HCA 2020 Wellness Summit: Summary and Resources

The HCA 2020 Wellness Summit took place on June 23, 2020 in an online format, with Pre-Summit Webinars on June 16 and June 18, 2020. Thank you to all who joined us for this experience in learning and collaboration. Click here to view the Community Report

This summit’s theme, Moving Upstream, sought to highlight the preventative and health-promoting actions we can take to address the root causes and social determinants that influence mental health. By building caring campus environments, supportive relationships, and personal skills, upstream approaches to mental health can enhance our community’s ability to flourish during times of uncertainty and change.

The Summit began with Pre-Summit Webinar #1: Upstream 101, presented by Dr. Fabiola Aparicio-Ting. We learned about the social determinants of health and what it means to move upstream in mental health promotion and prevention on postsecondary campuses. Click here to learn more or view the slides from this webinar.

Pre-Summit Webinar #2: “Moving Upstream in Challenging Landscapes” was an interactive webinar facilitated by Carla Kembel from Alberta Health Services. Carla helped us understand some challenges we might experience and encouraged us to draw upon our community’s collective capacity to swim upstream. Click here to learn more and to read the summary notes from our discussion.

The keynote presentation was “Creating Mentally Healthy Campuses: It Starts Way Upstream” by Dr. Trevor Hancock. Dr. Trevor Hancock is a public health physician and population health promotion consultant who is recognized internationally for his work on health promotion and healthy cities and communities. His keynote explored some of the distal determinants of mental health, encouraging attendees to “question the givens” and think creatively about how campuses can create mentally healthy learning and working environments. Watch the recording below.


The programming at the Summit was structured around six areas of focus, which are listed below. In breakout sessions, community members presented on their own experiences in working “upstream” in the given area. Presenter slides and notes from the discussions that followed can be found below.

1. Creating a Campus-Wide Strategy

This session explored the following question: How can post-secondary campuses advocate for and strengthen mental health at the institutional level?

Facilitated by Kevin Friese from University of Alberta and Lois Hayward and Gina Marandola from SAIT, these discussions highlighted ways to leverage community strengths in the creation of a campus-wide mental health strategy. A key theme that emerged was the need for a campus-wide approach, as post-secondary mental health is a community responsibility. Specific strategies for gaining campus-wide momentum were discussed, including cross-campus collaboration, engaging senior leadership, and identifying mental health champions. Developing a common language was also identified as key to the success of a mental health strategy. Lastly, these conversations highlighted the necessity of conducting program evaluations and finding areas of alignment with institutional strategy to ensure sustainable and measurable success.

You can read summary notes from the discussions on this topic here.

Slides: Kevin Friese

Slides: Lois Hayward and Gina Marandola


Resources highlighted in this session:

2. Centering Wellness in Teaching and Learning

This session explored the following question: How can program and curricular strategies promote positive mental health in the classroom?

Facilitated by Dr. Carmen Arth from Concordia University and Andrea Chute from MacEwan University, these sessions explored successful strategies for promoting positive mental health in the classroom. Andrea shared about the Pets Assisting with Student Success (PAWSS) program and highlighted how inviting dogs into the classroom environment can reduce student stress and support meaningful learning experiences. Dr. Arth highlighted the role of inclusion and diversity in supporting student wellness and explored strategies that educators, regardless of their content area, can implement in their classroom. Key strategies included highlighting wellness resources/events, striving for equitable and respectful classroom environments, and examining your own relationship to wellness as an educator.

You can read summary notes from the discussions on this topic here.

Slides: Carmen Arth

Slides: Andrea Chute


Resources highlighted in this session:

3. Strengthening Personal Skills, Relationships, and Resilience

This session explored the following question: How can wellness programs build individual skills in coping, self-esteem, and resilience?

Facilitated by Corrie Mekar, Kelly Gallant from UCalgary, and Maura Frunza from the Students’ Association of MacEwan University, these discussions explored strategies for building individual​ skills in coping, self-esteem, and resilience. A key theme that emerged was the importance of building strong relationships and community connections as a key facet of individual resilience. Resilience was recognized as a skill that can be nurtured and developed as a practice, and initiatives that cultivate resilience can be shared across contexts, as they are applicable to many institutions and situations. Presenters encouraged attendees to engage with grassroots, community-based and student led action to promote wellness and mental health on their campuses. ​

You can read summary notes from the discussions on this topic here. 

Slides: Corrie Mekar

Slides: Kelly Gallant

Slides: Maura Frunza


Resources highlighted in this session:

4. Building Supportive Campus Communities

This session explored the following question: How can post-secondary institutions build campus communities that reduce stigma and foster a sense of connection and belonging?

