Ideas intersect at the Elia Scholars Dinner honouring graduate student researchers

Art, science, philosophy and social justice all intersect at the Elia Scholars Dinner, an annual event that honours some of York University’s most innovative graduate student researchers.

The Elia Scholars Program is York’s most prestigious internal award. Facilitated by the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) and valued at a minimum of $30,000 per year for four years, the award enables York to attract and foster doctoral students of the highest calibre, both domestic and international. This year’s event, held Feb. 21 at the Schulich School of Business, was a chance for the scholars share their ideas with a wide network of faculty, donors and peers.

“Because the scholarship lasts for four years, we really get to see the students develop,” said Thomas Loebel, dean of FGS. “The students’ work starts creating these concentric circles out into the community. The gift starts changing lives, which changes lives, which changes lives. Students’ presentations showed that expansion.”

Since 2008, the Elia Scholarship has been awarded to 31 doctoral students. Nine scholars were present at the Feb. 21 event, including two of the three 2018 honorees.

Aaron Tucker
Aaron Tucker

Aaron Tucker (first-year PhD in cinema and media studies) is studying facial recognition software – deconstructing its technological components, its historical roots and its adoption/proliferation via governments and corporations. As part of his research, Tucker is building and applying his own facial recognition software, using it in the creation of video art and installation pieces.

“The opportunities the Elia Scholarship affords me stretch beyond the financial,” said Tucker in a statement. “They have emboldened me to track paths beyond my immediate research concerns and to extend my knowledge to my academic, creative and civic communities.”

Lia Tarachansky
Lia Tarachansky

An accomplished journalist and filmmaker, Lia Tarachansky (first-year PhD, cinema and media studies) has focused on marginalized communities in Israel and Palestine, and the anti-colonial fight for peace. Her PhD research will examine the colonial gaze in cinema and new media, exploring how Indigenous communities in Canada/Turtle Island and Israel/Palestine make visible spaces that are rendered invisible by colonialism. She will be co-creating an augmented reality project to “return” destroyed/colonized sites.

Projects like these exemplify the creative, cross-disciplinary and cutting-edge spirit of the Elia Scholarship.

“We have scholars who are trying to rethink how the law treats a subject,” said Loebel. “Not simply, ‘Can the law address disability?’ but, ‘Can the law adapt to different subjectivities?’ We have scholars who were dealing with art and disability, and scholars who are creating artistic manifestations of how their world has changed with HIV. There are so many intersections between these projects, and everyone understood that.”

The award commemorates a distinguished benefactor to York University and his family. The late Mariano Elia immigrated to Canada from Italy with his family in 1929, when he was 12 years old. Following a long and successful career as a land developer in Toronto, Elia was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree by York University in 1985. After his passing in 2006, his philanthropic legacy was carried on by his five children through the Mariano A. Elia Foundation. This foundation has contributed more than $3 million to York University, creating two principal programs – the Mariano A. Elia Chair in Italian-Canadian Studies (also known as the “Elia Chair”) and the Elia Scholars Program.

This reception is an annual event to celebrate York University’s outstanding scholars and to meet with the members of the Elia family. Present this year were Paul Elia (BA ’72), Mariano’s son, president of the family foundation and York English grad; Valerie Elia, Mariano’s daughter and vice-president of the family foundation; Rochelle Zorzi, Mariano’s granddaughter and niece of Valerie and Paul; Noelle Elia, Valerie’s daughter, who delivered a speech on behalf of the family; and Noelle’s partner, Jennifer Crake.

The full list of Elia Scholars who delivered presentations includes Megan Johnson (theatre and performance studies), Sarah Nussbaum (law), Melanie Wilmink (art history and visual culture), Lia Tarachansky (cinema and media studies), Syeda Mariam Humayun (administration), Aaron Tucker (cinema and media studies), Emily Colpitts (gender, feminist and women’s studies), Camellia Bryan (administration) and Sarah Switzer (environmental studies).