David Brush Wins F2018 Friend of the Society Award! – Examining This Professor’s Impact on Mental Health

The Friend of the Society Award is awarded to a faculty/staff member every semester for their contributions to promoting the mental health of their students. They are selected through a nomination period by a committee composed of the VP Academic ‘A’,  VP Student Life ‘B’, and three at large council elected members. The winning person’s nomination(s) must indicate that they have contributed significantly to at least one of the following:

  1. Advocating on behalf of students to eliminate elements that have a negative effect on student mental health
  2. Showing a long-term commitment and vested interest to the betterment of student mental health
  3. Taking action to directly improve the mental health of students

This award is brand-new, created this year with three initial recipients; David Bell, Bill Owen, and Gordon Stubley. Now that the award has been fully ratified, we’re pleased to announce that the first student-voted winner of this award is David Brush. Multiple students from his 2B Environmental, 4A Geological, and 4A Environmental Engineering classes noted how he took action to help the state of mental health among students by speaking openly about mental health, distributing mental health resources, and making an effort to create a comforting environment for his students.

He aims to eliminate unnecessary stress for students and help make students feel represented and empowered, teaching and interacting with students in bigger groups as well as giving additional one-on-one support. He cares and listens to students’ concerns, and tries to better himself and his department. If you want to hear more about his efforts to better his students’ mental health, read the interview below to find out more!

When did you decide to work at Waterloo?

David Brush initially started here as a student, part of the Civil class of 1992. He married while in third year, making Waterloo his home and never really leaving again. He got his Masters and PhD at Waterloo, and a first full-time job. After working for 9 years as the Associate Director of First Year Engineering, he went to the Dubai for three terms working under the Civil department. He was then able to get a lecturer position in Civil, and has been lecturing at UW since. This past January he became the Associate Chair.

What is your favourite part about interacting with students?

Hearing the stories of his students is something Professor Brush often enjoys. Usually it’s related to a course, but often the struggles from that lead to someone’s background as you go down the iceberg. “I think if we can tell each other our stories, then that helps us to be willing to share the heart of things,” he says. When talking about students, he believes it is important to communicate that academic performance, which students are often sorted by, is not the only value a student has. “‘I’m not just a student number, I’m a person.’”

Why is mental health important to you? Why are students’ mental health important?

Mental health, in Professor Brush’s opinion, is as or even more important than physical health. Often times people don’t recognize mental health issues as real, and often university is a strenuous time. “You’re being stressed in new ways, sometimes not healthy ways, beyond the threshold you’ve had to manage before.”

Subtle actions, like pausing and making a note of accessibility and mental health when going through the syllabus, to being more open about talking with mental health, can be a positive influence and help build the class-professor relationship. That way when students feel like they need help, they can feel like he’s approachable and they can talk with him. “Things happen so fast here, there’s no time to get help,” he says, referring to the often packed and fast-paced schedules of undergrads.

One strength students said you have is your strong approach with dealing with mental health in a crisis. In that type of scenario, what do you do differently when aiding students?

Naturally more attention happens in this type of scenario, Professor Brush says. His role isn’t much different than usual, as he usually acts as a good contact and is approachable, but he acts more as a figurehead. A good example is with the Environmental Engineering class of Winter 2018 after the passing of a student in the class. He communicated what the head of counselling services says regarding the message the family wanted to say, took note of upcoming deadlines and talked with the professors of those courses about accommodating them, and communicated information about the university getting a bus together for a visitation in Toronto.

He also wanted to give note to many of the people who care about mental health that students often don’t see. It’s high in the president’s and the dean’s agendas, and other people such as Peter Douglas and Tom Rutta are people who give him the tools necessary to give support to his students. “[Mental health support is] coming from everywhere, so sometimes you’re just a messenger.”

Given the opportunity, how would you like others to improve how we deal with mental health?

“[The goal] would be to try to make everyone in contact with students more sensitive and aware of mental health,” Professor Brush says. He believes that ideally professors would get some sort of training on how to deal with it better, as hiring more personal counsellors to decrease wait times is a budget issue. He’s glad that more people are spending time thinking about how to change the system on the campus-wide level or the faculty. “It’s not that you hire one person to do it, it’s that everybody becomes more aware.”

What message would you like to send to students reading this article?

The most important goal for students, Professor Brush felt, was for them to find someone to tell their story to. “Sometimes that needs to be a staff person either in counselling or your department or instructor,” he emphasizes. Making sure that you have people you can approach and trust is important, so you can take care of your mental health well. He encourages people to create a healthy peer group, as the benefits of having people to talk to where they know your story is greater than the risk of putting yourself out there, even if it seems hard to do.

If you have any questions about the Friend of the Society Award, please feel free to reach out to Thomas Dedinsky at vpacademic@engsoc.uwaterloo.ca. If you would like to be a student at large position for the Friend of the Society Award committee, come to EngSoc Council Meeting 1 next school term!