Kiana Blake, a recent graduate of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies (LA&PS), is the recipient of the prestigious Murray G. Ross Award. Blake received the award during the 2018 Spring Convocation ceremonies. It is one of the highest honours given by York University to a graduating student. Blake, who graduated Summa Cum Laude, earned an honours BA with a double major in criminology and human rights and equity studies. The Murray G. Ross Award recognizes both academic distinction and notable contributions to the University.
“Winning this award is such an incredible honour,” said Blake. “York University has provided me with leadership opportunities to make my mark and I am truly grateful for that, and to be recognized for my extracurricular contributions and academic achievement, going up against some of my brilliant colleagues, is my most distinguished honour to date.”
At York University, Blake said she learned to value the diversity of the University’s student population. “As someone who shared the student voice on a variety of platforms, I quickly learned that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with student needs,” she said. “Every student has a different story and it’s important that the University recognizes that.”
Over the course of her time as an undergraduate student, Blake said she grew in many ways, including by learning to be more open to accepting things that she found different. This aspect offered her “life lessons” that she said she will bring into the world after her undergraduate studies. “York University has allowed me not only to excel academically and maintain straight As and A-pluses throughout my university career, but it also moulded me into a well-rounded young woman. I am more aware and knowledgeable about issues that affect society and certain groups within it.”
She attributes her success and desire for academic excellence to her mother, Paulette Burgher, who is an alumna of York University and the associate director of operations in LA&PS and a contract faculty member in the School of Administrative Studies. “My mom has always been the one and only constant key to my success, both inside and outside the classroom,” said Blake. “I continue to learn so much from her daily, even when we’re just sitting at home tuning into ‘The Young and the Restless’ on weeknights. I value her hard-working personality and undying support of my current and future endeavours. Her confidence in me makes me believe that I really can achieve anything I want in life as long as I work for it.”
In addition to excelling in her academic studies, Blake served with passion and dedication in a wide array of extracurricular leadership roles. She was Chair of the Student Council for LA&PS (SCOLAPS) from May 2017 to May 2018. She served as a student-senator in the York University Senate from May 2016 to June 2018, and was the student representative on the LA&PS Faculty Council executive committee and the Academic Policy and Planning Committee. She was vice-chair of SCOLAPS from May 2016 to May 2017 and was on the executive of the Humanity First student club from May 2015 to May 2016. She was also the director of marketing and promotions for SCOLAPS and served as the first-year representative.
Through these leadership opportunities, Blake said she is now better able to lead in almost any circumstance and she learned how to balance her life. In addition to her academic and student leadership excellence, Blake also worked part-time as both a work-study student and an undergraduate research assistant. “York University provided me multiple employment opportunities as a work-study student and undergraduate research assistant, all of which were accommodated within my academic schedule and allowed me to gain income to finance my studies.”
Blake is humble about the honour and extent of her contributions and her ability to balance and excel in each role. She said she is very grateful for the opportunities afforded to her by her university studies and values two key aspects of her time at York University. “I value the intellectual stimulation that I received inside the classroom. Some of the most amazing professors have taught me and I have learned so much valuable knowledge that I will carry with me through life,” said Blake, who offered special tributes and thanks to Professors Anita Lam, Tuulia Law, Livy Visano, Paul Baxter and Julie Dowsett for “their amazing courses that really challenged my ways of thinking.”
The second key aspect she values relates to the many opportunities for leadership roles and experiential learning she was able to embrace. “In addition to being Chair and president, I had the chance to sit on variety of Faculty standing committees where I could serve as an advocate for the student voice in policy planning,” said Blake. “I also had the chance since on various round tables on campus, most notably President Rhonda Lenton’s round table in August 2017, the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario Elizabeth Dowdswell’s round table in February 2017 and the student representative round table with Vice-Provost of Students Lucy Fromowitz.”
Blake said she is most proud of her work on SCOLAPS, which, under her leadership, had one of its most successful years yet. “We initiated the first-ever LA&PS Program Association Day, an event that I spearheaded in terms of the idea and logistical planning,” she said.
The LA&PS Program Association Day took place in the fall and was so successful that it was repeated in the winter term. The Program Association Days presented an opportunity for all academic clubs within LA&PS to come together in Vari Hall, the link to the Ross Building and Central Square for a tabling and information fair. The Program Association Days, said Blake, were organized with a goal to give new and existing students an opportunity to learn about what the faculty had to offer with respect to extracurricular clubs, leadership and volunteer roles. More than 25 clubs took part in the days and Blake takes great pride in the participation and enthusiasm shown by the clubs and student volunteers.
In addition to the Murray Ross Award, Blake is also the recipient of numerous other awards: the Robert Tiffin Leadership award (May 2018); the LA&PS Outstanding Leadership Award (April 2018); the Martin Singer Award for Dedication to Student Engagement (April 2017, 2018); the SCOLAPS Outstanding Overall Contribution to Student Experience Award (April 2018); the Dean’s Award for Research Excellence (March 2018); the Criminology Honours Scholarship (November 2017); the Dean’s Award for Academic Excellence (November 2017); the Honourable Lincoln Alexander Award (October 2017); the YUFA Undergraduate Scholarship (September 2016); and she was appointed a member of the Dean’s Circle of Student Scholars (September 2014 to June 2018).
“It was honour to receive several prestigious awards at the end of my fourth year at York, but it wouldn’t have happened without the woman behind the scenes preparing my nomination files,” said Blake. “A special ‘thank you’ to Professor Brenda Spotton-Visano for her nominations of these awards, her mentorship and, of course, for believing in me.”
Blake is thoughtful when considering her future and how she can bring her passion and dedication to her next adventure. “My goal is to attend Osgoode Hall Law School beginning in September 2019 for the JD program or the Master of Law,” she said. “My goal is to enhance social justice through legal avenues and to provide support to groups in society who are often pushed to the margins of society.”