About Phebe Lam
UWindsor alumna Phebe Lam (@Phebe_Lam) (BSc 1995, BA 1997) began a two-year appointment as acting associate vice-president, student experience, on March 22. Dr. Lam earned master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology from Wayne State University and has been teaching at the University of Windsor since 2015.
In addition to teaching the “Mentorship and Learning” course, she has helped to expand the reach of mentorship programs across the Faculty of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences and developed new student advising and support programs, including online projects such as the Pathway to Academic and Student Success peer mentor program and the Reach Virtual Online Peer Mentor Support. Lam has also served several roles in support of the Student Mental Health Strategy and as chair of the Senate Student Caucus.
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:02):
Phebe, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here, please start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about why you’re passionate about the work you do today.
Phebe Lam (00:13):
Well, thank you. Sam, it is, you know, a pleasure to, to be here with you in this moment. And you know, I’m very, very, very grateful for this opportunity to share some of my, my experiences. So my name is Phebe Lam. I by trade I’m a psychologist actually starting off as a educational psychologist. But you know, let’s maybe take a, a few steps back. My undergraduate degree was in, in science and, you know, pre-med, I, you know, thought I wanted to become a doctor. But things didn’t end up that way. I think pretty much within the first week of school, I knew that, you know, there was something else for me and that road you know, was, was something that I might have to, to put aside. And so when I finished my general science degree I switched over and and completed my psychology degree and really felt that that was, you know, you know, my, my true love you know, ever since my first memories as, as a child is, you know, always wondering, you know, why, why did that person say that?
Phebe Lam (01:32):
Or why did that person do that? And we know, you know, psychology is a science of, of human behavior. Right. And so that always fascinating me. And so I was, I was truly in, in the right place in psychology. And so I went on to do my master’s degree in marriage and family psychology at Wayne state university in Detroit, Michigan. And then went on to do my PhD in educational psychology. And so I’m a licensed psychologist in the state of Michigan and practiced there and worked at Wayne state university in the school of medicine for about 15 years in mostly health psychology and also doing in working in a immunology clinic working the specifically, specifically with children, adolescents, and young adults and their families infected and affected with HIV.
Phebe Lam (02:32):
And so that really, you know was the kickstart of many of the things that I’m I’m doing today was from the, those early the experiences working with some amazing clients, amazing families that, that really inspired me to, to, to who I am today. So, and then 2015 I I started working for university of Windsor going right back home, full circle, and working in the faculty of arts, humanities, and social sciences teaching doing administrative work, but working in student support creating initiatives for students for engagement for, for retention. And then also I taught a mentorship and learning course, which also was another moment that sort of redirected my journey in education and really sparked again, a lot of the things that I I’m doing today.
Phebe Lam (03:39):
And so where I’m at now I am in a acting associate vice president role of student experience. And I started that this year actually in March and it’s been quite the journey. So, you know, when you’re least expecting things to happen, they always happen. And I’m very grateful that I had the courage to, to take this on because there’s no looking back and I’m here today and I’m excited and really looking forward to them, many things that I can still do for, for the university community as well as beyond that. So that’s sort of in a nutshell.
Sam Demma (04:28):
That was an awesome response. Let’s backtrack to the transition from medicine to education. How did that transition happen? What prompted you to get into working more so into schools?
Phebe Lam (04:42):
Okay. So you know, I, I’m gonna give a, a little example and I might be dating myself by, by doing this, but that’s okay. I, I own it and I’m proud of it. So back in the sort mid eighties and late eighties, early nineties Kodak, the company had commercials and they were, you know, this Kodak moment, right? And the whole commercial was, you know your true colors, your true colors, you know, let your true colors shine through and, you know take those opportunities. And so throughout my life, I looking back, I had all these sort of codes, exact moments where they, you know, really changed, you know, my direction in, in life. And so so going from, from thinking about a career in medicine to, to education and psychology the turning point if I had to pinpoint was when I almost blew up our science lab because my partner and I, we didn’t know that our buns and burner was on and it was on, and suddenly the the GA at the time said, you know, I think we smell some, some gas and everybody’s looking at each other.