Facilitated by Sydney Bennell from MacEwan University and Rachelle McGrath from Mount Royal University, these discussions engaged staff and students alike in exploring the definition of a “supportive campus community” and sharing examples of models, initiatives and best practices. Key values such as connection, collaboration, and respect emerged as foundations for building supportive communities, and many participants highlighted existing examples such as peer support programs, student spaces, and field trips. Although challenges with online learning, oversaturation, and difficulties engaging students were acknowledged, new opportunities for collaboration and breaking down barriers between students and staff were realized. 

You can read summary notes from the discussions on this topic here. 

Slides: Rachelle McGrath

Slides: Sydney Bennel


Resources highlighted in this session:

5. Collaborating with Health Services

This session explored the following question: How can we partner with health services to best meet the mental health needs of post-secondary students, staff, and faculty?

Facilitated by Marie Wanty from Medicine Hat College (MHC) and Jackie Koughan from MacEwan University, these breakout sessions explored two unique models for mental health care delivery. The Stepped Care Model at MHC, which offers a range of interventions based on an intake assessment of student need, was implemented to address challenges with increased demand, severity, and diversity of mental health issues. At MacEwan, a unique partnership between two health centres has increased the breadth of services provided and decreased wait times. Though not without the challenges of collaboration and changing mindsets, these case studies offered new insights into the  strengths of health collaborations based in trust, relationship-building, and strong communication. 

You can read summary notes from the discussions on this topic here. 

Slides: Jackie Koughan

Slides: Marie Wanty


Resources highlighted in this session:

6. Engaging the Student Voice

This session explored the following question: How can student-led initiatives, involving post-secondary students in inception, planning, and/or delivery, champion positive mental health in their campus communities?

Facilitated by Aaron So and William Yap, two students from the University of Calgary and Lakeland College, these discussions engaged a diverse group of wellness staff, counsellors, and student leaders around the “why” and “how” of centering students as key stakeholders in the development of campus mental health programming. A key theme that emerged was the importance of empowering students to take leadership on and champion campus mental health, through engagement opportunities such as staff positions, funding, leadership, and consultation. The conversation highlighted the need to engage students early-on in the planning process, through multiple modalities, and in meaningful and relational ways to ensure students feel valued and heard. The shift to online learning during COVID, difficult scheduling, and long-term student commitment were all raised as challenges to meaningful student engagement, although participants were able to reflect on past successes and new opportunities to tackle some of these challenges and work to better engage students. 

You can read summary notes from the discussions on this topic here. 

Slides: Aaron So

Slides: William Yap


Resources highlighted in this session:

Our shared learning at the HCA 2020 Wellness Summit resulted in exciting collaboration and ideas. The Summit ended with a Share and Celebrate activity in which attendees summarized their learnings and action statements. A summary of their responses can be found below.

Share and Celebrate Activity: Summary

Discussion – What did you learn? What resonated? We discussed learnings from each of the subthemes, based on the breakout sessions. 

Creating a Campus-Wide Strategy 

  • Collaboration with the campus community and beyond is key 
  • Engaging the student voice creates sustainable strategy 

Centering Wellness in Teaching and Learning 

  • Instructors can role-model and practice wellness in teaching and learning 
  • Align wellness-centered values with teaching practices 

Strengthening Personal Skills and Resilience 

  • Resilience can be learned 
  • Strong connections build environments that support resilience 

Building Supporting Campus Communities 

  • Start small and build momentum with community-building activities 
  • There is power and strength when campus communities come together 

Collaborating with Health Services 

  • Showing respect for different policies, procedures, and expectations makes collaboration productive 
  • There is a need to build trusting relationships on campus and in the community 

Engaging the Student Voice 

  • It is important to engage students at every step of the way to ensure their voices are heard and integrated 
  • Have meaningful conversations with students, using their language 


Discussion – What actions are you going to take? We invited attendees to share an action statement: one thing that they were going to do as a result of attending the Summit. 

Engaging Students 

  • Find new and creative ways to engage student voices 
  • Develop and improve online programming for students 
  • Attendee Quote: I am going to learn and find ways for students to connect during this uncertain time by listening to the students and what they need!” 
  • Attendee Quote: “I am going to engage as a student and make sure my voice and the voices of my fellow students are heard.” 

Shifting to Upstream Thinking 

  • Recognize the root causes of mental health and mental health problems 
  • Learn more about upstream approaches 
  • Attendee Quote: “I’m going to find ways to speak up about issues around campus and advocate for change. 

Following Up 

  • Share resources and learning from the Summit with colleagues 
  • Connect with new people from the Summit 
  • Attendee Quote: “I am going to speak to my colleagues and explore ways to connect with more students.” 


Share and Celebrate Word Cloud. We started our Share and Celebrate activity with encouraging attendees to think of one word that described what they learned during the Wellness Summit. As you can see in the word cloud, collaboration, community, engagement, inclusion, and upstream were some important themes of the day.