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UTSC student wins national educational leadership award

“To me leadership is about bringing a community together.” Karen Young became the first UTSC student to receive the 3M National Student Fellowship Award for educational leadership. (Photo by Ken Jones)

Karen Young has always felt empowered to highlight the untold stories that often slip through the cracks.

Whether it’s the mental health challenges faced by youth, the experiences of immigrant and first-generation Canadians or simply fellow students looking to make their mark on the world, she says there are powerful leadership lessons to be had from those who are often ignored. 

For her efforts in identifying and finding creative ways for those stories to be told, Young has received the 2015 3M National Student Fellowship Award, becoming the first UTSC student to receive the honour. She is one of only 10 post-secondary student winners across Canada chosen by the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education for demonstrating outstanding leadership.

“To me leadership is about bringing a community together,” says Young, a third-year student in UTSC’s specialist co-op psychology and major in health studies. “I firmly believe this brand of leadership can have a multiplying effect and transform a community for the better.”  

Born in Scarborough to Chinese parents who have lived all over the world, Young was drawn to UTSC by its multicultural appeal. As an undergrad, she’s always sought out creative ways to highlight the unique voices present on campus.  In addition to co-founding TEDxUTSC – the first campus-wide TEDx event at the University of Toronto – Young also helped bring the C3 Inspire conference to Toronto. The one-day conference connects aspiring student entrepreneurs to collaborate and create new initiatives.

Young also founded Minds Matter Magazine, U of T’s first student-run mental health magazine catering to students, their friends and family.

“I became aware at an early age that people deal with struggles that often leave them marginalized and I strongly felt that they shouldn’t suffer alone,” says Young, who will continue with the magazine as part of her co-op term. “Minds Matter is a way to bridge the disparity that exists between the University’s outstanding mental health research and the often unaddressed mental health issues facing students.” 

Her hope is that students can be given greater leadership responsibilities, especially in a mental health context. To that end she’s looking to identify greater mentorship opportunities at UTSC.

“We have a growing alumni base being trained at one of the preeminent mental health hubs in Canada,” says Young. “There’s a wealth of mentorship opportunities right here – alumni to student – as a low-risk and proactive approach in addressing mental health issues.”

Young, who also serves on the Board of Directors for The Varsity, is currently doing research on the cognitive biases that underlie strategic decision-making under the supervision of UTSC psychology professor Gerald Cupchik and his former graduate student Michelle Hilscher.

Her advice to students is to listen to those around them, whether it’s staff, faculty, family, friends or even fellow students, there’s many valuable lessons to be learned from the insights of others. “Take the time and try to be a good listener. There’s so much you can learn.”

“It’s so refreshing to meet a student who truly believes they can change the world and then looks for good ways to do so,” says UTSC psychology professor Steve Joordens, a recent recipient of the 3M Teaching Fellowship Award.   

“Her efforts with TEDxUTSC and now Minds Matter shows she’s committed to transforming her passion for positive change into something tangible that all students can take part in.”

© University of Toronto Scarborough