Denise Lecoy


Denise Lecoy

Alumna (Class of 2017)

Social Work

Health and Social Development

Okanagan (Kelowna, BC)

Master of Social Work (MSW), UBC Okanagan (2017)

Bachelor of Arts, Psychology (UBC Okanagan, 2014)

Diploma, Nursing (Langara College, 1993)

Penticton, BC

“My education journey has been rejuvenating. It has brought many gifted and kindhearted people into my life.”

Denise’s Story

Syilx (Okanagan) Nation member, mother, grandmother, student… Denise Lecoy bridges her worlds through UBC’s Master of Social Work program

THERE ARE TIMES when a chance encounter happens exactly at the right moment. It sure did for Denise Lecoy, leading to her tenure as a UBC Master of Social Work (MSW) student.
Find out more about our Master of Social Work program

During a gathering hosted on the Westbank First Nation, Lecoy met several UBC Okanagan students who were working on their degrees in social work.

At the time Lecoy, was finishing an undergraduate degree in psychology at UBC’s Okanagan campus and wanted to advance her studies. The feedback from fellow students was just the push she needed to apply to the Master of Social Work program in Kelowna.

That was two years ago. In August 2017, Lecoy completed her graduation requirements for her master’s degree—a celebration she shared with her six sons, peers, family and community.

Lecoy grew up in the Okanagan on the Penticton Indian Reserve, a community she advocates for.

Seeing a need in her community for health-care support, Lecoy completed the nursing program at Langara College in Vancouver in 1993. It was the start to a lifelong goal of helping to improve the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples.


After working in community health programming in both front-line and management capacities, Lecoy focused her efforts on chronic disease prevention. Programs such as the Aboriginal RunWalk Program—a holistic approach that supported community members in ways to take control of all aspects of their health—had great success, but Lecoy sensed that more needed to be done.

Her flame was fuelled when two of her sons began university. “My boys demystified university for me and opened the door to new possibilities,” she says.

Lecoy entered UBC Okanagan in 2010, joining the Psychology program and taking courses to complete a minor in Indigenous Studies.

“I wanted to add another perspective to my knowledge in health and felt there was more we could do around chronic disease prevention.”

The psychology courses were beneficial, but Lecoy experienced “a reawakening” through the Indigenous coursework.

“Indigenous knowledge and understandings of health must be combined and contextualized with other ways of knowing,” she says. “I am grateful for these courses as well as being on a campus that is on the traditional territory of my people, taught by professors from my Nation.”


Fast forward seven years: Lecoy finished her MSW degree, having chosen the Two-Year Foundational Track that provides theoretical understanding and clinical practice skills with individuals, families and groups. She now feels she has the experience and know-how to confidently guide and counsel her community on social issues.

“I needed to build on my psychology training and move from general theory to relevant clinical knowledge in the study of social work.”

Lecoy’s field education included community development with the Penticton and District Resources Society, a non-Indigenous agency that supports advancements in truth and reconciliation. Relationship building is a huge part of it.

“I loved the practicum because I got to meet people from diverse backgrounds all working toward the same goal: health and wellness for all.”

Throughout Lecoy’s MSW journey, she has been steadfast in contributing to the physical and mental health of her home community. The Penticton Indian Band supported her through her education journey and now, she says, “I look forward to bringing my experience back.”

Lecoy has had to face some challenges particular to a mature student. Raising an active family, while balancing exams and term papers is not easy.

“My responsibilities didn’t end when class was over,” she says. “I wasn’t just a student; I was a mother, grandmother and a member of my community.” She also worked part time throughout her university studies.

She credits her family, professors and fellow classmates for helping to alleviate stress. She also recommends UBC Okanagan’s Aboriginal Programs and Services to incoming students, especially those far from their communities: “It’s a valuable resource.”


Lecoy’s dedication to her community was recently acknowledged in the form of a seat on the Penticton Indian Band Council. Here she served one of the eight member communities of the Okanagan (Syilx) Nation, putting some of her learning into practice. She continues to be hopeful that she will have the opportunity to support wellness programs that “help all community members to realize full and meaningful lives.”

She also applies this philosophy to herself. “I prioritize looking after myself so that I can look after my family and do my part for my community.”

(On that theme, Lecoy published a children’s book, Looking After Me, published by Strong Nations in 2009. It’s about a young Quail “who learns life lessons about laughing, crying, anger, hurt, happiness, fear, trust, love and standing up for oneself.”)

For Lecoy, the road may have been winding but it has been fulfilling.

“My education journey has been rejuvenating. It has brought many gifted and kindhearted people into my life.”