York University’s Scott Library hosted an Organized Research Unit (ORU) open house on Jan. 29, fittingly presented in the library’s Learning Commons Collaboratory. The event provided students, faculty, community members and researchers from the ORUs an opportunity to learn about the range of work being done at the University’s 25 ORUs.
“What’s unique about York?” asked Interim Vice-President Research & Innovation Rui Wang, who moderated the event’s formal program. “Just look at our ORU’s.”
Celia Haig-Brown, associate vice-president research, who also provided remarks at the open house, similarly praised York’s ORUs. “This is what universities are about,” Haig-Brown explained. “When there is a group of committed and excited researchers who want to come together with some common sense of identity and yet some very different ways of thinking about things, the research units are a wonderful place to be.”
In this light, Haig-Brown was excited to announce to attendees that York is in the process of chartering two new ORUs: the Bee Centre, and the Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Languages.
The announcement sparked intrigue and excitement at the already engaging and interactive event. “It was such a pleasure to host the event in the Libraries for the Vice-President Research and Innovation where our community could easily meet and hear about the ORUs and the wealth of research they generate. The event was really successful in giving visibility to the ORU’s. I, myself, was really inspired by the cross section of interdisciplinary research I was seeing.” said Joy Kirchner, dean of libraries. “The ORU model has been tremendously successful in generating the kind of innovation and interdisciplinarity that is really a highlight at York.”
Faculty and researchers involved in developing the new ORUs were on hand with tables and exhibits at the open house, and they were eager to talk about the exciting developments.
Folks swarmed to the Bee Centre’s table where Liam Graham, collections manager at York University’s Packer Lab for bees, spoke about the importance of deepening our understanding of bee populations through interdisciplinary research. “In our collection we have historical data and records of bees for 60 years,” Graham said. “You can keep track of populations and how they change over time. It’s important to know how many species we have and learn the plants they use.” York’s bee researchers hope to focus on preserving biodiversity, according to biologist Clement Kent. “If we don’t have many different species for the plants that rely on pollination for their genetic boosting, they start declining, and that’s happening in a few places.”
Haig-Brown, who highlighted the increasing public understanding of the critical roles that bees play in pollination, was enthusiastic about the different disciplines involved in bee research at York, ranging from biologists to social scientists and even including a mathematician. “Looking at the possibilities of the centre, they bring incredible strength to research at York, drawing on so many disciplines,” she stated.
Many students and faculty were eager to talk to the team at the Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Languages table, where Assistant Professor Ruth Koleszar-Green, co-chair of York’s Indigenous Council and special advisor to the President on Indigenous Initiatives, was equally eager to discuss the importance of creating a space for Indigenous academics to come together. “There are now 20 Indigenous faculty members, and in our research, we need some specific supports, ” explained Koleszar-Green. She emphasized the diversity of Indigenous research happening at York, ranging from art and pedagogy to the studies of labour and infectious diseases. “We aren’t just looking at historical space. A lot of us have been doing research that brings people into spaces.”
Haig-Brown echoed the enthusiasm for bringing often-isolated Indigenous faculty together. “I think this is going to put York on the map in terms of commitment to Indigenous faculty, researcher and students,” she said, noting that it has been one of her goals to continually contribute to creating space for Indigenous faculty and researchers to shape what goes on at York. “The focus on language is particularly important,” Haig-Brown continued. “The restoration of languages which residential schools attempted to destroy is integral to bringing Indigenous knowledges into contact with university knowledges.”
Both new ORUs are awaiting Senate approval, and the community can expect more information in the coming weeks and months.
More information on York’s 25 existing Organized Research Units can be found on the University’s Research and Innovation website.