Denise Mueller Wins the Friend of the Society Award!

Ashley Clark - VP Student Life
Posted on: March 27, 2019

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. 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 to and vested interest in the betterment of student mental health
  3. Taking action to directly improve the mental health of students

We’re pleased to announce that the second student-voted winner of this award is Denise Mueller. Multiple students from the Chemical Engineering program noted that Denise is always willing and able to listen and help guide students through problems, whether academically related or not. If you want to hear more about her efforts to better students’ mental health, read the interview below!

Q: When did you start working at the University of Waterloo? Why did you decide to work here?

A: I came here in July of 1989. I actually started in Psychology and I worked there for just a couple months shy of five years. Then I applied for this job, and I got it. At the time the job was different though, I took care of the undergraduate program, like I do now, but I also took care of the graduate program. It was smaller then, things have grown a lot. That’s how I arrived here in Chemical Engineering, and I’ve been here ever since. As for why I came here, actually my brother-in-law worked here and he was talking about how it was such a great place to work. […] Once I had a little bit of experience I thought I would try something different, so then I came here and stayed put because I liked it.

Q: What is your favourite part about interacting with students?

A: When they leave I always want them to be happy. Always leave with a smile, even if it’s a difficult conversation, that they still feel better than when they came in. That’s what makes my day.

Q: Why is mental health important to you? Why is students’ mental health important?

A: I have a little bit of experience with mental health, I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety so when students are struggling my heart really goes out to them. Each one of us as an individual has a different experience, but I just know how scary it can be and how stressed and overwhelmed a person can be. The idea of just wanting to hide and pretend the world’s not out there, we’ve learned that that’s not the best way to deal with it. I really have compassion for the students when they come in my door and if they’re struggling I just want to help them have a better day, to give them some tips that will help them, and to direct them to someone who can help them even more than I can.

Q: One strength that many students have mentioned is your availability and open door policy. How do you think others across campus could increase their availability despite their busy schedules?

A: I had to think about that one a little bit, my knee-jerk reaction is that it’s about priorities. A student standing in front of me needing help versus me doing administrative paperwork, what’s more important? In my mind, it’s the person standing in front of me. Also, from a service perspective, students are paying the big bucks to go to school here and I think they should get good service. If I can provide that then I’m doing my job.

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

A: I do believe it’s very important, it makes me feel really sad when someone doesn’t think that it’s real, or that it’s just an excuse to get out of something. I really truly want people to not have a stigma toward it, I would love for people not to be judgemental in any way about mental health issues. […] I really like putting a name to it now, as time has carried on. There’s more research into it and more proof that it is real. I think I started feeling that way back when I was in Psychology. […] I was learning a lot about, at that time, things like PTSD, ADD and ADHD. […] I thought it was so amazing that those were starting to be considered real things when in the past they hadn’t been. I feel the same way now, but with depression and anxiety. […] I would love for any student to be able to walk into an office and feel that they are being heard, and that it’s taken seriously and not just sloughed off.

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

A: If you are not feeling well, whatever that looks like: let somebody know, talk to somebody, reach out. In Engineering we’re cohort driven, so you have lots of classmates. I would ask classmates to look out for their fellow classmates too. If your friend won’t talk to somebody, maybe you can talk to somebody to help them indirectly. I would really love to see a family, like a team, where if someone is not feeling great people will pick up on that […] and help each other.

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