Kady Wong, Registered Clinical Counsellor and former Program Coordinator, SFU Public Square

Squaring Off with Kady Wong

Thu, 13 Oct 2022

Doug Hamilton-Evans
Communications Manager, SFU Public Square

Welcome to the first instalment of Squaring Off – a new series where we catch up with past colleagues and collaborators to reflect on our ten years of community engagement.

For three years, Kady Wong made sure SFU Public Square’s events and operations ran smoothly, that our volunteers were engaged and that we were connecting with students. I caught up with Kady to talk about her time at SFU Public Square, her new career as a registered clinical counsellor and the link between them.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

Doug Hamilton-Evans: 

You were one of the longest-serving members on the team and left a strong legacy behind you. I’m curious – Why SFU Public Square? What led you to the team?

Kady Wong: 

It’s funny to me, I don’t really believe that I made that big of an impact so that’s really nice to hear.

But why SFU Public Square? I was doing environmental and sustainability work and I wanted to go into a different direction but I still wanted to do changemaker work. I had heard about SFU Public Square from a previous colleague and I noticed they were hiring, and I liked what SFU Public Square stood for. So I was like “okay, let me apply and see what the vibes are.”

And what were the vibes?

I wanted to work in a team of good people and someone who was working there at the time – his name was Scott Young –– he really took me under his wing, he was a mentor. And I really liked that, he really boosted my confidence and gave me tips on networking and stuff like that.

So the vibes were chaos. But it was a chaos that all of us were willing to be a part of. We were all a totally new staff team, we were all learning together and it was kind of like you were forced to become really close with who you’re working with right away.

I remember I had to take on the student engagement and volunteer stuff and it was exciting to me. Because everyone was busy, they kind of let me do whatever. I was like “this is nice, I can just make these decisions.” So I was interviewing volunteers and work-study students and getting to choose who joined the team. And I liked managing the students and mentoring them, it was really fun. And it was important for me that they have a good experience working with me as their supervisor.

Could you touch on some of the things you worked on and the things you’re most proud of?

I think definitely the volunteer and student engagement was what I was most proud of. I guess the biggest thing would be launching the pilot project of the student ambassador program [now known as the peer educator program].

There were four or five peer ambassadors and they were with us for six to eight months, I believe, and that was exciting because that’s not something the program had ever done before. It was really nice to have Janet [our executive director] trust me and really let me do it. It was nice to have that freedom and that mentorship component.

Their big project was putting on a student-led event for the Confronting the Disinformation Age Community Summit. I remember it was always really hard to engage students and have them come to events, so it was really cool because what they put on was very successful! I remember it was at The Hive and each of them made a station on something to do with the disinformation age – like some sort of interactive game or something. There was pizza, there was a bar and a lot of students actually came to an event run by students to come learn about the Community Summit.

[Editor’s note: we’re proud to have carried on the peer education with two more cohorts of students since Kady’s time with us. Learn more about the program and review their work here.]

I also think about running the work-study and intern program. When I came on, we decided to do it a lot bigger so we could have up to four work-study students. It was really cool to have students from SFU come and work for us. They usually worked two days a week and got paid to do so. We developed a professional development program for them and that was something that I took on. So they had a chance when they started to make goals for themselves and we would meet fairly regularly to talk about their goals and the things they wanted to work on. That was really important to me that they were taken care of, that they had a chance to get feedback and good communication.

The students who volunteered with us and our work-study students and interns – I felt like they really wanted to be there. I felt like they felt they were doing something important and having an impact on what is happening in Public Square, that their ideas were valued and they were part of the team.

I wanted to ask you about the next step in your career becoming a counsellor after your time at SFU Public Square. Is there a through line or connection between what you did at SFU Public Square and what you do as a counsellor? Did something at Public Square inspire or inform your career pivot?

Definitely. With the student engagement and managing students, no one told me to make mentorship a part of it. But I wanted to because I realized that a lot of students need a place, especially at a commuter school. And I genuinely really cared for the people we brought in and wanted it to be a good place [to work]. I think I realized in the job that I actually just really care about people. Sometimes in meetings or supervisory sessions or just getting to know them, they would share things about their life and I would really rather talk to them about what’s happening in their life than give them a task. People were hurting and I wanted to help with that.

It was also the population – I like working with younger people. When I was doing my undergrad, I had a hard time. I felt kind of lost and like I didn't really know where I was going. I had a special spot for the students going through their early twenties.

I would say that played a really big part in the next step of my life for sure.

And how did you pick Adler University to pursue your Master’s in counselling?

I liked Adler because they are committed to social justice. And there’s a big focus on multicultural considerations and diversity, equity, and inclusion. I’m really grateful that I went there and got good training in that area because all your clients are going to be diverse in so many ways and you need to understand that and cater your counselling in that way.

After graduating, you worked as a Registered Clinical Counsellor at Take a Hike Foundation. Can you tell me a little about that?

Take a Hike is an organization that partners with school districts to serve and empower youth grades 10-12 with clinical counselling, outdoor experiential learning and community. I was the clinical counsellor in one of the Vancouver programs and I worked with youth in grades 10-11. I was assigned to a specific classroom so I had about 18 clients for the school year and we did therapy in nature, on basketball courts, on walks and in my counselling office. I worked closely with the teacher and the youth worker of the classroom as well as the Vancouver School Board. I learned so much, it was a great experience.

How would you say SFU Public Square impacted your career arc and life in general?

I think it was very impactful. I was in my mid-twenties when I worked there which is a weird time. I definitely came to Public Square a little broken and lost and Public Square helped me be a lot less broken and lost. It gave me a sense of purpose, which is something that’s really important to me. It taught me what I like and what I don’t like to do.

It taught me in terms of counselling my preferred population – I really like working with young people and I didn’t really know that before I worked with SFU Public Square.

I don’t know if you know this, but I actually did my counselling practicum with SFU Health and Counselling! (Can’t get away from SFU, clearly). I had gone from mentoring undergraduate students to counselling them. 

Mentoring and supporting young people is clearly a through line from SFU Public Square to what you do now. What advice would you give to young people, say students, looking to get more involved? 

I guess don’t make your schooling experience just about school. Getting engaged is the stuff you actually remember. You don’t remember so much the lecture and the projects, but I would imagine the students I worked with would remember the Community Summit they put on. I think that would probably be my biggest piece of advice.

I wasn’t someone who was engaged – I was like “you’ve got to go to school, you’re gonna work so you can pay tuition, and then you’re gonna finish and that’ll be it.” I wish I would have done stuff like SFU Public Square. So when I got to do my Master’s I was so happy because I was with a cohort of people and I got to do things differently. 

It’s obviously important to do well in school, but the other stuff is where you find your passions and that can open doors for your career.

What’s next for you?

I'm excited to now be doing a mix of both community and private counselling. I am now working at BGC (formerly Boys and Girls Club) working as a youth and family counsellor as well as Skylark Counselling located in downtown Vancouver.