Healthy Campus Community Champion

Senior Lecturer Dr. Kevin Lam Awarded as a Healthy Campus Community Champion

June 17, 2024

By Melissa Lafrance

Kevin Lam is being recognized for his outstanding contributions to student health and well-being as the 2019 faculty recipient of the Champions for a Healthy Campus Community award.

As a senior lecturer in the Department of Biological Sciences, Kevin teaches large classes at the first and second-year levels. Kevin encourages meaningful connections with his students and creates supportive learning environments in which students can grow their confidence and resilience.  Kevin also shares tools and strategies for supporting student wellness with the broader SFU community.

Creating well-being in learning environments

To allow even the busiest educators to promote student wellness, Kevin created a collection of ready-to-use activities/lessons that can be shared during the 5 minutes before the start of each lecture. Kevin is also creating the SFU Resilience Project: an online video series (inspired by the Stanford Resilience Project) that will feature successful SFU role models sharing their personal stories of failure, and how they grew from these difficult experiences.

Kevin also reaches out to connect with his students, each semester. “During the first two weeks of the semester, I invite students to schedule a 5- to 10-minute chat with me, and incentivize them with bonus marks. During these conversations, I ask students to share their short- and long-term goals, and any stresses and challenges they’re currently dealing with, so that I can try to find ways to help them, this semester.  This simple prompt has led to many meaningful conversations, and these chats have a noticeable effect on how safe and supported students feel, in both the lecture hall and my office,” says Kevin.

Kevin was at first unsure that such meetings were even possible, considering the enrollment in his classes are between 200 and 300 students. However, that changed when a supportive colleague in the Department of Mathematics, Petra Menz, shared the strategies that she had been using in her own large classes for years. Impressively, Kevin learns each student’s name and supports them as individuals throughout the semester.

The significance of creating supportive learning environments conducive to well-being

Kevin understands the immense pressure and high expectations that surround each student’s academic journey, and knows the dangers of neglecting one’s own well-being.

According to the 2019 NCHA survey of 43,780 Canadian undergraduate students, participants reported experiencing the following within the last 12 months:

·       88% felt overwhelmed by all [they] had to do

·       70% felt “very sad” and/or “very lonely

·       42% suffered lower grades due to stress

 “In class, I share stories about my own past struggles whenever possible, and stress how I had to reach out for help to make things better. I hope that by normalizing these experiences, students will be willing to ask for support. I also share practical tools for stress management and the importance of social support networks, and I encourage students to add me to their support networks, too.”

“More than anything, I think students need to discover that there are people at SFU who care about them, who believe wholeheartedly in their worth and their potential to succeed, and who can and will give them the support and guidance to grow stronger and more successful, despite their past failures and current struggles”.

The response from students

“Some students seemed surprised, at first, that a faculty member cared about their general well-being; some of them may wonder why their biology professor is reminding them to connect with a loved one. It’s great to hear that they can feel and appreciate that I care about them, but it also makes me sad that they’re surprised by it.”

Overall, there is a lot of appreciation from both sides. “It’s really rewarding to connect with students and to watch them change and grow.  I’ve also become a better person and teacher because of my students and the experiences that they’ve been brave enough to share with me”.

One of Kevin’s past students shares “As a mentor, he takes extra care to aid his students, supports their interests and passions, and engages them in their best work. His enthusiasm is infectious and all encompassing - it is almost impossible to not succeed when a student has such a foundation beneath them, like that which Dr. Lam provides.”

How others can get involved

Kevin admits that it can seem daunting to balance the many commitments and responsibilities of teaching with our desire to care for students’ growth and well-being. However, it’s much easier when you collaborate with others and start small. “Pick one or two pre-lecture activities to try out next semester, and see how your students respond. Ask a few students in your labs/office hours what their everyday lives have been like, lately, and listen actively. Then watch and see how the dynamic in your classrooms change with each small step.  For more tools and collaborations, I encourage everyone to learn more about the Well-being in Learning Environments’ project, and become connected to the network via the Healthy Campus Community website.”

“I’ve been fortunate to work alongside many supportive SFU colleagues who are eager to share their brilliant ideas. I also have a tremendous amount of respect for the educators and leaders in my Department and Faculty, who give us such flexibility and support whenever we want to explore new ways to teach and support our students. I’m looking forward to sharing some of my ideas and tools with new faculty members through our new faculty mentorship opportunities, as well.”

Kevin is honoured and grateful to be recognized for his attention to student health and well-being, and values this opportunity to connect and share with others.

“These experiences have really changed me. My main goal as a teacher is no longer to just educate and inspire my students. It is now to help them grow strong, resilient, and confident in themselves, and to help them build the relationships they’ll need to support them through these years of rapid growth and self-discovery. I want my students to not just survive their courses, but to thrive and feel empowered.”