Convocation ceremonies are Web cast to parents around the world

Diana and Jal Mahimwala proudly watched their twin sons graduate from York University last week – while sitting in their Mumbai apartment, reported the Toronto Star June 18. “My dad really tried to come, but he couldn’t leave Bombay (Mumbai) for business,” says Yohan Mahimwala. “And my mother doesn’t like travelling.”

So on Thursday, when Yohan received his undergraduate degree in psychology and a certificate in human resources management, his parents watched the live Web cast in their home office. They even called his cellphone when he was on stage. “My dad said, ‘Wave to the camera.’ I waved…. It was fun,” he says. “I was the only goof in the whole place on a cellphone.” A day earlier, Yohan’s twin brother, Danesh, 22, graduated with a bachelor of administrative studies degree. While the brothers’ parents watched the live webcast, Yohan had to go to work. But he watched the archived video that night.

York went online in 2001 partly because of rising numbers of international students, said Alex Bilyk, York’s director of media relations. The University also understands that some people can’t attend ceremonies because of work, illness and a host of other reasons. The webcasts are a way to include them, Bilyk said. The convocation webcasts are getting more popular. On June 14, one of them drew about 700 viewers, he said. The majority of viewers are outside Canada. Many of them are in the United States but there are some watching from 29 other countries, including Morocco, Brazil, Bermuda, Israel and Egypt, Bilyk said.

Teacher heard about York research into dual-language books

“I was the first brown here,” said Grade 1 teacher Padma Sastri, who started at Mississauga’s Floradale School in 1998 as the teacher-librarian. She spoke with the Toronto Star for a story on the Mississauga school and York research laboratory, one of a series in the Star June 18. When she heard researchers from York University and the University of Toronto were working on a multi-literacy project at another high-immigrant Mississauga school, she lobbied to get some of those resources at Floradale. It was under her guidance that the library started stocking scarce dual-language books, so students could read in their home language while they learned English.

“Multilingual books need to become a regular thing – not an exotic thing,” says Sastri. The respect and warmth she shows her students and parents who are invited into her Grade 1 room at every opportunity show a vast store of academic expertise.

  • All Toronto-area schools preach the benefits of diversity but at Floradale, the value is embedded at a deeper level, wrote the Star in an accompanying story. Here pupils are encouraged to speak up in their first language as well as English. Teachers, students and visitors take pains to correctly pronounce names. Families’ languages – spoken and written – are brought into the classroom and hallways at every opportunity. The school is one of 10 in Peel Region with a readiness centre to help new mothers and pre-schoolers navigate social services and teach early literacy and math readiness skills.

Because Floradale is a laboratory for researchers at York University, it also gets some extras. York Professor Sandra Schecter‘s federal research grant for her work in York’s Faculty of Education, pays for workshops for parents that tell about the Ontario school system and bring their languages and experiences into the school.

  • York alumna Zarina Kahn (BEd ‘99) had a master’s degree when she left Lahore, Pakistan, to join her husband in Saudi Arabia and had no trouble finding a teaching job there, said the Star in another accompanying story. When she arrived in Canada, she wanted to teach but didn’t have a bachelor of education degree and was discouraged from applying. Instead, Kahn volunteered in her son’s public school class in Etobicoke. His teacher urged her to revive her ambitions; Kahn got a college certificate in teaching English as a Second Language and began teaching immigrant women in Toronto. She loved it. Finally, she was accepted at York and after graduating was placed in a private Islamic school, which offered her a job. But she went to Floradale. “I wanted to be there as a role model for students from ethnic minorities  [showing them] yes, you can come here and find a place in the mainstream.”

Irving Layton was charismatic, litigious and, above all, stimulating

On the evening of June 21, a tribute will be held at Toronto’s Harbourfront for former York English professor Irving Layton, who died in January, wrote Kenneth Sherman in the National Post June 17. The event, hosted by Irving’s son Max Layton, brought together former students, friends and admirers to celebrate the life of this remarkable poet and teacher. Speakers included Irwin Cotler, media mogul Moses Znaimer, poet Dennis Lee and publisher/author Anna Porter.

Layton lived most of his life in Montreal; he resided in or near Toronto from 1969 until 1983. A full-time position in York’s English department brought him here, and “as an undergraduate I took courses with him from 1969 to 1973,” remembered Sherman. “I can attest to his greatness as a teacher.” Sherman said a typical Layton class involved lecture, Talmudic-like question and answer, as well as guerrilla theatre. Once, addressing a lecture hall of bewildered students, Layton ran up and down the aisles, crying, “You’re sheep! Wake up! Who chloroformed you?”

Grad mixes dance with native heritage

When York graduate Santee Smith (MA ‘04) was a little girl, doctors suggested to her parents that she should do something to strengthen her legs, reported The Toronto Sun June 19. They enrolled her in a ballet school in Brantford near her home on the Six Nations reserve. Smith thrived, and by the time she was 12, she was enrolled in the National Ballet School, where she spent six years away from home honing her talent.

