RAY of light: Research at York program celebrated

Professors Ian Greene, master of York’s McLaughlin College, and Denise Henriques of the Faculty of Health, share a special bond. Both are actively involved in the Research at York (RAY) program, an undergraduate research initiative which began last year as a pilot project at the University.

Greene and Henriques were among the first York faculty members to sign on with the program’s pilot (see YFile Oct. 3, 2007). Both were at the official launch celebration for RAY on March 18 to lend their support to the undergraduate research program.

"The program offers a wonderful opportunity for undergraduate students to get involved with research. While it is administered by departments, colleges can also participate in the program," said Greene. "When Bhausaheb Ubale, Ontario’s former human rights commissioner and a McLaughlin College Fellow, came to me to talk about engaging students in his research into eradicating poverty, York was able to provide eight students to Dr. Ubale through the RAY program.

Right: Ian Greene

"The students worked with Dr. Ubale and researched the causes of poverty around the world and looked into the best practices for eliminating poverty," said Greene. "The opportunity provided to these students through the RAY program has been wonderful, especially the experience they gained working with someone like Dr. Ubale. Their work has huge ramifications for the community and contributes to a greater society."

For Henriques, RAY provided her with an opportunity to compensate her most dedicated and enthusiastic undergraduate students. Henriques, a behavioural neuroscientist in the School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health, is researching how the brain learns and controls movement. "I have a lot of undergraduate students who volunteer to work in my lab – currently there are anywhere from 30 to 40. The RAY program allows me to compensate my most dedicated and enthusiastic students and it means they can work less in a retail or fast food job and dedicate their energies to research activities."

Left: Denise Henriques (left) and Donna Robbins, director of the Career Centre

"RAY also provides these students with an opportunity to put their research work on their CV and this enhances their qualifications and chances if they are considering graduate school," said Henriques. "Some even pursue their own research projects."

Robert Tiffin, York VP students, provided a brief history of the program in his remarks to faculty, staff and students present at the launch.

"The RAY program gives undergraduate students an opportunity to work with faculty to be exposed to research and develop a better understanding of their discipline," said Tiffin. "This is important because after speaking with many of the RAY participants, we know that many are now thinking of pursuing graduate studies.

"Also, keeping with the fact that many undergraduate students are seeking ways to offset the cost of their education, the RAY program offers them an opportunity to earn money and gives them more time to spend on campus engaged in other activities," he said.

According to Tiffin, research has shown that the more time a student spends on campus, the greater the probability that student will get involved with other events and extracurricular activities. "It is a win-win situation, for both the student and the University," said Tiffin. "RAY started with funding for 80 positions and the University filled 61 during the 2007 Winter term. We’ve built on that success and the program has more than doubled this first full year."

Tiffin said that he hopes to see the program continue its growth. "The program resonates with the University community and we are seeking donors and faculty interested in participating in RAY," said Tiffin. "RAY would not be possible without the work of University Registrar Joanne Duklas, Associate VP Academic Rod Webb, Associate VP Academic Learning Initiatives Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt and Donna Robbins, director of the Career Centre."

Above: from left, Robert Tiffin, York VP students; Prof. Roz Woodhouse; Prof. Ian Greene, master of McLaughlin College; Prof. Rod Webb, York associate VP academic; Prof. Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt, York associate VP academic learning initiatives; and University Registrar Joanne Duklas

Professor Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt chaired the faculty committee responsible for approving all of the RAY job descriptions. In her comments to those present, Fisher-Stitt thanked the committee members for their work. "The RAY program committee members, including Rod Webb, Joanne Duklas, Donna Robbins, Nevia Jelenic, Professor Roz Woodhouse and Professor Tara Haas, worked very hard to make this program a success," said Fisher-Stitt.

The committee members were all very engaged and excited by the projects put forward, said Fisher-Stitt. "This program is very exciting for many reasons. It gives a student a solid connection to the University and research has shown the more a student feels connected, the higher the rate of engagement and satisfaction they have with their postsecondary experience.

"Outside the classroom, RAY gives students an opportunity to see faculty as researchers and co-workers," Fisher Stitt said. "It is important for students to interact with faculty both inside and outside the classroom."

The program also offers a mentoring influence for students, said Fisher-Stitt, and it gives students a glimpse into the real world and work associated with research. "Students learn that it is not always exciting and there is a lot of ‘slogging’ in research," she said.

Feedback from the pilot has been extremely positive with students requesting more opportunities and hours. "The student participants are really invested in the RAY program and want it to continue and expand," said Fisher-Stitt.

"Faculty members involved in the program also expressed their satisfaction. One faculty member wrote on her survey that her experience with the RAY program was one of the best she’d ever had in her academic career."

For more information on the opportunities available and how the program works, visit the RAY program Web site.