By Cassidy Nunn
Vander Wekken. Photo: Cassidy Nunn
Suzanne Vander Wekken was born and raised in Victoria, so when she decided to study at UVic, it was originally a short-term plan. “I have a love of adventure and I wanted to go explore,” she says. “But once I started at UVic I fell in love with my program, my opportunity to learn and my community.”
The well-rounded and accomplished recreation and health education graduate has in turn made an impact on those around her. She recently won the BC Recreation and Parks Association (BCRPA) Student Scholarship Award and was the first runner up for the UVic Co-op Optional and Professional Programs’ Student of the Year Award.
Although Vander Wekken originally intended to pursue a degree in commerce, she discovered a passion for people and wellness after taking a few heath and recreation electives. Throughout her studies, she has remained involved with the community, whether by organizing a hiking group, volunteering with children with disabilities or mentoring others. She rides her bike everywhere and encourages others to do so.
Vander Wekken completed four successful co-op work terms over the course of her degree. “I think that today you need to have practical experience paired with academic experience,” she says. During the co-op term she spent working as a community researcher with the Esquimalt Parks and Recreation Active Communities initiative, she helped work on an alternative transportation plan that included building walking routes to connect neighbourhoods and parks, and having bike racks installed in parks. For her final co-op term, Vander Wekken found herself at UVic working as an evaluation coordinator with the Institute of Applied Physical Activity and Health Research on the new “Healthy Food and Beverage Sales in Recreation Facilities” initiative. Here, she is helping to assess ways of adding healthy food choices to recreation facilities. When she was asked to stay on in this position full time, she readily accepted.
After her involvement with co-op and her volunteer experience in the community, she is excited about the future. “I feel like I’m graduating with more than a degree—I’m graduating with so many important life skills.” She is contemplating graduate studies in the area of health promotion, and is also looking forward to hiking the West Coast Trail and travelling. Her ultimate goal is to “work in a community-based setting and inspire people to live well,” she says.