But during her teenage years, Smith started to struggle with her identity. She felt there was a conflict between her ballet world and her Mohawk world. “I started questioning who I was,” said Smith, who is a member of the Mohawk Nation Turtle Clan. “I started to feel like ballet wasn’t for me. I began doubting that this was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.” So after dancing six days a week for more than six years, she quit dancing cold turkey.

But on summer break in Toronto, Smith ran into an old family friend who gave her an opportunity to revisit her artistic past. “Gary Farmer was doing an NFB (National Film Board) documentary about native corn ceremonies,” Smith says. “He asked me to choreograph some dance scenes in the film. Now, at the time I hadn’t danced for more than five years. But the opportunity to recreate native rituals and getting paid to do something I loved made it easy for me to say yes to the project.”

The documentary was called The Gift, and the experience left a lasting impression on Smith. The combination of her dance training with her native heritage reignited her passion for dance. She got an MA in dance at York’s Faculty of Fine Arts and now runs her own dance company. Smith is artistic director and choreographer for Kaha:wi Dance Theatre, which began in 2001. Since then, she has created a series of critically acclaimed works. “My artistic vision is making contemporary dance and expressing through that dance my indigenous beliefs and inspirations,” Smith says. “And I want to take that rich cultural heritage and share it with a wide and diverse audience.”

  • The Sun also noted that the ‘Living Ritual: World Indigenous Dance Festival’ takes place July 14-16 at York University and the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford. The festival celebrates and promotes global diversity by presenting indigenous dance forms from Canada and around the world.

Black ‘legends’ meet tomorrow’s heroes

There was York student Damian Brown receiving the Leonard Braithwaite Award at an event that brought “legends” of the black community together for a youth awards gala evening, reported the Toronto Star June 19. He was telling everyone that at age 6 he remembers going hungry for days on end…but when the Children First agency rescued him, he pledged to become “one of the greatest Jamaicans ever.” Now he’s on an academic scholarship at York, a founding member of Peacebuilders International and training community members in St. James Town and Regent Park. “It’s not how you start the race, it’s how you end it,” Brown said, to a standing ovation.

Milevsky takes investment advisers to task

A column by investment experts Eric Kirzner and Richard Croft in last week’s National Post on real estate raised some interesting questions from readers, wrote Croft in the June 19 edition – none more to the point than an e-mail from Moshe Milevsky, the York finance professor and author of Wealth Logic. “We have known Moshe for a number of years and have great respect for his work,” wrote Croft. “Moshe took issue with last week’s column, in which I said investors would not have too much of their nest egg tied to real estate if they held real estate investment trusts in their portfolio and owned a home as well.”

Milevsky’s e-mail said: “I normally read and enjoy your column – and I’m not the type who writes letters to the editor – but I think your column today was completely off mark.” Yikes, Croft responded. “Is there any (rigorous) research to support the argument that a house isn’t an investment asset?” Milevsky wrote, “Is this some kind of post-modern behavioural finance theory? As long as you think you are losing money, then you are actually losing money. I presume you folks don’t buy into the argument that human capital, illiquid assets, etc, should be taken into account in normative portfolio construction.”

So, Croft reasoned, perhaps this is the real question: If doing the right thing alienates the client, then is it really the right thing? That is a question that has plagued the securities industry for decades. Milevsky concluded in his e-mail that “ignoring personal housing and allocating wealth to REITs – without any pre-existing constraints – goes against most of what portfolio theory has taught us in the last 40 years.”

  • Retirement ruin may not be the politically correct phrase to describe running out of money in old age, but it’s the one finance professor Moshe Milevsky chooses to use, reported the National Post June 17. At last week’s Morningstar conference in Toronto, the professor at York’s Schulich School of Business gave financial advisers a basic lesson in asset allocation. A balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds reduces the odds of eventual ruin, Milevsky told them, but also warned “there is a certain amount of financial risk that cannot be removed with asset allocation alone.” In short, don’t retire in a bear market. If one hits just as you receive your gold watch, consider resuming work until you’re in a bull market.

Hadfield hopes national pride blasts off

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield says students in this country need to be more aware of the opportunities available to them, reported Canadian Press June 19. The only Canadian ever to walk in space, Hadfield says growing up in southwestern Ontario, he had no idea what his future could hold. “It’s incredible what Canadians are up to,” he said. “It’s just not all that easy to find out sometimes.” Hadfield was in Toronto on Sunday to speak at a conference at York University put on by two national mathematics organizations. He said he took the opportunity to highlight for the students what’s being done by Canadians in his field. Hadfield was also interviewed on CBC Newsworld June 18 about his appearance at York.

York’s ‘man of steel’ set to bow out of Formula 1 racing

Eighteen months ago, York alumnus Alex Shnaider (BA ’92) had many hearts racing in this country with the idea of a “Canadian” team in Formula One, wrote The Gazette (Montreal) June19. Shnaider, a Russian-born Canadian citizen, had bought the cash-strapped Jordan F1 team at age 36, later to be renamed Midland F1 – after the Midland Group, the privately held steel, shipping and land development company headed by the Toronto billionaire. When the Jordan/Midland team rolled into Montreal for last year’s Grand Prix of Canada, the cars of Tiago Monteiro and Narain Karthikeyan carried a distinctly Canadian flavour with the message “Bring back hockey” written on the sides.

