NOTE: This is one in a series of articles on Brock’s 2023-24 Horizon Graduate Student Scholarship recipients. Read other stories in the series on The Brock News.
Growing up, Mandisa Lau (BRLS ’23) didn’t think post-secondary education was in her future.
Diagnosed with a learning disability at the age of eight, she struggled with academics, to the point where teachers told her that university likely wasn’t an option.
“This label often resulted in a lack of confidence and imposter syndrome, where I felt I had to prove myself to those around me,” said Lau, now a master’s student in Brock’s Applied Health Sciences program.
She has gone from struggling with academics to thriving in academia while also learning to manage her disability, prioritize her mental health and normalize seeking support.
Lau recently received a Horizon Graduate Student Scholarship in recognition of her dedication to learning and research along with her community involvement on and off campus.
Presented annually, the Brock University award supports high-achieving graduate students from research-based programs who identify as Black, Indigenous or People of Colour or as being from other under-represented groups.
While the 20 scholarship recipients come from a variety of backgrounds, they share a similar passion for research in their respective areas.
For Lau, who specializes in Recreation, Sport and Community, that passion lies in supporting youth through community recreation programs.
Lau joined Brock in 2020 after completing two college diplomas in nutrition. While she enjoyed cooking and teaching others about healthy eating, she found herself more engaged in the community recreation programs she had been involved in during her senior years of high school and throughout college.
Having experienced first-hand the positive impact of recreation programs as a child and witnessed the transformative effect on the children and youth she worked with, Lau was driven to pursue a Bachelor of Recreation and Leisure Studies at Brock.
“I wanted to work with kids, to get silly, to have fun with them,” she said. “My drive comes from recreation, so why not go back to school for it?”
During her undergraduate degree, Lau was inspired by a course on Child and Youth Work in Community Recreation (RECL 2P25) taught by Assistant Professor of Recreation and Leisure Studies, Corliss Bean.
“I fell in love with the content and really connected with my professor, who shared her research and introduced frameworks in positive youth development and using sport as a vehicle to promote life skills,” she said.
Lau reached out to Bean and asked to learn more about her research, potential careers in the field and any next steps she could take.
“I never thought I’d be interested in pursuing research, but Dr. Bean’s research aligned with my passion for working with youth and drew from my previous experience as a nutrition educator where I worked with socially vulnerable youth,” she said.
Lau took two directed studies courses with Bean, developing her research skills by assisting Bean with data collection and analysis, program evaluation and knowledge translation.
Pulling from her experiences with nutrition programs and inspired by Bean’s research, Lau pursued an undergraduate thesis that explored the integration of life skills into nutrition-based recreation programs for socially vulnerable youth.
“I became a mini expert on the topic,” said Lau. “I fell in love with the research process and everything Dr. Bean researches. And so, at that point, grad school wasn’t even a question.”
As a master’s student, Lau continues to work with Bean and is in the process of developing her graduate thesis project. She plans to continue her research with socially vulnerable youth and is interested in exploring how quality youth sport can contribute to overall positive development.
She hopes to embed her passion for community-engaged work by collaborating with a local sport organization and is focused on ensuring her research integrates the voices of young people.
“It’s a rewarding journey meeting different population groups and working with community organizations to leverage their programs,” she said. “I’ve been passionate about youth recreation programs since I was a camp volunteer at 15 years old. I feel so lucky to have found where I belong.”