Phebe Lam (06:02):
And I looked at my little buns and burner, and I, I saw that it was indeed on, but with no flame. And so at that moment, we, you know, I kicked into action. I, you know, we turned it off. But inside, there was a moment where I thought, you know what there’s something more, and me sitting in this lab full of anxiety, full of stress, because I didn’t know it was my first year, first lab. I didn’t know where, what I was doing was unsure, but at that moment, because of that, I don’t know if it was the stress. It was that moment where some light turned on and I said, okay, Phoebe you know, hang tight. There’s something out there. And so from there on, I was always looking, always listening, always, you know, trying to you know, maybe you can sum it up as being just curious, curious as to what my journey should be.
Phebe Lam (06:59):
And so, as I was curious, talking to more and more people you know, learning and seeking out mentors it led me to, to hone in on, you know, how I love and I thrive to be in the environment where there is that learner teacher or mentee mentor relationships and, you know, supporting people in their darkest moments really, really touched me. And so then I knew that, you know, psychology and education was something that I wanted to head into. And at that moment, I still didn’t know what, you know, what, where that was going to lead. Right. But I was very open to those opportunities. And and here I am.
Sam Demma (07:48):
Steve jobs has this quote, and I’m gonna read it off of my phone because I shared it on Twitter recently. He said, okay, your work is gonna fill a large part of your life. And the only way to be truly five is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. And if you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, don’t settle. And based on what you just told me, it sounds like that little quote that Steve shared, it was at a 20, a 2005 Stanford commencement address sums up what sounds like your journey in education. It sounds like you were curious to find the thing you loved and that curiosity just kept pulling you forward. Where do you think absolutely. Where do you think that curiosity kind of comes from where you always, some, one that was interested in things growing up or was it cultivated?
Phebe Lam (08:46):
You know, a part of it was always interested, you know, and always curious of the things that I didn’t know. Mm. And very early on my especially my father really instilled in, you know in, in myself the, the desire and that passion to always be curious, you know, always ask questions. And as I’m speaking now, I can’t even think back to my grandparents who, who you know, had also very close relationship with. They would always, you know, we would always talk about or they would share their stories with, with me. And I was always very curious and very good listener. I think I mostly did a lot of listening more than asking questions. I don’t believe that I was that kid that asked a lot of questions. Right. I was always the, the, the observer, the, the listener and, and taking everything in and then, and then reflecting in the processing on that.
Phebe Lam (09:54):
But I, we really enjoyed stories, you know, listening to stories. I mean, that’s how I learn, learn the best. And that’s, you know, part of my teaching is through telling stories and listening to people’s lived experience. Wouldn’t it be great, Sam, if, you know, everybody could write their own story, you know, and we could tap into someone’s journey. And I think about that when I teach, I think about that when I mentoring students and working with students is, you know, taking that time to say, Hey, you know, what is your story? You know, what were your experiences? Because it’s not until I understand and hear those stories that I can be, be here to help support and, and truly understand, and, and, and listen and appreciate where they are in that moment when I’m with them. Yeah. Oh, I hope I answered that question.
Sam Demma (10:50):
You did, you did the importance of stories is connected to this idea of, of the importance of mentorship. I’ve had many mentors in my life who thinking about it now taught me so many things through the sharing of experiences and stories that they went through, which is why I think it’s so important to have somebody in your life who can mentor you, who can have your best interests at, and also be willing to invest some time into sharing some of their own experiences and learnings with you. You are a big fan of mentorship, helped turn it into even like a curriculum. And course, can you talk a little bit about that?
Phebe Lam (11:32):
Absolutely. and, you know before I start talking about it, you know, I use a lot of word interchangeably and I, and, and words are so incredibly important because, you know, I used to think about, you know, the, the education as the learner and the teacher, and now I’m finding because of, you know, that Kodak moment or that opportunity to, to head down you know, teaching this course mentorship and learning has led me to think about, you know, re or unlearning and relearning what education and what teaching really is. And for me teaching is actually mentoring because it’s not, there’s no boundaries. You know, when the class is done where you’re done taking my course, that relationship continues on. And I tell this to my students all the time, even my, anybody who I I’ve ever worked with. And a past teacher or professor you know, Dr.
Phebe Lam (12:35):
Clark Johnson back in my grad school days, he said this to all our students, you know, your tuition with me is good for a lifetime. Hmm. As long as you can find me, I’m here for you. And I offer that to all my students. I mean, you find me, I I’m here to support you. And through the, you know, 20, some odd year as of post-secondary teaching I’ve had students come back to me. I may not remember them you know, but I, you know, I I’m there. And so, okay. So leading into the mentorship. So in 2016 I was given the opportunity to teach a course called mentorship and learning. And it’s a fourth year level class that that teaches third and fourth year students to become mentors in a first year course in the faculty of arts, human to use in, or social sciences.