For Shnaider, a Maple Leafs fan, it was his way of letting Canadians know how he felt about the absence of hockey during the NHL lockout. But now there’s the possibility that this Canadian connection might be lost. Recent reports suggest the team soon could be sold to a group of Dutch investors. A native of St. Petersburg, Shnaider and his family immigrated to Israel by way of Ukraine when he was 4. Nine years later, his family was living in Toronto. His parents ran a deli in a predominately Russian area north of downtown, where Shnaider stocked shelves and cleaned floors.

Dawn of a new Dusk?

York alumnus Matt Dusk (BFA ‘02) has a found his place in the sun, wrote a reviewer for The Edmonton Sun June 18. And the 27-year-old crooner from Toronto says he’s absolutely basking in its glow. Dusk is touring in support of his third album, Back in Town. The thing about the sun is that for all its beaming brilliance, sunsets are inevitable. Dusk knows this, and he’s aware that timing is everything. He’s fortunate, for example, that traditional pop vocalists like himself are all the rage right now.

“People keep asking me why I think this music has come back,” Dusk says. “I kind of grew up during the 1990s with Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and all these amazing singers. The problem was nobody could really sing along with them because they sing at, like, 50 octaves or whatever. “I think part of the reason for the resurgence of this music (ballads) is it’s music everyone can sing along to. And that’s what the foundation of music really is: the sharing. A lot of people are also being introduced to this music for the first time, so they don’t see it as being old – it’s fresh to the young kids.

Making a commitment to democracy

Arita Droog is making history. The 52-year-old Durham church volunteer was selected to join the province’s first Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform to consider whether the system used to elect MPPs needs to be changed, wrote the Owen Sound Sun Times June 17. It’s a six-month commitment akin to going back to school because the assembly members will learn about the province’s electoral system and other systems in classes taught by Ontario university professors.

Assembly members will travel to Toronto every other weekend from September through November for the learning phase, attend local public consultations, then head back to Toronto every other weekend to deliberate from February through April. The province will put them up in a hotel, bus them to York’s Osgoode Hall Law School for classes and pay expenses and $150 per day. Their final report must be handed to the province by May 15, 2007. The initiative fulfills a Liberal campaign promise to consider electoral reform.

Alzheimer’s play is based on work of York nursing researcher

In a story June 17 about a research-based drama on living with dementia, the Oakville Beaver noted that more than a decade of research by nurse researchers Christine Jonas-Simpson of Sunnybrook & Women’s Hospital and Gail Mitchell, a professor in York’s Atkinson School of Nursing, influence this play.

Bakery owners’ sons attend York

Tony and Beatrice Agati own Italian Bakery. Monday marks their 30th wedding anniversary, reported the National Post June 17 . “We got married in June, 1976,” said Agati. “I took her on a two-week honeymoon in Acapulco. We took over the bakery in July and I made her work the rest of her life in here.” After 29 years working seven days a week, last year he began closing on Sundays. “I wanted to spend some quality time at home,” he said. The couple moved to Woodbridge 20 years ago; three of their sons are at York University.

Refugee who became a professor graduated from York

York alumna Martha Kuwee Kumsa (BSW ‘96, BA ‘95) is standing in front of her social work students at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, reported The Record (Kitchener, Cambridge and Waterloo) June 17. Out of the corner of one eye, the Ethiopian-born woman catches sight of a man in uniform lingering in the hall. She continues her lecture, but her heart beats faster and her breathing becomes heavier. Then she gets a clear view of the man – and it’s a university security officer, not a soldier come to drag her away. She relaxes. “It’s amazing how the brain works and the body responds,” the soft-spoken Kumsa says of the triggers she has learned to cope with over the years.

With the help of a student loan and two part-time jobs, Kumsa enrolled at York during her second year in Canada. She got a bachelor’s degree in social work in 1996, the same year that she received a human rights award from the New York-based group, Human Rights Watch. In 2002, Kumsa was hired for a teaching post at Wilfrid Laurier University, but continued to work on her PhD at the University of Toronto and received that in 2004.

Graduate’s exhibit explores the wonder of child’s play

Childhood evokes memories of play, whether the pure fun form or delving deeper with play as a growth experience or an exploration of the path not yet taken, said a Port Hope artist, in the Northumberland News June 16. In ‘Playing with Childhood,’ York alumna Fiona Crangle (BFA/BEd ‘90) and her fellow artist and long-time friend, Veronica Derry, of Cobourg present an exhibit that celebrates and explores the multi-faceted layers of child’s play on canvas, with textiles, in sculpture, with paper mache and a variety of other media. The exhibit debuted June 17 at the Colborne Art Gallery and runs through July 30.