Carswell Scholars Program celebrates student research and donor impact

From left to right, Vice-President Advancement Jeff O’Hagan, Dr. Allan Carswell and Diane Carswell

An event on April 11 spotlighted the fruits of the 2017 Carswell Scholars’ labours, with presentations that demonstrated the power of funding to accelerate research. Scholarship recipients gathered in the Life Sciences Building to present their research goals and findings to Professor Emeritus Allan Carswell, who funded the scholarship program.

From left to right, Vice-President Advancement Jeff O’Hagan, Professor Emeritus Allan Carswell and Diane Carswell

In May 2016, Carswell and the Carswell Family Foundation’s $1 million gift created a permanent endowment and expendable fund to establish the Carswell Scholarships for graduate students in the Faculty of Science and the Lassonde School of Engineering.

Ray Jayawardhana, dean of the Faculty of Science, and Richard Hornsey, interim dean of the Lassonde School of Engineering, spoke about how the Carswell Scholarships benefit their students.

Ray Jayawardhana

“We’re thrilled to celebrate the impact of this tremendous gift supporting and nurturing the scientific potential of graduate students,” said Jayawardhana. “As one of our faculty members and a pioneering researcher, Allan understands the value of research, both in pushing the boundaries of human knowledge and improving lives through practical applications. Thank you to the Carswell family for their inspired gift for today’s – and tomorrow’s – graduate students.”

Richard Hornsey

“Lassonde graduate students are working on solving some of our greatest challenges while exploring their passions and conducting truly meaningful research,” said Hornsey. “Thanks to Allan Carswell’s generous gift, more of our bright and young talent will have the support they need to take the necessary leaps into worlds yet undiscovered.”

The recipients – six from engineering and six from science – engage in a breadth of research initiatives, including the mathematical modelling of HIV infection and radar modelling of planetary surfaces. The scholarships further their research by alleviating financial loads and enlarging their projects’ scope.

“It feels really good to have my work validated by such a prestigious scholarship,” said Amanda Liczner, PhD student in the Department of Biology, whose research focuses on bumblebee habitat restoration in Southern Ontario. “As a graduate student, having support to complete my research lessens my financial worries. My research involves travelling to sites across the province, which is expensive. This scholarship expands my options, enabling me to increase my site visits, address more questions and conduct more exciting research. My project will now have a greater impact than what I’d originally envisioned.”

“I’m very honoured to have been awarded the Carswell Scholarship in recognition of my research endeavours,” said Dylan Hickson, PhD student at Lassonde who is working on physical models of planetary bodies to supplement terrestrial radar data using highly accurate, complex permittivity measurements. “This scholarship allows me to further invest my efforts into conducting research and will offset costs associated with further research opportunities. In my time as a graduate student at York I’ve developed a passion for research, and the Carswell Scholarship will enable me to pursue a career as a planetary scientist.”

Amanda Liczner
Dylan Hickson
Matthew Burns

Carswell offered the recipients words of wisdom and advice for the future.

“Education is a life-long experience,” he said. “In your careers, you will need to be creative and flexible. You need creativity because life sends you a continuing set of challenges that are opportunities to do new and better things, and flexibility because it’s not so much what happens in life that matters, but how you deal with what happens.”

The event also honoured Carswell and the Carswell Family Foundation’s long-standing support of York University. In 2004, Optech, a global firm founded by Carswell during his tenure at York, established the Optech Lab and a unique-in-Canada course on laser physics and atom trapping with a $125,000 donation. In November 2016, Carswell’s $2-million gift created a partnership between York and the Regent Park School of Music (RPSM) to establish a research chair in music education and support the RPSM’s programming in the Jane-Finch community.

Vice-President Advancement Jeff O’Hagan publicly welcomed Carswell and the Carswell Family Foundation into the White Rose Society Chancellor’s Circle, a program that recognizes donors who have contributed $1 million or more to York University, by presenting him and his daughter, Diane Carswell, who was also in attendance, with commemorative pins.

“One of our main objectives at the Carswell Family Foundation is to support education,” said Ms. Carswell. “The diversity of the research here today is impressive, especially because it straddles scientific, engineering and medical fields. We know that finances can be challenging for students. It’s gratifying to help them, so they can focus more on their research and learning.”

The 2017 Carswell Scholars are: Karene Brown, Matthew Burns, John Campbell, Amanda Liczner, Angie Raad and Richard Thai (Faculty of Science); and Mehdi Abbasi, Mehdi Aghelinejad, Ahmed Fergala, Dylan Hickson, Hakki Karaimer and Khaled Youssef (Lassonde School of Engineering).