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Healthy Minds Healthy College

Q+A with RRC President Stephanie Forsyth

June 27, 2013

RRC President Stephanie Forsyth at the 2012 Immigrant and International Welcome Party.

RRC President Stephanie Forsyth, at the 2012 Welcome Party for Immigrant and International Students.

At Red River College, we value a healthy environment and express this through promotion of creativity, wellness, flexibility, safety and sustainable learning. RRC President Stephanie Forsyth is a strong proponent of health, wellness and life balance.

As she did last year, Stephanie recently provided some insight into her personal beliefs, attitudes and activities on the subject.

Who are some of the people in your life that you look up to as Wellness role models?

My partner. She is the epitome of health, placing a high priority on physical fitness, healthy eating and mental health.

Children often act as good wellness role models, due to their ability to play, take on new things, and laugh and enjoy themselves. Are there some lessons or experiences that you can draw from your own childhood, or from being with children when it comes to Wellness?

I have the gift of two elementary-aged children in my life who have been great in keeping me focused on taking time each day for play. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t spend at least 30 minutes playing football, baseball or road hockey, or some other active activity with them.

Wellness is sometimes broken up into physical, mental and spiritual aspects. How do you try to balance these areas in terms of your own personal wellness?

It can be pretty hard to balance and schedule physical, mental and spiritual fitness. My partner and kids remind me of the importance of wellness; I want to be around for the long term – for them and for myself.

I try to stick to a routine of physical fitness by engaging in some physical activity at least 30 minutes to an hour each day; generally that involves doing something with the kids. When we are not out doing a sport, we hit the community centre as a family – my partner and I are in the gym while the kids are in swimming lessons or enjoying the pool.

I also try to avoid the ‘grab and go’ meal approach. I keep a small stock of healthy snacks in my office, and focus on meals that give carbs and sugars a miss.

It’s easy to become stressed in my job, so it’s important to focus on mental and spiritual fitness. For me that comes in the form of talking and connecting with family and friends, and by taking time out for reflective practice – e.g. reviewing the events of the day and thinking about the lessons learned, ways to enhance my performance, as well as acknowledging the things achieved.

To do these jobs, you need to be grounded and have mentors or ‘thought-partners’ you can turn to.

I find that ‘grounding’ in the Indigenous view of the world, the values of which are almost universally held among Indigenous people. These are values of community, relationship, harmony, wholeness, respect, interconnectedness and reciprocity – reciprocity between people and the natural world (the Buddhists might say ‘mindfulness’), and the circular nature of life – the natural cycles that sustain all life.

This Indigenous view was taught to me by Elders and knowledge-keepers through conversations, ceremony and story-telling, and there are particular Indigenous people who have remained my guides and ‘thought-partners’ today.

Some people will seek “creative” activities as part of their Wellness mix, whether this be writing, photography, acting, gardening or storytelling. Are there any creative activities that help you maintain a sense of wellness?

I express my creativity in cooking and gardening. I enjoy cooking with fresh vegetables and herbs from the garden to use in dishes like lettuce wraps, salad rolls and pad thai.

How important do you think it is to set Wellness goals?

It’s very easy to get off track, to let health and wellness priorities fall to the wayside. It’s very easy to not put ourselves first a few times a day or a week.

I have found it important to set small attainable goals – for me that currently means eliminating carbs like bread and pasta from my diet, as well as all sugar (with the exception of course of dark chocolate!) and having meetings while walking about. As I spend most of my day engaged in meetings, either one-on-one or in small groups, I am striving to have more ‘walking and talking’ sessions when I am meeting with someone one-on-one.

Given how busy life is, do you have any strategies for “making time” for Wellness activities as opposed to “taking time”?

I schedule wellness times in my calendar and try to stick to them.

The Wellness Committee at RRC tries to foster a wellness culture on campus through the Wellness blo, and activities like the Wellness Walk-a-thon, the Rebel Run and the Chili Cup. In what ways can the College continue to build upon the Wellness culture on campus?

It’s good to see College staff engage with each other across the organization, as it helps build community and organizational health. Community engagement is critical to the health of an organization. It would be nice to see monthly events held, even informally. These help build awareness and understanding of each other as individuals, not just co-workers.

Building this sense of community is challenging, however, as we sometimes forget that organizations are ‘living’ ‘human systems’, not words or organizational charts on paper. Our emphasis needs to be on people and the relationships that we have to one another. Too often we get focused on tasks and timelines and the end products, and forget that the process of working together is often more important than the end goal. If we focus more on these relationships at work and how we are working together, I believe we will become a more compassionate College, and will exhibit even greater patience, kindness and understanding with one another.

In a conversation I had with Stan Chung (VP Academic and Research), he spoke about how the way we organize ourselves also plays a key role in fostering a wellness culture. What are your thoughts on that?

I completely agree. In particular, having greater employee engagement in decision-making is critical… and we still have to get there. One of the tasks at hand is to get a network of committees in place that formally recognizes the voice and expertise of the people who work here. At times we can be too “top down” and as a result, information is not flowing and filtering out to everyone as effectively as it should, nor is it providing opportunity for people in various roles at the College to feel empowered. Increasing participation in decision-making is a key priority for me as we move into the next fiscal year.

Steps are currently being taken to create a Student Wellness Committee that would be active this fall. What are some of the benefits and challenges that could be encountered when trying to build a student wellness culture?

A Student Wellness Committee is a great idea; it’s an opportunity to create more engagement and help to develop leadership skills among students. Students face many of the same challenges as staff, though particularly with busy schedules and timelines. Red River College is a commuter college, which is not conducive to keeping students around when classes end.

One of the things looked at as part of the Campus Master Plan, which is nearing completion, is to identify sites for student engagement – including social spaces, places to study and collaborate, and spaces to engage with each other across different disciplines. I know as part of the planning process, the consultants and the RRC Master Plan Team have identified the need for improved communal spaces at the Notre Dame Campus to help foster greater engagement. A primary interest of students is food! Activities that revolve around food – for example, community gardens and community kitchens – might be great ideas to initiate. The Diversity Centre is an example of a small ‘community centre’ where students gather at lunchtime to get together and frequently share a meal. It’s pretty common to see international students opening up their containers of food in the middle of the table like a potluck and everyone sampling foods from around the world.

Having lunch with the students in the Diversity Centre is a wonderful experience that builds community and encourages learning about other cultures. If you happen to stop in at lunch time, don’t forget to bring food to share!

Thank you for your time!