Kevin Shi is a graduate student in the MS/BS program and performs cellular engineering research in the Davis lab, investigating cardiac function and repair. Last year, he worked with Dr. Dianne Hendricks to develop bioengineering outreach modules for local schools. Now, he works to improve awareness and support of mental wellness, student health, and suicide prevention.

“I came into bioengineering and saw all my peers doing excellent things while I was struggling to keep up with the material–something that I didn’t face in high school. There was a lot of self-imposed pressure and a sense that if I didn’t keep up, it was a personal reflection of myself. Instead of thinking ‘this is a hard topic,’ I thought ‘I’m not as capable or as smart as other people.’ I’m also a very ambitious person, and that loss in confidence made it really hard to believe that I can achieve the things I want, like medical school, saving lives, and making decisions that will help other people.

The turning point was when I had a close friend who was struggling with depression and lack of self-worth. I really prioritize my friends and felt frustrated that he was experiencing these feelings that were so personal to me. However, I didn’t have the confidence to provide support and be a good friend to him.

Part of what helped bring me out of that trench was the faculty and administration in BioE. They are really nice and supportive, and will remind you that you are capable and are doing extraordinary things. A bioengineering faculty I worked with told me, ‘I believe in you, and you should believe in yourself more. You’re a very capable and wonderful student and person.’ It was life changing to hear from people that I really admired that they believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.

What also helped were the opportunities that the bioengineering department gave me, because they made me realize what I was capable of. The BioE honors project, senior capstone project, and opportunity to gain research experience in a topic I was passionate about, helped me realize that I had a strong skill set, that I was capable of succeeding in these BioE classes, and if I keep working hard, that I’ll be able to achieve my ultimate dream of being a cardiac surgeon.

I recently led a mental health meeting among student leaders and administrators to improve wellness within the department. A lot of what we talked about was trying to remove the facade that your peers are better than you. My experience was a long process of finding myself, having the community and support network to start believing in myself, and pushing myself to who I could be. My experiences and those of my peers motivate me now to challenge the stigma of emotional health and wellness.”

Learn more about UW resources for student wellness and mental health:

UW Counseling Center

Hall Health Mental Health

Huskies for Suicide Prevention & Awareness

Mental Health Screening Tool