2021 Lloyd Dennis Award recipient creates connection and belonging for international students

Leanne Wang smiling

Lu-Han (Leanne) Wang is pictured in the New Sun Art Gallery in the Alumni Commons at the Lakehead Orillia campus. 

When Lu-Han (Leanne) Wang moved to Orillia, Ontario four years ago as an international student, just about everything seemed new and unfamiliar.

“Everything was quite different—the weather, the campus, even the atmosphere in class,” said Leanne, who will graduate on Saturday, June 5 from the Honours Bachelor of Commerce program at Lakehead University.

This year’s recipient of the Lloyd Dennis Award for outstanding citizenship used her experiences to foster opportunities for friendship and belonging, efforts that have helped make the university feel like a second home for herself and many others.

Leanne said that the small campus and the welcoming, caring staff at Lakehead Orillia make the transition easier but that there are extra hurdles for first-time international students.

“It’s the small things about a new environment and culture that can be really overwhelming,” said Leanne, who is from Taiwan and already had 10 years of study abroad experience before moving to Orillia. “Going to the bank, getting groceries, finding a doctor—these things can be easier to figure out with one-to-one help on a daily basis.”

With that in mind, Leanne became one of the first peer-mentors for international students at Lakehead Orillia when the program launched in 2019. Through the Lakehead International office, peer mentors make themselves available to their student-matches for questions or concerns about on- or off-campus life and help organize social activities.

“We help students make friends and connections that make the university feel like home,” said Leanne, who mentored 20 students herself during her time with the program. “It makes a big difference for each of us.”

Since its launch, more than 40 international students have used the program. With COVID-19, the program moved online and increased collaboration with international students in Thunder Bay, creating an even larger social and support network. Without being able to travel home during the past year of the pandemic, Leanne said it’s even more reason for international students to make the most of their social resources on campus.

For example, in addition to peer-mentoring, Leanne was also a member of the Lakehead University Multicultural Association, the Lakehead Orillia Thunderwolves Dance Team, and the Business Orillia Student Society. She also volunteered as a student ambassador, a campus orientation leader, and even the ice captain for the 2018 Orillia Winter Games figure skating event.

For Orillia Campus Principal Dr. Dean Jobin-Bevans, the leadership role that Leanne took on campus did not go unnoticed.

“Since arriving on the Orillia campus, Leanne has truly embraced the opportunities presented to her,” he said. “From studying abroad, completing an internship locally, to extracurricular involvement in student clubs, the transferrable skills, global perspectives and personal growth will contribute to her future success. Our sincerest congratulations to Leanne on receiving this award, and we wish her the best of luck upon graduation.”

As Leanne prepares to embark on a new journey post-graduation, she reflected on her time at Lakehead and the home she made for herself and other international students in Orillia.

“I would tell any new student to just go out and try all the new things,” said Leanne. “It was all fun and it really made me more confident and outgoing.

“I’ll definitely miss this small community if I leave for work or school—it’s the most special thing about this place to me, that it’s been like a family.”

Since 2011, Lakehead University has presented the Lloyd Dennis Award for outstanding citizenship to a full-time student at the Orillia campus to recognize their contributions to the welfare of the university through their student activities. The award is named in honour of the late Lloyd Dennis, an Officer of the Order of Canada and Order of Ontario, and a highly respected educator and author best remembered for the 1968 landmark report that shaped the future of education in Ontario—Living and Learning: The Report of the Provincial Committee on Aims and Objectives of Education in the Schools of Ontario, known as the Hall-Dennis Report. An enthusiastic proponent of the Lakehead Orillia campus, in 2009 Lloyd Dennis was honoured with Lakehead’s Civitas Award and then in 2012 with a Doctor of Laws (posthumously).

Leanne Wang smiling