Faculty of Environmental Studies launches mentoring program

York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) held a pancake breakfast on March 31 to launch its new Career Mentorship Program. The program, which matches students with alumni based on professional and academic interests, helps students build skills and enhance their professional networks.

Right: Fred Granek (left) mentored Meena Hassanali when she was an MES student

FES alumni have a long history of mentoring students. Based on the success of those relationships, Salina Abji, manager of FES’s Student and Alumni Resource Centre (SARC), was inspired to develop a formal system to support current mentoring relationships and benefit even more students. Nearly 30 students have been matched under this year’s pilot program.

The launch opened with a keynote featuring the dynamic and successful mentoring relationship between Fred Granek (MES ’74) and Meena Hassanali (MES ’04). In 2003, when Hassanali met Granek through his work at the Ontario Centre for Environmental Technology Advancement (OCETA), she realized he had direct experience in her research area and would be a great resource for her final master’s project. She approached him, and he agreed to act as one of her advisors. The relationship progressed, and the two have since co-written articles, attended government meetings, and are now colleagues at OCETA, where Hassanali is program coordinator of the Toronto/York Region Sustainability Program and Granek is vice-president of the Toronto Region Sustainability Program.

Left: The mentorship program was launched on March 31 with a pancake breakfast

The key to a successful mentorship relationship, said Hassanali, is for it to be mutually beneficial. “I never thought of my relationship with Fred as being all about my work,” she explained. “It was also about how I could contribute to what he was doing – especially since he was being kind enough to give me his time.”

After the keynote, the mentor/mentee pairs sat down to get to know each other. Kits provided by SARC helped guide the conversations by providing sample mentorship agreements and tips for establishing expectations. The buzz of conversation included many enthusiastic comments about the program – and about York’s FES.

“Being at FES was one of the best times in my life – I learned so much,” said Chris Gates (MES ’78), manager of sustainable energy at Enbridge Gas Distribution. “By participating in these kinds of programs I stay connected to students’ energy and ideas. At the same time, students get insight into a large corporation and can get leads on employment opportunities or ideas for research papers.”

Student participants are also thrilled with the program, especially the opportunity to learn from highly successful FES alumni. Alumni mentors include Erin Shapero (BES ’99), Markham town councillor and member of York’s Alumni Board of Directors; Farouk Jiwa (MES ’03), director for private sector & development at Care Canada and winner of a 2005 York University Bryden Alumni Award; Linda Starodub (MES ’81), human resources manager for the United Nations Volunteers; Diana Jardine (MES ’77), director of the Municipal Programs and Education Branch at the Ministry of Municipal Affairs & Housing; Donald Biback (MES ’75), managing director and partner for Beacon Group Real Estate Services; and Reggie Modlich (MES ’80), co-managing editor for Women and Environments International magazine.

“I feel very lucky to have this opportunity,” said MES Planning student Eric Berard, who is matched with Grainne Ryder (MES ’97),  policy director at Probe International. “I can already tell that my mentor and I will establish a great connection.”

According to Abji, connections are what mentorship is about. “The goal of the program is to help students build professional relationships,” she said. “Although these don’t necessarily lead to jobs, they do lead to information and links that open up a realm of professional opportunities.”