Finding strength, clarity and path to a future career 

Personal best  

One particularly tough semester midway through her studies in biological sciences, Nisha John, BSc’19, went to bed every evening and woke up every morning to the same unsettling view: her bedroom walls covered in notes from an organic chemistry class. “I was obsessing over my grades,” says John, “and I was burning out.”

As she progressed through her program, John begun to feel the pressure of not only maintaining a solid GPA, but she was increasingly overwhelmed by external expectations to succeed in a variety of extracurricular opportunities. “I started to realize I wasn’t pursuing all of that with passion,” says John. “I was anxious and stressed and starting to flounder.”

Ironically, one of the programs John chose as an extra — teaching fellow students leadership skills — was a turning point in her own mental health. Through her mentoring role with the UCalgaryStrong Strengths-Based Campus program, which was designed to help students leverage the power of their unique talents, John says she was able “to connect with people who led me to incredible places in my personal growth.” She soon discovered, and began to value, some of her own previously unexplored qualities.

“I confided in a co-volunteer about how I was doing, and was met with compassion. That really inspired me,” says John. She let go of the stigma that had prevented her from asking for help, and started to prioritize what mattered to her. “I discovered that I naturally have strong relational and strategic abilities, and that I’m empathetic — I care deeply about positively impacting people.”

John subsequently helped with a study about improving wellness and mental health in several medical schools, including Cumming. “The results of that will help our communities take better care of our doctors, which leads to better patient care,” she says. As well, she’s working with a student with a disability, and has zeroed in on her passion for inclusive public health access and education. John was a keynote speaker at the 2020 UCalgary Student Leadership Conference, taking the stage to discuss the impact on the community of individual positive action.

“The UCalgaryStrong program helped build my resiliency during the hard parts of university,” says John.

She is working toward her next step in a career in public health where she hopes to make inroads into equal access for individuals marginalized by mental health challenges, language barriers, culture, sexual identity and other stigma. Rather than be diminished by her own “never-ending list of things I could improve,” John says she views herself from a place of strength. “Now I have the confidence to really help others.”


The UCalgaryStrong program puts leadership and self-awareness first for students like Nisha John, BSc’19 (above).

What Giving Gives Me

The Brentwood tragedy made me think there’s a better way forward to help students with challenges presented by post-secondary life. A new one-of-a-kind program focusing on building personal resiliency, developing leadership capacity, and creating a community that thrives through co-operation and collaboration while looking out for one another, is a better place for everyone to live and learn.

John Simpson, Hon. LLD’05

Simpson’s gift created UCalgaryStrong, which empowers student mental wellness and leadership

About UCalgaryStrong

Following the Brentwood tragedy in 2014, in which five people, including three UCalgary students, were murdered at an end-of-semester house party, John Simpson made a gift to establish UCalgaryStrong, a campus-wide initiative aimed at equipping students with skills to become grounded leaders and develop personal resiliency to cope with the stressors inherent in post-secondary life.