Fine arts mentors celebration was all about gratitude – and glam

More than 80 upper-year undergraduates in the Faculty of Fine Arts served as mentors to first-year students over the past year – volunteering their time, energy and enthusiasm to support their younger peers.

On April 27, the Fine Arts Student & Academic Services office, which developed and coordinates the mentorship program, threw a celebratory dinner at Michelangelo’s in the Atkinson Building to thank the mentors for their service. Among the special guests were invited alumni from each Fine Arts department – Dance, Design, Fine Arts Cultural Studies, Film, Music, Theatre and Visual Arts – who joined the mentors at table to share memories, experiences and tips for life after York.

Right: From left, incoming Associate Dean Mark Wilson, Faculty of Fine Arts Dean Barbara Sellers-Young and outgoing Associate Dean Belarie Zatzman

As Lynda Tam, director of academic affairs for the Faculty of Fine Arts, eloquently introduced the event, it was "all about gratitude". With rounds of thunderous applause throughout the evening, appreciation flowed as freely as the animated conversations around the room.

Alumni in attendance included Toronto Star editorial designer Sharis Shamiryan (BDes ‘07), a multiple prizewinner who is currently a finalist for the 2008 National Newspaper Awards, and film alumnus Matthew Miller (BFA Spec. Hons. ‘03), director of the international film festival hit The School and the feature-length thriller Surviving Crooked Lake, which is scheduled for US theatrical release this summer.

At the theatre table were Toronto Life associate editor and theatre writer Stephanie Verge (BA Spec. Hons. ‘00), and producer of KICK Theatre and stage & screen actor Christine Horne (BFA Spec. Hons. ‘04), who starred as the young Hagar in the Kari Skoglund film of Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel.  

Right: Theatre alumna Christine Horne (left) with third- year theatre student Kathleen Calder

Music mentors had the chance to connect with the Juno Award-winning duo, pianist Paul Neufeld (BFA Spec. Hons. ‘92) and guitarist Michael Occhipinti (BFA Spec. Hons. ‘92), composers, recording artists and co-leaders of NOJO, the Neufeld-Occhipinti Jazz Orchestra. Visual arts guests were Randal Boutilier (BFA Spec. Hons. ‘00), whose design company 12thirteen counts Jamie Kennedy Kitchens, the School of Toronto Dance Theatre and York’s Faculty of Fine Arts among its clients, and artist-photographer Diana Yoo (BFA Spec. Hons. ‘05) who also works as a business development representative for Berlitz Canada Inc.

Left: Music alumni Michael Occhipinti (left) and Paul Neufeld socialize after dinner

Francesa Accinelli (BFA Spec. Hons. ‘92), director of Telefilm Canada’s Television Business Unit, and Jaclyn Tam (BA Spec. Hons. ‘05), a reporter, news anchor and weekend host at K-Lite FM in Hamilton, represented Fine Arts Cultural Studies. And flying the flag for dance was the multi-faceted Jennifer Bolt (MA ’01), a dance writer, researcher and performer equally at home in ballet and modern dance, who also teaches in York’s Department of Dance and Canada’s National Ballet. Bolt is currently pursuing a doctorate in education at York.

Faculty of Fine Arts Dean Barbara Sellers-Young handed out certificates to the mentors, including special distinctions for 15 senior mentors who have volunteered for two consecutive years.

Right: From left, Fine Arts Cultural Studies alumna Jaclyn Tam, students Jaclyn Desforges and Carmen Lee, Fine Arts Cultural Studies alumna Francesca Accinelli, students Anahita Arashi and Phil Ammon

Lynda Tam congratulated everyone on an exceptional year. “Every one of you has touched someone’s life in a really meaningful way,” Tam said. “Your encouragement and resourcefulness have helped another student navigate the waters of first year. A very big thank-you for your time and dedication.”

The celebration also saw the gratitude reflected back from the mentors, many of whom expressed what a positive experience they had in the program.

“I am definitely coming back to mentoring next year,” said third-year theatre student Robin Laliberte.

Her friend and classmate Naomi Krajden felt the same way, and shared what it was like meeting her “mentees” for the first time. “When we first met for coffee, there were not many questions,” Krajden said. “I talked about my experiences so far, and my plans. I told them I was here if they needed me, because I think I would have really appreciated hearing that in my first year. As time went on more questions came out, especially around time management.”

Right: From left, third-year theatre students Naomi Krajden, Robyn Laliberte and Amy Sawka

Now in its third year, the mentorship program not only helps new students, it also provides training and development opportunities for the mentors. This year the program included seven workshops, covering topics from communication to leadership and integrity. Frank Cappadocia, director of Student Community & Leadership Development; Selwyn McSween, a senior adviser, case resolution, with the Centre for Human Rights; and Marc Wilchesky, executive director of Counselling & Disability Services, were among the workshop leaders who generously shared their skills and insights with the mentors, and were invited to share in the celebration.

“The workshop on resilience made a particular impact on me,” said third-year theatre student Kathleen Calder. “The timing was perfect – right after the strike – and it really valuable. It confirmed that I already had strong stress-coping strategies, but also pointed out some other good ones that I can use.”

Right: Senior mentor Lisa Horvath (left) receives her certificate of appreciation from Dean Barbara Sellers-Young

In addition to the training they receive and the time and support they give to first-year students, the mentors volunteer at least one hour each week for peer advising in the Fine Arts Advising Office in the lobby of the Joan & Martin Goldfarb Centre for Fine Arts.

“A lot of the time we were giving directions to the Accolade West Building,” laughed Anahita Arashi, a third-year Fine Arts Cultural Studies student. “But the office has such a great atmosphere. It was an amazing interdisciplinary networking opportunity and a chance to really get to know the other mentors.”

Lisa Horvath, a fifth-year student working towards degrees in music and psychology, volunteers as a senior mentor and works as a fine arts student ambassador and a summer adviser.

“When I started at York I was so focused on my music, playing and touring, I was like a ghost on campus,” Horvath said. “I started mentoring because I wanted to get involved. Now the majority of my York friends are also part of the mentor program. It’s great connecting with people outside of my discipline. Right now I’m acting in a film that my friend fourth-year film student and senior mentor Rene Bogovic is making. I feel if you enjoy creativity, you can cross over really easily.”

“This strengthening of community is just one of the reasons why the mentoring program is such a success,” said Tam. “I’m thrilled to see the multitude of ways it enriches the university experience for all participants.”

The Faculty of Fine Arts mentors celebration was made possible with the support of York University Alumni Office.