Phebe Lam (13:36):
And these mentors are in a majors only. So if you’re a psychology major, you would mentor in the first year psychology course. Okay. And so this class actually began in 2005 co-founders Tina Dr. Tina pules and professor Tson bacon. And so they gave me the opportunity to teach this class. I did not know what I was getting myself into. I mean, I did some work with mentoring in HIV where we would have doctors and nurses and staff at the hospital be mentors for, for, for, for children in, in our clinic. But this, you know, teaching mentorship, like I know about mentoring, but, you know, so I kind of just dove to it and said, you know what? I trust that they chose me. And you know, I’m gonna trust this process and I can tell you Sam it has changed my life, you know being a mentor and a mentee.
Phebe Lam (14:41):
It, you know, first year students that come to university is a transition period, and we know that they’re at risk, right. And so having these mentors who are their peers is incredibly important, right. We’ve seen the, the statistics in retention, but more importantly, this class is for these, you know, 25 to 50. Now we have about a hundred students mentors to foster and to to help them to grow in, you know, leadership and becoming mentors for the rest of their lives to seek out mentors to be mentees, but to also be mentors themselves. So, yeah. And and many of the students that I’ve taught over the years you know, they’re working alongside me in the office of student experience even right now. So these are relationships that have continued on. Yeah. And will continue on,
Sam Demma (15:41):
Did the BIDE Institute come to life with students in that class? Or tell me a little bit about the origins of the Biden Institute as well.
Phebe Lam (15:50):
Okay. yes. So the by Institute B I D E stands for belonging, inclusivity, diversity, and equity. And this is a student led student run initiative that focuses on those four pillars, belonging, inclusivity, diversity and equity, and the co-founders of these, this Institute are two two of my students who went through the mentorship and learning program. Cool. And I knew, you know, you know, when you see you know, the potential in, in, in, in students you know, my first, my first, you know, thing to do is to, to grab a hold of them and say, Hey, listen, you, you, you know, this is, this is a great opportunity. And actually they came up with this opportunity or this initiative I said to them, you know, back in may, I said, listen, you know, I wanna do something for the students.
Phebe Lam (16:50):
And, you know, it’s not me, it’s gonna be students working with students, students coming up with these initiatives. And within two months the Biden Institute came up and and we’re very excited to kickstart this very unique Institute for students. Basically it’s a platform where students can come to together share their experiences, share what they know, share their passion through conversation, through activities and providing a safer and brave place for them to be able to see their, their creativity, see their thoughts come in to to, to life and to be able to to, to, to build their legacy every day.
Sam Demma (17:44):
Hmm. It’s amazing. If someone is interested in learning more about the Institute, does it have a web URL or a, a page that someone can search to read about it?
Phebe Lam (17:54):
Yes. Yes they do. Yes, they do. Sorry. Yes, we do. So if I can share that link with you you know, after yeah.
Sam Demma (18:05):
Awesome. Amazing. And what the does the day in the life look like in your current role and position you’ve done, you know, various different things. What, what does the day in the life look like now?
Phebe Lam (18:20):
Sam Demma (18:21):
That’s a tough one.
Phebe Lam (18:22):
Oh, no, it’s it, yes. It, it’s a, it’s a tough one, but it’s also really exciting just, you know, it is every day of you know, how can I even sum it up? It’s it’s leadership in a in a, in a way that I didn’t see leadership as it is the way that I see it today. And so, you know, just a few points, you know I’ve really learned that, you know, I don’t have to have the right answers and just the thought of that gives me freedom, right. Gives me freedom to, to be curious, because that’s also freedom. And, you know, understand that the power in leadership comes when we share it and we support it in others. And a large part of what I do is is, is fostering our future leaders and having students working in my office.
Phebe Lam (19:30):
Now I have, you know, this office has, you know five directors that are are, are so wonderful. And, you know, when I look at the work that they do it’s the commitment, you know, it’s their it’s, I see the inspiration that they have in them and the passion that they have in them to really serve the students, because they want to make, you know, this community this world a truly, a better place. And, and again, you know, that leaving that legacy be, be behind, right. As, as we move forward you know, in the day in the life, you know, every day is about being vulnerable keeping in check with who I am being aware and constantly reflecting and and assessing where I am where others are and to meet others where they are not expect to, to come to me and be at my place, but for me to put forth, authentic and genuine effort to go to where they are and to meet them where they are and see what our student needs are and what what needs are for those who work alongside me and to nurture that.
