York’s science and fine arts Faculties team up for new undergrad program

Moiz Syed secretly wishes he had been born about four years later – at least from an academic perspective, wrote the Toronto Star March 27. The 21-year-old Mississauga student has been studying toward a bachelor of fine arts degree at York University. Although design was his major, he also took computer science courses – managing to transcend traditional academic barriers and keep a foot in both Faculties.

As it turns out, Syed wasn’t the only one who saw a future for combining the two realms. Next year, York will offer a BA in digital media – the first of its kind in the GTA – offered jointly by York’s Faculty of Fine Arts and Faculty of Science & Engineering.

"It’s a hybrid degree that is almost a studio degree, in a sense," explains Don Sinclair, coordinator of the Digital Media Program and a professor in the Fine Arts Cultural Studies Program at York. "This is the kind of degree I would have wanted to take as an undergraduate student," says Sinclair, whose own background is in computer science, music and math.

Allana Mayer also wanted to add technical skills to her fine arts studies. Mayer is enrolled in York’s Fine Arts Cultural Studies Program and is completing a course with Sinclair called Collaborative Arts: Designing Interactive Physical Environments.

For Mayer, who has an interest in music criticism and other fine arts but had no real desire to do computer programming, the course has helped bridge the two worlds. "I’ve always been good at math, so it’s been nice to discover, with some of the programs we use in the new media classes, that a lot of artistic control is founded in just being able to understand and manipulate data," she says.

"When we conceived of this degree, we decided we had to push the fact you could enrol in this degree either from the Faculty of Science & Engineering, or the Faculty of Fine Arts," Sinclair says. About 80 per cent of applicants have come through the Faculty of Fine Arts, 20 per cent through the Faculty of Science & Engineering. There are 120 applicants to the degree program for next fall, with just 25 to 30 spots available, wrote the Star.

Girls are aggressive but in a social context, says York researcher

As the number of adolescent girls being charged with violent crimes in Canada continues to rise, researchers are discovering more about the nature of physically aggressive and violent girls – and how that aggression affects the relationships of the people around them, wrote the Toronto Star March 27.

"For centuries the stereotype has been that girls and women are nurturers, non-aggressive and seek relationships, while men are aggressive, combative and seek dominance," says Debra Pepler, a distinguished research professor of psychology in York’s Faculty of Health and a member of York’s LaMarsh Centre for Research on Violence & Conflict Resolution. "What we are learning is that girls certainly have the capacity to be aggressive. However, our hypothesis is that girls are mainly aggressive in the context of close relationships such as siblings, peer groups or dating partners."

The main difference between female and male aggressors, argues Pepler, is whom they target. "Girls very seldom are out wandering the streets late at night attacking strangers," says Pepler, who consults for and leads the SNAP Girls Connection, a program for aggressive girls and their parents at Toronto’s Child Development Institute. Girls are more likely to attack in order to strengthen their social relationships, such as going after someone who is marginal in the group, she says.

Bullying, in the context of fighting, is a group phenomenon that occurs within groups of both girls and boys, says Pepler. "Young people will do things to get attention with peers that they wouldn’t do…in a context all by themselves without the reinforcement of the peer group," says Pepler.

"The most effective way to treat aggression, in both girls and boys, is treating their parents," she says. "Teaching them how to be effective parents, how to set limits, how to be supportive and the right way to discipline," says Pepler.

"The girls who do the best in the program are the girls whose parents also do the best in the program."

  • The phenomenon of posting videos online of girls fighting seems to be growing, wrote the Toronto Star March 27. On YouTube, videos called "Girls Fight For Man!" or "Girl Fight!" show teenage girls viciously punching each other. It doesn’t surprise psychologist Debra Pepler, that girls are posting their fights online.

"The Internet is not that different from a playground, where we found 85 per cent of children will stop and watch if a fight is occurring," says Pepler. "I think it’s a very high-arousal event. I think there is a great deal of curiosity about power and status and who’s up, who’s down. Online just magnifies that."

  • Pepler also spoke about her latest study on bullying, on Sudbury’s CHNO radio March 26.

