Spotlight on...Johanna Novales

A woman standing in front of a tree smiling and wearing a pink shirt.
A woman standing in front of a tree smiling and wearing a pink shirt.
This week we meet Johanna Novales, the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator for UCL Engineering. Here, they chat to us about training Mental Health First Aiders, working with UCL’s Trans Network and running a short course about mental health.

What is your role and what does it involve? 

I’m the Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Coordinator for UCL Engineering. I’m very passionate about giving people the space to ask questions and learn about EDI and how it’s relevant to their own lives. A lot of this happens through training: I create and deliver the Bite Size EDI series, which covers subjects like pronouns, microaggressions, fatphobia, and EDI in recruitment interviews; and I train Mental Health First Aiders and run general mental health literacy training. I’ve also been involved in a project looking at the well-being of Chinese students in our Faculty and in the induction of international students. I’m also a member of UCL’s LGBTQ+ Equality Steering Group and recently, as a nonbinary person (pronouns: they/them), took up the position of co-chair of UCL’s Trans Network.  

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role? 

I’ve been at UCL since the end of 2011 and started out as a personal assistant in the Engineering Faculty Office, where I was supported by the excellent team here to get involved in EDI work alongside my PA work.  

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of? 

Training over 120 Mental Health First Aiders (so far) in UCL Engineering! We have so many people in our Faculty who care deeply about the well-being of their colleagues and our students. It’s an honour and a gift to be able to help them learn how to support others. I highly encourage other Faculties to train up staff to deliver this course in their own areas. 

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list 

Training more Mental Health First Aiders! I also run a shorter course, Mental Health Aware, which we’re encouraging more staff (especially eg. line managers, PIs, supervisors, and departmental tutors) to take. I’m also beginning another project looking at burnout. Additionally, I’m looking forward to working with the Trans Network to support trans and nonbinary people in an atmosphere of increasing transphobia. All of this is part of the larger issue of culture change around how we see well-being, mental health, and ways to support each other.  

What is your favourite album, film and novel? 

It’s impossible to pin down one album, but the albums The Five Ghosts and The North by the Canadian band Stars would definitely be on my list.  

I often go back to Hiromi Goto’s Half World, which is a poignant YA fantasy novel about putting one foot in front of the other when everything seems bleak and you don’t know if anything you do will make a difference anyway, and what it means to do that. 

I’m not a big film person, but the cheesy ’80s fantasy film Krull is probably the one I’ve seen the most. My brothers and I grew up watching it obsessively and it still (to the bemusement of the rest of our family) forms a big part of how we relate to each other! 

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)? 

I’m really bad at remembering jokes - I do appreciate a good dad joke though! 

Who would be your dream dinner guests? 

I was lucky enough to meet Stars after a gig a few years ago and I’d love to have them all over for dinner! I’ve been listening to them for decades, and especially appreciate how the things they sing about on recent albums reflect changes in life as they - and I - ease into middle age. 

What advice would you give your younger self? 

Being honest about yourself and who you are gets easier the more you do it, and there are so many people who will support you in doing that.  

What would it surprise people to know about you? 

I started taking improv comedy classes last year. I love the playful collaborativeness of it. 

What is your favourite place?   

Anywhere near the ocean, especially in any season besides summer. There’s something really beautiful about the shore in winter. 
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