If There’s More to Learn, Just Keep Going

By Kala Ortwein

Robbie Babins-Wagner, PhD’11, on scholarships, education and mental health

If you’ve received a scholarship do you wonder where the money came from?

To be honest, I didn’t.

Until I chatted with Robbie Babins-Wagner, PhD’11, I hadn’t dedicated much thought to the multiple donors that made my student experience possible. I didn’t think to ask their names or inquire about their stories, nor did I ponder their rationale for giving. Listening to the creator of the Robbie Babins-Wagner Graduate Scholarship at UCalgary, however, I felt inspired by her determination to give back and afford graduate students the same privileges she received.

Having an interest in education, health and policy, Babins-Wagner actualized her perfect-fit career, though the path was anything but linear. After completing undergraduate and master’s degrees in eastern Canada, Babins-Wagner moved to Calgary for employment opportunities. She quickly became acquainted with UCalgary and decided to pursue a PhD here because she was eager to learn from specific experts in the social work program.

I learned everything I could, and only then did I switch paths.

Robbie Babins-Wagner, PhD’11

Winner of a 2015 Alumni Achievement Award

When Babins-Wagner started at the Calgary Counselling Centre in 1992, there were four other employees and one student. She became CEO in 1996 and today the centre now has 40 full- and part-time staff members, as well as 90 interns and residents. It has become one of Canada’s premier support services for people with mental health issues and a hub of research excellence. As an expert in domestic abuse and violence, Babins-Wagner has been a member of the steering committee for Resolve Alberta, a research network that supports ending violence. She has also played a pivotal role with Homefront, the non-profit organization that teams police and community partners to end domestic violence. In a creative and strategic partnership with the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary, where she is an adjunct professor, she has spearheaded research projects that have gained national and international recognition.

Babins-Wagner attributes much of her success to the opportunities she had along the way. Being a scholarship recipient herself, she understands how much of a privilege it was to be able to focus on her course work, without having to worry about how to get food on the table. As an instructor, she recognizes many of her students are working 70-plus hours per week between their classes, jobs and family obligations.

With that in mind, when her friends, family and colleagues asked how she wanted to celebrate her 25th anniversary at the Calgary Counselling Centre, her response came easily: she wanted to create a scholarship for Master of Social Work students, which would benefit both her “professional homes.” By elevating some of the financial stress students face, she hopes this scholarship will give students more quality time for mental health research.

Though Babins-Wagner recognizes we still have a way to go when it comes to mental health stigma and treatment outcomes, she is optimistic because of the curious and questioning nature of her social work students at UCalgary. In addition, she is proud of the work her team is doing at the Calgary Counselling Centre. To limit as many barriers to care as possible, the centre has a sliding pay scale and a no-wait list policy.

Dedicated to bettering the lives of others, Babins-Wagner’s unique path has led her to be one of the most respected community leaders in Calgary. Since hearing her story, I’ve pledged to do what I can to support this year’s Giving Day in April. To discover how you can support and create scholarships for UCalgary students, read about the Energize campaign here.

And watch for details about Giving Day, coming April 26.

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