Dana Patterson

Dana Patterson is an undergraduate coordinator in the Human Biology program. She obtained her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Western Ontario before completing a Master of Science degree in Biochemistry from the University of Toronto. During her Master’s degree, Dana helped to create the weekly student tutorials for BCH210H1 which soon became the highlight of her week! Her passion for helping students and undergraduate education eventually lead to her current position in Human Biology, where she has worked with undergraduate students for the past 10 years. Dana’s unique background has become an incredible asset to Human Biology as it helps her to better understand where students could use more help and how best to offer it.

In the nomination, the student describes you as “creating such a friendly environment at the Human Biology department and promoting health by supporting student well-being and success.” The student also states that you help students to “feel more connected and obtain a feeling of being part of a community.” Could you tell us a bit more about how you accomplish this, and why it’s an important aspect of your approach?

I want students to have an outstanding experience within our program. Even though we have over 3000 undergraduate students with varying needs and requests, I want them to know that each of them are important. My door is always open for students to drop in – often whenever something is bothering them. Students do their best when they find their interests and passions, and my mission is to help each student find and embrace that. Every individual student will have their own set of strengths and challenges and helping them is what I enjoy most about my job. I still remember how stressful it is to be an undergraduate student and I think this comes across in my discussions with students – that their well-being is important to me and to our program.

Discussions about health are often related to concerns about healthy eating, physical activity, managing stress and sleep. We’d be interested to hear from you, your thoughts on the concept of a healthy campus and how it can be integrated into the academic setting?

So many students are stressed and struggling with academic, personal and work commitments. Each of these things intersect and affect each student differently and individually. It is important to me that each student have access to resources to help them meet their diverse needs. In addition, although we have a large program, we try very hard to create a sense of community within our program – whether it is a friendly barbecue in the summer, a welcome back event or counseling them on how to find research – I try very hard to make sure students feel connected and engaged which is also really important to a student’s sense of a “healthy campus”. Encouraging students to take a break, slow down, sleep, or find a way to self-care is also really important and another aspect of my job that helps build a healthy campus. Lastly, I think students don’t get enough affirmation of all the positive things that they have accomplished and I like to make sure to highlight this as part of my own strategy of well-being and health on campus – UofT is so large and has so many bright people that it’s easy to feel lost or less “valuable”.

In the nomination, the student states that you help to “create a stress-free environment, comforting them and alleviating their worries” and that your “amazing qualities have made it possible for students to succeed when they thought it was impossible.” Please let us know what this nomination as a Healthy Campus Champion means to you personally and/or professionally?

I am honored and humbled by this nomination. It is fulfilling to hear that I have made a positive impact on our students. We have ~3200 undergraduate students in the program and that comes with challenges. This nomination motivates me to reach out to more students, and to continue to personally address their concerns and goals.

We would also be interested to hear if you have any suggestions about what more could be done to foster campus environments that support the wellbeing of students?

Part of my background is that I came from a smaller program in a smaller university and my positive experiences with that is something that I want to incorporate into experience at the University of Toronto. Building small communities can help students build personal relationships with other students, faculty and staff can create a strong support network for students.