Math alum creates award to support SFU students with mental health challenges

June 29, 2021

Megan Monkman graduated in 2020 but her legacy lives on with the establishment of a new award for SFU students who are experiencing a significant mental health challenge and are persevering to continue their studies.

Updated (May 2, 2022):

The Courage to Persevere Project aims to celebrate the agency and dignity of mental health warriors who are completing their education at BC universities and related institutions. First launched at SFU in 2021, the Courage to Persevere Award grants funds to support students that are experiencing significant mental health concerns and has already had two dispersals to deserving students in 2021. It was important to make sure the funds were not earmarked as only for tuition so that support is given to students exactly where they decide they need it. The hope is to raise funds to endow the award and ultimately expand its reach beyond Simon Fraser University. The Courage to Persevere Project represents a personal passion for Megan Monkman and her family and any support is deeply appreciated. You can donate here.

Original Story (June 29, 2021):

Monkman knows first-hand how mental illness can derail educational goals and social networks.

The mathematics grad says, “My struggles with mental health date back to childhood, and school has been a challenge for me because of this.”

Despite having to miss much of 12th grade, Monkman graduated from high school and eventually enrolled at SFU.

Monkman, who is Metis, was close to graduating as one of only a small handful of Indigenous students in the history of the Department of Mathematics when she experienced a mental health crisis in the fall of 2018. “When these symptoms happened, I was so scared that my brain was broken. I was worried that I could not continue and finish my degree. My symptoms affected my memory, my ability to process information, and my judgement. I was so unable to focus that it was difficult to read or even listen to music.”

She left the hospital after three weeks despite no improvement in her mental health. “I was so terrified through the ordeal that I did not let on how ill I still was” she says.

Her cognitive abilities did not improve upon returning home, forcing her to drop her courses for the semester. “I was often walking out of the house without my keys, or leaving the stove on.” 

Monkman was relieved at the supportive reactions of her instructors and supervisors and says that the care she received from SFU Health & Counselling was ‘superb’.

“My supervisor was sweet - I remember coming back to campus and having her shake my hand. That respect is something I really valued and think about often.” She adds, “My professor Mary-Catherine Kropinski even helped me with my appeal to student loans after I had to unenroll from my fall classes.”

Monkman persevered and graduated three semesters later. Today, she works as a Junior Analyst with an Indigenous owned business, Big River Analytics.

Her mental health is stable thanks to a mental wellness plan that includes good sleep habits, a support group, charity work and, most importantly Jane, her pooch who provides a never-ending source of unconditional love and emotional support.

She credits her mother for conceptualizing the Courage to Persevere Award which is aimed at supporting students who are registered with SFU’s Centre for Accessible Learning and have significant mental health challenges.

Monkman’s mother was so inspired and affected by her daughter’s struggles that she enrolled in a psychiatric nursing program at the age of 48. She is now a mental health nurse at the University of Victoria.

Monkman is pleased that the scholarship fills a need. “There aren’t a lot of options for students struggling with mental health issues and what is great about our award is that for one, being registered with CAL (Centre for Accessible Learning) means you don't have to jump through a bunch of hoops to get documentation, and two we do not require you to be volunteering or getting straight A's — you just have to be continuing your studies.”

She advises anyone with a mental health issue to be their own advocate and not to give up until they’ve exhausted every treatment option. “Do not be ashamed of who you are but be careful to share yourself with only those who have earned your trust. Your story is precious, as are you.”

SFU Science is helping to raise $20,000 to endow the Courage to Persevere Award.  In honour of Megan and those SFU students struggling with mental health issues, we invite you to give what you can.