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Christian Union
February 12, 2015

Penn Student Seeks to Establish Peer Counseling

Roy-Lan_Mag4_articleRoy Lan cares about people.

From assisting in cancer research and volunteering for the welfare of children, to participating in model UN at the University of Pennsylvania, the breadth of his compassion is evident. This semester, Lan is extending a helping hand even further as he spearheads a new organization that seeks to come alongside students that struggle to care for themselves.

As a response to the several suicides at Penn in the last year and a half, Lan is working to establish a student-run peer counseling organization for undergraduates. And he credits Christian Union's ministry at Penn with helping him develop the leadership skills needed to form the new organization.

"Christian Union has taught me many things about how to run a successful organization, from planning/organizing meetings to learning to work with people and delegating responsibilities to others," he said. "Our Bible course leaders also lead by example and introduce us to different styles and contexts in which leadership can be more effective."

The biochemistry major said the Bible courses and the racial diversity of the ministry attracted him to Christian Union at Penn, which launched in fall of 2013.

Additionally, he was motivated by the opportunity to help shape the new ministry and to be part of its first graduating class.

Lan serves as a research assistant to Dr. Celeste Simon, the scientific director of the Abramson Family Cancer Institute. He is also one of two volunteer coordinators for the Foundation of International Medical Relief of Children.

While the peer counseling outreach is currently in the developmental phase, Lan is striving to have a fully-trained team to offer services in the fall of 2015.

"I hope this organization provides students who are going through a hard time with an approachable, helpful resource in times of need," he said.

During Lan's freshman year, there were four confirmed suicides within a six-month period. This August, a Penn senior killed himself while he was in Los Angeles, California. Those tragedies and the high tempo environment at Penn were the impetus for Lan's initiative.

"Many students feel not only high academic pressure to succeed in class, but they also feel a strong sense of pre-professionalism," said Lan. "In this way, many people feel a strong need to project a successful image and, inevitably, we all fall short of our own expectations at some point."

According to Dr. William Alexander, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at Penn, peer counseling groups are active at many universities, and it's something CAPS has considered developing. In fact, he said several students have approached him about starting such an organization, so when Lan also contacted him about it this semester, he was able to put the interested students in contact.

"Roy had done extensive research into the programs of other schools. He has collaborated with other students and is in the process of forming a proposal that could lead to training and a program for next year. While the effort is still in the design phase, I think the structure and ideas Roy and the other students have are good," said Alexander.

Taking the initiative to advocate for the needs of others comes naturally for Lan, who from a young age was taught that Christians care for those in need; and that faith is what continues to drive his actions today.

"I strongly believe that God has led me to start this organization, and I desire to help my campus in the most effective way possible," he said.

Faith has an important role in addressing mental and emotional illness, he said.

"A strong faith provides for and often leads to a strong sense of hope and security," said Lan.

However, he said, it's important for Christians to create an open, attentive environment for those suffering.

"Many non-Christians in need often do not speak to their Christian friends due to fear of judgment, embarrassment, and perhaps the fact that they may not be able to relate," said Lan. "The best way that Christians can begin to support non-Christians is to be accessible, and that entails providing an environment where the troubled do not feel judged, but safe and comfortable."

And while balancing academics, extracurriculars, and spearheading a new organization may not make life comfortable for Lan, he perseveres with compassion and determination.

"I find that if you're truly passionate about a certain activity, you no longer view it as balancing things, but simply enjoy working towards something greater," said Lan. |