Stellar $3M endowment will help York students, community reach for the stars

Paul Delaney

With a galactic $3-million investment, made in partnership with York University Professor Emeritus Allan Carswell and the Carswell Family Foundation, York University will share the wonders of the universe with students, youth in the community and the public through the creation of a new Chair.

The Allan I. Carswell Chair for the Public Understanding of Astronomy in the Faculty of Science, thought to be the first of its kind in North America, will be dedicated to science engagement and outreach. It will benefit students and the public through education and activities, involving telescopes at the Allan I. Carswell Observatory, as well as novel technologies such as virtual reality. The endowment will also support the York Science Communicator in Residence program to enhance student learning opportunities in science communications.

Paul Delaney
Paul Delaney

The first holder of the Carswell Chair for a three-year term will be University Professor and Senior Lecturer Paul Delaney. Delaney is well-known within the University and the broader community for his public outreach and frequent media appearances explaining the mysteries of the universe in a way that everyone can understand.

“With this generous gift to the Faculty of Science from Allan Carswell and the Carswell Family Foundation, York University will enhance the exciting educational opportunities in astronomy that we offer our students, while also growing our community outreach initiatives as part of our institutional commitment to public service,” said President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton. “Allan’s immense generosity will benefit students, faculty and the public here and across the country, and allow a whole new generation to explore the wonders of our galaxy.”

York University will match the $1.5 million gift from the Carswell Family Foundation for a total of $3 million.

As a result of the Carswell gift, the Chair will be poised to keep pace with emerging technologies, changes in science education, and develop innovative ways to teach, communicate and involve students, as well as the broader community, in the excitement of science.

The kind of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning experiences possible with the new endowed Chair will go far beyond the immediate community to include youth, educators, students, and community groups across the country. Currently close to 1,500 elementary and secondary students in the GTA visit the observatory every year, providing teachers with an indispensable resource, while the science ambassador team goes directly to those schools unable to organize the trek to York U. Recognizing that astronomy is an accessible way to connect people to science, today’s gift will help these kinds of outreach efforts reach the next level of engagement.

“The Carswell Chair embodies a truly inspired, exciting and meaningful vision for science engagement – one that is unique in its scope and far-reaching in its impact,” said Ray Jayawardhana, dean of the Faculty of Science. “Having been drawn to the wonders of space as a kid, I can attest personally to astronomy’s power to stimulate the imagination and instill a passion for science. We hope today’s landmark investment will inspire and enable youth and communities near and far to share in the adventures of science.”

Working with the Science Communicator in Residence program and the observatory, the Chair will also enhance undergraduate and graduate learning opportunities in science communications.

Those in attendance for the announcement of the Allan I. Carswell Chair for the Public Understanding of Astronomy, including York University Vice-President Advancement Jeff O’Hagan, Professor Paul Delaney, Faculty of Science Dean Ray Jayawardhana, York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton, Professor Emeritus Allan Carswell and members of the Carswell Family Foundation

“Astronomy has for centuries been providing everyone with an awe-inspiring challenge to understand the universe around us and the science involved,” said York University physics Professor Emeritus Allan Carswell. “The goal of the Carswell Chair, in the present communication-age, is to stimulate a response to this challenge by providing a proactive outreach to students and the community at large.”

This is not the first gift that Carswell and his family have made to York University. Last year, the Carswell Family Foundation donated $500,000 toward a $1-million investment to acquire a new, one-metre custom telescope for the observatory at York University, making it the largest telescope on a Canadian campus.

The observatory at York University has been a prominent hub for science outreach to the broader community since 1969. About 5,000 visitors a year come for public viewing on Wednesday nights, while there are online viewing opportunities for scores more on Monday nights when York students and faculty host the popular “YorkUniverse” radio show on online. Establishment of the Chair is subject to approval by the York University Senate and Board of Governors.