York’s Homecoming 2014 is in full swing, with 40 events happening at the Keele and Glendon campuses between Sept. 17 and 21. As part of the celebrations, the York University Alumni Association (YUAA) is recognizing some of this year’s student and new alumni scholarship and award recipients.
Six outstanding individuals will be honoured for their academic excellence and student leadership during the YUAA annual general meeting at the Park Hyatt Toronto on Sept. 18. The recipients are:
Sumeet Farwaha, Alumni Silver Jubilee Scholarship
Sumeet Farwaha believes individuals who are critical consumers of knowledge can empower others to create a positive change in their communities. With this in mind, he decided early on to strive for academic excellence so he can make a difference in today’s world.
“But I didn’t want to just pursue academic excellence, I also wanted to model leadership and outstanding community service,” says the fourth-year psychology student. “I wanted to dedicate my time to a variety of extracurricular activities and volunteer positions in my community and at York.”
From being a “befriending” counsellor at the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture to a volunteer at the Toronto Distress Centre, Farwaha has helped empower others by advocating for social justice. He has worked as primary researcher on a project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to investigate how learning to use a computer could change the levels of depression seniors can feel as a result of decreased communication with their families.
At York University, Farwaha has been involved in student government, the HealthAid Network at Stong College and two anxiety labs where he assists graduate students and professors with their research. He plans to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology.
“Mental illness is a significant societal concern affecting people of varying social and cultural backgrounds,” Farwaha says. “My goal is to help those suffering from mental illness regain the control of their lives that was taken from them.”
Jay Gajiwala, Alumni Golden GRADitude Award
While it may be a hobby of his to read biographies and articles on events and people from the past, Jay Gajiwala (BSc ’14) is all about making the most of his time engaging others in the present. And York University made it easy for him to do so as an undergraduate student.
The University, Gajiwala says, provided him with opportunities to get involved outside of class. Among other things, the biomedical science grad was an active member of the Faculty of Science Council, the York University Biological Society, the Executive and Planning Committee, and the Research and Awards Committee. He was also an event director for the World Vision chapter at York and helped organize the 2013 and 2014 TedXYorkU events. Outside the University, Gajiwala volunteered with the Markham Stouffville Hospital for three years.
“These extracurricular activities really allowed me to learn a lot about myself,” he says. “They provided me with opportunities to improve myself as a person and turn my weaknesses into strengths.”
Now a first-year medical school student, Gajiwala hopes to someday work as a physician. At York University, he won the Best Upper Year Project award at the Undergraduate Research Fair for his poster presentation on DNA repair mechanisms and their implications to human diseases. Having also worked in a genetics lab at the University, his goal is to continue contributing to the biological research field.
“These experiences have made York, more than anything else, the most enjoyable place for me,” Gajiwala says.
Tanvi Gupta, Alumni Golden GRADitude Award
Tanvi Gupta (BBA ’14) knows what it’s like to venture into unfamiliar terrain. “Whenever I have free time, I get in my car and start driving on unknown and mountainous roads,” she says.
That being said, Gupta is certain about this much in her career: She would like to climb the corporate ladder as a chartered accountant. This month, the Schulich School of Business alumna is joining Deloitte, one of the biggest audit firms in the world, as a staff accountant. Having recently written her last chartered accountant exam, she will soon pursue her chartered professional accountant designation.
Gupta credits York University for the person she is today. The University provided her with academic guidance and leadership opportunities that helped her succeed, she says, adding she grew “in a true sense” as a result of her time at York. As a student, she reinstated the Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter on campus with a friend and was involved in multiple student clubs, including Students Offering Support, Students in Free Enterprise and the Schulich Ambassador Taskforce.
“I wanted to represent Schulich and its flourishing community in school-related events,” Gupta says. “If given the opportunity, I would love to come back to York for a master’s degree in business administration. In fact, I am so immersed and influenced by York that I regularly visit the University library even though I’ve graduated.”
Julia Pennella, Harry Arthurs Alumni Families Entrance Scholarship
Julia Pennella was a superstar in high school. A valedictorian and three-time public speaking champion, she has been published in two anthology poetry books, competed in the York Region District School Board Youth Poetry Slam semifinals, and read and reviewed works for the Ontario Library Association White Pine Award for Canadian young adult books. Pennella is also a competitive swimmer, swimming instructor and lifeguard. In her free time, she has volunteered at food banks, charity golf tournaments and with the Canadian Cancer Society.
Now, the first-year history student is looking forward to broadening her life experiences through her studies at York University.
“It sounds cheesy, but York and the Harry Arthurs Alumni Families Entrance Scholarship is my Cinderella story,” Pennella says. “I feel like it’s given me an eternal sense of confidence, achievement and success. It makes me walk with my head up higher than ever before.”
Pennella is no stranger to York University. Her sister and many extended family members have graduated from York and gone on to become successful lawyers, teachers and entrepreneurs. She says the scholarship has had an immense impact on her school life and given her a new perspective of herself.
“It’s giving me the edge and determination to maintain my grades and strive for the same success over and over again,” she adds. “It’s giving me more time to do charity and volunteer work.”
Maya Prager, Harry Arthurs Alumni Families Entrance Scholarship
In a time of budget cuts, Maya Prager has succeeded at what most workplace professionals can only dream of. She convinced her high school administration to increase its student council budget by 15 per cent. As a result, the school hosted its first semiformal in 10 years.
“The idea was to show them we were well prepared to manage money responsibly and bring new events to the school,” she says.
One of seven siblings, Prager has followed her sister’s footsteps to study at the Schulich School of Business at York. Previously as director of fundraising of DECA (formerly the Distributive Education Clubs of America) Vaughan, she competed in the final of the International Career Development Conference, beating out thousands of other DECA members from around the world.
“My passion for business and community involvement exposed me to many leadership positions, and I’ve gained extensive experience as a result,” she says.
Prager has partnered with Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre to raise awareness for the hospital. She was one of the first high-school volunteers to join Students Offering Support, a university-based charity, to build schools in Latin America. With the support of the Harry Arthurs Alumni Families Entrance Scholarship, Prager plans to spend a semester on exchange in Japan.
“I have an obsession with Japanese culture,” she says. “I feel so incredibly lucky and I’m definitely going to use the scholarship to broaden my horizons and get the most out of my education.”
Erica Shligold, Harry Arthurs Alumni Families Entrance Scholarship
In the eyes of Erica Shligold, few things are more important than helping people and saving their lives. Her passion, dedication and enthusiasm for medicine and biomedical research started at a young age and at the early stages of learning science, human anatomy in particular.
“The more I learned, the more interested and intrigued I became,” the first-year biomedical science student says. “This made me start observing doctors at every opportunity I was given, asking questions and reading more about the profession.”
Shligold, whose mother graduated from York’s Department of Chemistry in 1989, has been a palliative care volunteer at Baycrest. She is also a lifeguard and has worked with the Canadian Red Cross and Lifesaving Society. She founded and operated a Red Cross Club in her high school and is a certified Red Cross youth facilitator. In addition, Shligold has volunteered with English-as-a-second-language and French clubs to promote diversity, equity and inclusivity.
“My scholastic career has been the driving force behind my volunteer work,” she says. “With the help of the Harry Arthurs Alumni Families Entrance Scholarship, I hope to continue being actively involved in various volunteer activities. I also hope to commit more time and effort to the organizations I’m currently volunteering with, while remaining focused on my academic achievements.”