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Talking about taboo: Andrew Szeto leads faculty-student discussion about mental health

Last Lecture Series connects students and faculty for candid talks outside the classroom
January 31, 2017
Andrew Szeto, Campus Mental Health Strategy director, will deliver the next Last Lecture on campus Feb. 1. In his lecture titled How Four Colours Changed My Life, Szeto will talk about the profound and important moments that have shaped his life, and will guide discussion on mental health. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Andrew Szeto, Campus Mental Health Strategy director, will deliver the next Last Lecture on campus Feb. 1. In his lecture titled How Four Colours Changed My Life, Szeto will talk about the profound and important moments that have shaped his life, and will guide discussion on mental health. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

What would you say to a room full of people, your students, colleagues and friends, if you knew it was your last opportunity to share with them? The Last Lecture Series has provided this unique and introspective opportunity to some of UCalgary’s most engaging instructors over the last seven years. The results are candid, thought-provoking, challenging, and often humorous.

The guidelines are loose. Professors are simply asked to discuss any topic of their choosing, but with one caveat: Stay away from course content. The result is unstructured conversation and community-building outside of the classroom.

“For students, it’s an incredible and meaningful opportunity to engage on a more personal level with faculty and to see a different side of someone that shapes their education. But it is also a really valuable and enlightening process for faculty. They have to consider and condense what life lessons and experiences they feel compelled to share,” says Emily Coulter, series organizer and student life co-ordinator.

Last Lecture Series offers opportunity to engage with faculty on  a personal level

The concept of the Last Lecture Series originates with Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch, who, after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, decided to have one last conversation with his students, colleagues and community. The webcast of his last lecture went viral and also resulted in a bestselling book.

Andrew Szeto, assistant professor and Campus Mental Health Strategy director, delivers the next Last Lecture on Wednesday, Feb. 1 from 5-7 p.m. in That Empty Space in Mac Hall.

"The Last Lecture series is unique in the sense that it provides a venue where one can be a bit more personal and offer information that wouldn’t normally be appropriate in a standard talk. This aspect is really appealing to me,” says Szeto.

In his lecture, How Four Colours Changed My Life, a reference to the four colours of the Mental Health Continuum Model, Szeto shares some of the profound and important moments that shaped his life, what he learned from them and how it led him to where he is today.

Szeto’s title references the green, yellow, orange and red phases of the Mental Health Continuum Model. It describes mental health on a gradient or scale that is much more complex than the inaccurate mental health dichotomy of "healthy" and "ill." It also identifies behaviours one might demonstrate in each phase, and actions to take that would be appropriate at that phase, such as seeking help when experiencing declining mental health, or cultivating support networks in healthy periods.

Lecture offers opportunity to share information on mental health and reduce the stigma associated with mental illness

“I am always looking to get the word out and raise awareness about mental health and reducing the stigma associated with mental illnesses. The Last Lecture series provides an excellent opportunity to do this,” says Szeto.

The Last Lecture Series is one of several low-commitment student life programs through Leadership and Student Engagement designed to enrich students’ time on campus and connect them with other members of the UCalgary community. The office offers year-round opportunities for students to develop their social network, build their personal leadership potential, and help to make a difference in the surrounding community. The Last Lecture Series is hosted on campus four times a year with funding from UCalgaryStrong, and with support from the Students’ Union. Last Lectures are free and open to students and the broader UCalgary community.  

The Last Lecture takes place Wednesday, Feb. 1 in That Empty Space, Mac Hall, from 5–7 p.m.­