Elia scholars express gratitude to donor family

Six of York’s top doctoral students and members of the donor family, who enabled their research through the Elia Scholars Program, came together recently for dinner on campus. Hosted jointly by the Faculty of Graduate Studies and the York University Foundation, the Sept. 30 event was an opportunity to celebrate academic excellence and to recognize the contributions of a visionary and generous man.

Mariano A. Elia, who died in 2006, was an outstanding citizen, a leading member of the business community and a philanthropist with a passion for learning. In 1984, he established the Mariano A. Elia Chair in Italian-Canadian Studies at York, and in 1985, York recognized his philanthropy with an honorary doctor of laws degree.

Right: Front row, from left, Valerie Elia, Paul Elia and Noelle Elia. Middle row, from left Jillian Ollivierre and Yikun Zhao. Back row, from left, Isaac Osuoka, Michael Amatiello, Noel Semple, Nilesh Gopaul and Sarah Sahagian.

The Elia Scholars Program was established in York’s Faculty of Graduate Studies in 2007 through a gift of $1.8 million from the Elia Family Foundation. The purpose of the program is to attract doctoral candidates of the highest calibre from Canada and around the world. Since 2007, a total of seven students have received the annual awards of $30,000 per year, renewable for up to four years.

The dinner honoured six Elia scholars – three from 2008 and three from 2009 – as well as a scholarship recipient of the Mariano A. Elia Chair in Italian-Canadian Studies. In attendance were two of Mariano’s children, Paul and Valerie, as well as his granddaughter Noelle.

Left: Noel Semple (left), Douglas Peers, Valerie Elia and Noelle Elia

In round-table fashion, recipients spoke about their work and how the Elia funding has enabled them, or will enable them, to fully immerse themselves in their studies and take advantage of opportunities that would otherwise be out of their reach.

Douglas Peers, associate vice-president graduate and dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, hosted the evening. “The generosity and vision of the Elia family has made it possible for the Faculty of Graduate Studies to attract and sustain the kinds of students who we are celebrating this evening,” said Peers. “Their research programs are innovative and interdisciplinary, and the recipients are engaged locally and globally, characteristics that define the graduate experience at York.”

The Elia Scholars:

Sarah Sahagian, a PhD candidate in women’s studies, told the Elia family that her award will allow her to continue research on post-9-11 Muslim feminism in diasporic communities in Canada – research she began during her master’s studies at the London School of Economics & Political Science. 

Right: President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri (left) and Yikun Zhao

International student Isaac Osuoka came to York from Nigeria this year to begin PhD studies in the Faculty of Environmental Studies. His research will investigate the development of civil society in an environment of mushrooming non-governmental organizations within fossil fuel producing countries in the global south, in particular the Gulf of Guinea.

As these awards are open to a wide array of fields, the students around the table represented a cross-section of York’s graduate programs.

For example, Nilesh Gopaul, a first-year PhD student in earth & space science, is conducting research on algorithms to create lower-cost, higher-functioning global positioning systems.

Yikun Zhao, a student in the Schulich School of Business PhD in Administration Program, is taking an innovative approach to the study of marketing. One aspect of her research involves the application of the theoretical perspectives of Nietzsche and Foucault in marketing and consumer research.

Jillian Ollivierre, now in the second year of her PhD in social anthropology, is conducting a study of the gendered politics of consuming “ethnicity” on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, in particular the ways in which women actively engage in the global cultural economy and the island’s complex ethno-politics through their consumption of fashion, film and imported television soap operas.

Last to speak was Noel Semple, a PhD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School. Semple spoke about his research focus, which examines the rights of the child in custody and access disputes. Like all of the above students, he began with a thank you.

“I would like to express my gratitude to the Elia family,” Semple said. “This award means the freedom to concentrate on my work, which is indescribably valuable to me.”

Mamdouh Shoukri, York president & vice-chancellor, underlined the importance of private support for postsecondary education. “I extend my deepest thanks to the Elia family. By enabling the University to educate future leaders, you have made a noble investment in the future of this country,” said Shoukri. 

For information on the Elia Scholars Program, visit the Faculty of Graduate Studies Elia Scholars Web site.