The accidental novelist

There isn’t much to York alumna Mary Swan (BA ’74), wrote The Globe and Mail March 27. Not much, that is, to the size of her literary output. But if the quantity hasn’t been there – "I’m not terribly prolific, absolutely not," admits Swan, with a sigh, during a recent day trip to Toronto from her home in Guelph, Ont. – the quality has.

In 2001, her novella The Deep was declared the winner of the O. Henry Award for short fiction by judges Michael Chabon, Mary Gordon and Mona Simpson, after first being published in The Malahat Review. The win put Swan, at 48, among such O. Henry laureates as Raymond Carver, Dorothy Parker, William Faulkner and Alice Munro.

The spark for the novel came six or seven years ago, Swan notes, "totally by accident" and from "an actual historical case that got to me." Another light was Munro. Swan first met Canada’s most famous short-story writer in the mid-1970s when both were at York University, Munro as a recently divorced teacher of creative writing, Swan as a student.

Swan wasn’t studying creative writing but she was writing and, after finding out Munro’s office hours, worked up the nerve to bring her "some of my deep teenage thoughts – six or seven or eight, I guess, poems." Munro received them matter-of-factly and politely, and told Swan "to come back next week at this time" for her critique. "So you can imagine the week I had," Swan says, laughing, "thinking what kind of idiot did I think I was to have done that." Blessedly, Munro "took me seriously," she says, and her encouragement helped Swan’s own purposefulness.

Mature student’s YorkU cover story gets a second printing

In 1982, a year after he graduated from Central Technical School in Toronto, Edward Fenner was certified to be a computer repairman, wrote Toronto’s Metro March 25 in a reprint of an article by York communications officer Martha Tancock, originally published in the April 2008 issue of YorkU magazine. An economic recession killed Fenner’s chances and he found work selling books at a department store and moonlighting as an armed courier. Then the mechanically inclined kid who liked writing answered an ad for a technical writer – and launched a career as a communications consultant. Now, more than 20 years later, he is reinventing himself again, as a mature student at York.

Drug recalls linked to US testing deadlines

It is important for Canadians to have access to vital medications, but increasing pressure from the pharmaceutical industry for faster approvals is shifting the focus away from thorough pre-market assessment of drugs, creating potential risks to consumers, said Joel Lexchin, professor and drug safety expert in York’s School of Health Policy & Management, Faculty of Health, in a story about a new study on drug recalls in The Globe and Mail March 27.

"We need to be paying much more attention to safety issues in the pre-marketing phase," Lexchin said. "If it’s going to take an extra 100 days to do a thorough safety evaluation, we need to take that time. Once those drugs hit the market, currently Health Canada has very little control over what happens to them."

These students mean business

Joseph Moncada has managed to transform a taste for marketing into the dream job of millions of children around the world, wrote the Toronto Star March 27 in a feature on two York student entreprenurs. Moncada is the owner of the Sweet Tooth Candy Emporium. Started as a small candy shop at Wasaga Beach two years ago, it’s since grown to include locations at Scarborough Town Centre and Centrepoint Mall, offering candy lovers more than 2,700 items from around the world.

The thoughts that would occupy the mind of a 21-year-old man surrounded by beautiful women are obvious: "Selling ads to large national sponsors," says Lawrence Krimker, without missing a beat. The owner of CG Media Inc. has figured out how to use his business skills to offer commercial clients a steady stream of exceptionally pretty women to help sell their products, while providing aspiring models a platform to launch their careers.

With him today are two models, York students Ilinca Oprescu and Aleksandra Malkin, both 20. Malkin is a biology major and plans to specialize in pediatric medicine. She says without Krimker she would have to drop modelling to maintain competitive grades.

Candy connoisseur Moncada and the man with the models, Krimker, will take part in the National Student Entrepreneur Competition May 14 in Toronto, put on by Advancing Canadian Entrepreneurship, a non-profit organization, wrote the Star. They’re in a field of six, selected from across the country, competing for $10,000 and the chance to head to a global meet in Chicago this fall.

  • Moncada and Krimker were also mentioned in a story about the Advancing Canadian Entrepreneurship competition in the Windsor Star March 26.

On air

  • Ivan Fecan, Chair of York’s 50 to the Power of 50 alumni group, spoke about a speed mentoring event that took place at York’s Keele campus, on CFTO-TV News and CP24 March 26.