Sam Demma (20:54):
Awesome, something that I believe is important is being a lifelong learner. And you strike me as someone with curiosity, who is always looking for new ways to grow and learn new things over the course of your career, have you found any books or resources or courses or things that you had went through that were extremely valuable that you think if other educators had the chance to read, watch, or experience would also be helpful for their personal development?
Phebe Lam (21:29):
Absolutely. So I have a, a few a few a few videos or a few individuals that, that again have really impacted my view in perspective in not just, you know, education or teaching and learning and not just in mentoring and leadership, but for every day. Mm. So you don’t have to be a teacher or you can be a child or anyone, you know, I mean, there’s seven point what 8 billion people in this, in this world. And we’re all unique living beings, right. Each with our own lived experiences. So so yes, there are, there are the first one is Drew Dudley. He is a, you know, leadership speaker and he speaks to everyday leadership and the lollipop moment, how we should be creating impact every day through not just the big stuff, because most of us are not doing those big grand things, but those everyday leadership opportunities by, you know, as simple as acknowledging what somebody’s done for you, and those are those lollipop moments, and I’ve really done a lot, made an effort to do that more and more.
Phebe Lam (22:49):
And week I, I, I look back and reflect on my life and think, oh, you know what, at this moment, this person made a huge difference in my life. And it could have been easy as a, a, a, a constant smile that this person always had. And I, I went back and I acknowledged that, and, you know and that’s been really great. So ju du lead the everyday leadership, his Ted talk really really impacted me. The other person that’s really impacted myself is Dra woman’s right. A, she won the she received the 2004 Nobel peace prize for her work. And she speaks to the story of a hummingbird and where, you know, a hummingbird is in this huge Flos and this Floris is consumed with fire, and all the animals have, you know, come together and are, is looking with, at this floors burning and feeling, you know, very overwhelmed and powerless, and, you know, not knowing what to do, except for this little hummingbird and this little hummingbird, you know, said to itself, well, I’m gonna do something about this fire.
Phebe Lam (24:04):
So it flies back and forth to the stream and brings with this little beak, a tiny droplets of water and sprinkling onto this huge forest fire. And all the animals are, you know, animals bigger than the hummingbird, you know, said to this hummingbird, you know, what are you doing? You know, you’re so small, this fire is so big and your wings are so little, you know, you only carry a drop of water at the time. Like, what are, you know, what’s that gonna do? And, you know, this little hummingbird was not at all discouraged. And it turned to these, these animals and said, you know, I’m doing the best I can. Mm. And, you know, I, I carry that with me. And I shared, you know, this story with, with my students all the time, as I, you know, we can just do the best we can, you know, and and that’s enough.
Phebe Lam (24:52):
Right. And, you know, and it’s okay to be that hummingbird because there are other hummingbirds around who are doing this exact same thing. And, you know, we, we, we can, you know, we see each other and together, you know, is better. And you know, as, as small as you think that you are, or maybe you may feel insignificant, you really are not you know, you just need to do the best you can and to, to be able to reach out for support when you can. So those are, you know, the two you know, two little videos, short videos that that really has, you know, impacted my journey and has really, you know, given me some clear direction. I always go back to, to those two things. You know, especially when times are challenging and when times are difficult.
Sam Demma (25:43):
That’s amazing. Those are both two awesome resources. I’ll make sure to link them in the show notes and on the article. So you can watch those if you’d like as well, Phoebe, this has been a really enjoyable conversation packed with so many experiences and ideas. If someone wants to reach out, send you a message, what would be the best way for them to get in contact with you?
Phebe Lam (26:07):
My email at the university of Windsor I’m also on LinkedIn. I have to do better with that. Not as I don’t keep up with that as, as much, but that’s one of my goals for 2022. But yes, my email is, you know, Phebe.Lam@uwindsor.ca
Sam Demma (26:28):
Awesome. Phoebe, thank you so much. Keep up the amazing work. Keep being a hummingbird and making everyday impact. And I’ll talk to you soon.
Phebe Lam (26:37):
Thank you, Sam. Thank you again for this opportunity.
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