Jessica Gardner is a second-year master of social work student. Photo: Rick Chard/Provided
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Hilary M. Weston Scholarship Award given annually to two students in the province

A University of Ottawa student has won a provincial scholarship for her work boosting awareness on how students can access mental health resources on campus. 

Second-year master of social work student Jessica Gardner was awarded the Hilary M. Weston Scholarship Award, named after Ontario’s 26th lieutenant governor, on Nov. 26 at a ceremony in Toronto. 

“I feel so privileged to have been awarded this type of scholarship,” said Gardner, who also completed her undergraduate degree in communications and philosophy at the U of O. “It really is built through my community and the people that have helped me get to this point — it’s not something I achieved on my own.”

While completing her undergraduate degree, Gardner worked as a student mentor for three years, which eventually led her down the path to social work. 

In the social work program, Gardner and a group of classmates teamed up to look at mental health issues on campus and how they could best help students in need. 

Through surveys and consultations, the team found that many students didn’t know much about the services offered on campus. They also identified the difficult balance students face between work, school, extracurriculars, and their social life as another “big stressor.” 

With this information in hand, the team created a video to raise awareness on the resources students can access on campus, with tips on how to best balance the stressors of life, both inside and outside of school. 

But Gardner and her classmates wanted to continue building on the work outside of class, leading them to form support groups for social work students. They’ve also launched a peer support program, where first-year students are paired up with third- and fourth-year students.

“I think anyone can look into their personal experience and know at least one person who has struggled with mental (illness),” said Gardner. “Everyone has a part to play, whether it be the services, the institutions, to professors, family, and peers, I think everyone can do a little something to make a difference and help people have better mental health.”

After finishing up at the U of O, Gardner is eager to get into the workforce. While she is open to working in a number of areas in social work, Gardner said she hopes to continue focusing on mental health, especially when it comes to children, teens, and families. 

“I think anything I put my mind, my heart, my soul to, I’ll definitely find a way to enjoy it and give it my all,” she said. 

Gardner was awarded the scholarship alongside Megan Gauthier, a student at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. The Hilary M. Weston Scholarship Award is given annually to two graduate-level social work students in the province whose research focuses on mental health.

For more on mental health at the University of Ottawa check out the One in Five podcast, produced by the Fulcrum and CHUO 89.1 FM.