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Living through uncertainty: helping students use creativity as a path to wellness

Dr. Jacques and Mrs. Susan LeBlanc are passionate about helping students at UBC Okanagan to maintain healthier lives through creative outlets.

For Dr. Jacques and Mrs. Susan LeBlanc, an essential part of wellness, mental health, and a life of purpose is creativity in its many forms. The LeBlancs have donated a gift to UBC Okanagan to establish three initiatives to support student wellbeing through creativity.

As Susan explains, this is not just a leisure time hobby but a conscious lifestyle that can benefit everyone.

“How will we guide our lives through this period of uncertainty—that’s probably unprecedented, at least in our lifetimes—and what does that mean?” says Susan. “Jacques and I feel that creativity is a way of helping people develop their lives with uncertainty as an integral part of it, but not a negative part of it.”

For Jacques and Susan, creativity provided a necessary balance to the high-pressure world of their careers in the medical field. Jacques was a pediatric cardiac surgeon, and Susan was a nursing professional in children’s oncology. While they found their jobs rewarding, they recognized that the day-to-day intensity created potential for burnout.

For the three initiatives supported by the LeBlancs’ gift, the first will fund awards for graduate students studying the psychology of creativity.

“We wanted to see opportunities at the university to enhance the creative process to help students understand and utilize it in the work they do,” says Susan. “Engineers are a good example—where the opportunities for creativity in engineering can be tremendous, but can also be very rule-bound. So how do you bridge that? We can build into learning aspects of the creative process and build those skills in students—so it’s not something they have to learn outside of school.”

The second pillar of their gift will be funding the Okanagan campus’s Makerspace club—a workspace designed to foster creative thinking through design, and serve as a hub for innovation and collaboration.

“There are 3D printers and different technology that’s available to students from any faculty,” says Susan. “The whole idea is you get to explore, experiment and create—and it’s not tied to any preconceived outcomes.”

The LeBlancs will also be funding the development of art therapy workshops within UBC Okanagan’s School of Social Work. Art has played an important role in Susan’s own wellbeing journey.

“Creativity for me came through intuitive painting,” says Susan. “Through shading, through contour, through drawing … I started realizing it was a way of looking at things in your life, looking at your thoughts, looking at where you were going and a way of exploring our inner world.”

Over ten years ago, Jacques and Susan started LeBlanc Wellness Consulting—a company committed to exploring new options for those interested in developing and enhancing their sense of wellbeing.

“We followed our own creative process with LeBlanc Wellness. We said we don’t have a clear outcome, but we have these interests and things we’ve been exploring, and we will guide our careers and lives along those lines,” says Susan. “I think the thing that we together are most proud of is remaining engaged with the human spirit—by supporting and motivating others to keep going with resilience and resourcefulness.”