As our ONE HEALtH Student Challenge 2018 is nearing its end, we are catching up with our senior and graduate student mentors to find out more about their experiences with the challenge.

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The mentors come from a variety of backgrounds including cognitive science, psychology, biology, health sciences, and philanthropy and non-profit leadership. Each of these backgrounds bring a compelling perspective to the challenge.

“I think coming from a psychology background has allowed me to have strengths regarding the mental health portion of this challenge – understanding factors that can contribute to stress, mental illness, and even how long it can take the brain to recover from trauma,” Michaela Keogh says.

Roxana Barbu stresses her personal experience and how it integrates with the challenge. She worked as a literary counselor for six weeks with the Peawanuck First Nation, who were evacuated due to the Winisk Flood. “That’s what attracted me to the challenge, the community I worked in was evacuated in ’86.” The challenge “has a focus on First Nations, which is important to me.” Roxana is also inspired by the One Health approach because it is “interdisciplinary, that’s my whole passion, my whole research,” she says.

Sam Petrie enjoys the interdisciplinary aspect of the challenge as well. His graduate research looks at complex adaptive health systems, and he has learned that “whenever you implicate a system, there will always be unintended consequences.” He is using this knowledge to nudge students to think of not only what can go right in their framework, but also what could happen despite well-intentioned plans.

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While all of the mentors bring their own set of skills to the challenge, being a mentor can still be a tricky position as it requires a careful balance of being a peer and a leader. One way to manage this balance is to show vulnerability. “[I] show my ignorance too and willingness to learn,” Roxana says. And, as Caprise Perrineau says, “I have also been a person who has failed a lot. I have made many, many mistakes and have learned to recover from difficult scenarios. The ability to share your failures and learn from others is a skill that is important to mentorship.”

It is also important to let students come up with their own ideas. As Mackenzie Doiron says, “it’s not a mentor’s job to do work for the group, or to get their fingerprints all over the group’s work.” This is also important when it comes to how ideas are evaluated during meetings. As Sam says, “when an idea is brought to the table, you [as a mentor] should offer your thoughts last.”

One of the greatest challenges of being a mentor is time management, which mentors spoke of as requiring creativity to manage. “It’s challenging to want your group to be fully committed (and win) while also watching them become a little stressed over their other responsibilities. It’s also a challenge to make sure that the students know that their course work should come first. I think it’s a bit of a learning curve,” Michaela says. “Be willing to modify your schedule on a weekly basis,” Roxana adds. Even though course work can be a stressor, the challenge has had a positive impact in managing these very stressors. “Especially around this time of the year, students are stressed and feeling a little down so it’s wonderful to be able to be involved in something that ignites the passion in them,” Michaela says.

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This year’s challenge brings an important issue to the forefront. To recap, the mentors have been leading groups of students to create a framework to mitigate the physical and mental health risks, and facilitate community rebuilding following a natural disaster, with a particular focus on First Nations communities in Canada’s northern regions. During the ONE HEALtH launch, guest speakers Craig Linklater and Darrel Shorting provided an account of living through the evacuation of Little Saskatchewan First Nation in Manitoba due to a 2011 manmade flood. Their stories had a strong impact on students and mentors alike.

“I have learned a lot about the initial knowledge, exposure and engagement most students have about and with Indigenous communities. I have also learned sadly that it is very easy for Canadians to be sheltered from and/or ignore the difficulties of others,” Caprise says. Many students and mentors had no prior knowledge of these floods. As Sam realised his lack of knowledge, he felt “shame and disgust and anger” at his not knowing. And as Roxana says, “most student-targeted experiences don’t have this reality check.”

Yet this reality check makes the challenge so impactful. The challenge becomes “not just about improving your CV but about improving yourself as a person and contributing from now on,” Roxana says. And Sam agrees, noting it can be easy to “get caught in the rat race,” but this challenge encourages everyone to “take time out of your day to think of the actual meaning of what you’re doing.”

The challenge stresses the importance of looking at a problem from multiple perspectives. As Mack says, “a swiftly executed solution looks really good on paper, but trying to create a framework where all of the aspects of the problem can be considered is a much more sustainable approach to tackling public health issues.” Indeed, the focus is on the complexity of the issue, rather than a quick solution.

The ONE HEALtH Student Challenge brings together students, mentors, and consultants from a variety of backgrounds to examine an issue and think of potential solutions. “It has been a pleasure getting to know my group, and learning from them as much as they’re learning from me,” Mack says. We are happy to hear that the mentor experience has been a meaningful one. As Roxana says, “you not only grow as a mentor, but as a person.”

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Our senior and graduate mentors are:

Roxana Barbu, MA
PhD Student in Cognitive Science

Mackenzie Doiron, MA
PhD Student in Psychology

Michaela Keogh
Masters Student in Philanthropy and Non-profit Leadership

Caprise Perrineau
Undergraduate Student in Biology

Samuel Petrie
Masters Student in Health Sciences

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Our challenge ends this Friday November 16! We can’t wait to see what our teams have come up with! Stay tuned to hear more about the challenge, and be sure to follow us on Twitter for updates (@CHAIM_Centre)!

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