investment, yet nobody wants to chip in due to a lack of short term gains [3].

Canada, with one of the best educational infrastructures and high literacy rates of any country in the world, still suffers due to a significant population of people with low literacy levels. The report highlights to establish adult and parental literacy programs; improving school attendance and retention strategies; inculcating a common interest for knowledge; and strengthening government commitment to literacy initiatives. Numbers do not tell us the complete story, but we do know that immediate action at the grass roots is required. Poverty and illiteracy has been proven to go hand-in-hand, Canadians enjoy government support for K-12 education, but many cannot afford to continue towards higher education. However, the problem today lies in low literacy levels— material usually covered in primary and secondary schools. How do we use community based learning to bridge this disconnect? What is our role in this issue?


[1] Anderson, M. (15 August 2015). Illiteracy will cost global economy $1.2tn in 2015. The Guardian News and Media Group. Retrieved from

[2]Canadian Council on Learning (2010). The Future of Literacy in Canada’s Largest Cities report.

[3] Canadian Literacy and Learning Network (2015). All About Literacy in Canada: Literacy Statistics. Retrieved from

[4] Martinez R., and Fernandez A. (2010). The Social and Economic Impact of Illiteracy: Analytical Model and Pilot Study. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

[5] World Literacy Foundation (24 August 2015). The Economic and Social Cost of Illiteracy: A snapshot of illiteracy in a global context.