Year in Review 2020: Top headlines at York University, January to April

Typewriter with paper that reads 2020

As a new year emerges, YFile takes a look back on 2020 to share with readers a snapshot of the year’s highlights. “Year in Review” will run as a three-part series and will feature a selection of top news stories published in YFile. Here are the stories and highlights for January to April, as chosen by YFile editors.


Research on global environmental safety earns Professor Satinder Brar international award
Professor Satinder Brar‘s work aims to find innovative ways for cleaning contaminated water, ensuring communities have access to clean and safe drinking water for generations to come. This research earned her the International Achiever Award from Save the Environment.

Two York University professors receive large NSERC grants for research and development
Two York University professors received Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Collaborative Research and Development (CRD) Grants. The grants – over $1 million each – were awarded to Professors Gunho Sohn and Derek Wilson.

Seymour Schulich doubles investment in scholarship program to $200M
Longtime businessman and philanthropist Seymour Schulich doubled his investment in the Schulich Leader Scholarships from $100 million to $200 million. With this investment, recipients of this science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) undergraduate scholarship doubled to 100 from 50 annual awards.


Lassonde PhD student solves an 18-year-old problem
Nearly 20 years ago, a satellite mission called GRACE was launched to monitor mass transfers occurring above or below the Earth’s surface. The gravity field maps derived from GRACE measurements were obscured by very disturbing thick lines sweeping from south to north. A Lassonde School of Engineering PhD student, Athina Peidou, solved this problem that has occupied the international scientific community for more than 18 years.

New Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change created to address world’s most pressing issues
York University announced the creation of the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change to respond to the urgent global need for sustainable and just solutions to critical challenges posed by environmental change and urbanization.

Faculty associations’ award recognizes founder of motherhood studies, matricentric feminism
Andrea O’Reilly, a professor in the School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, founder of Demeter Press and the Journal of the Motherhood Initiative, received a 2019 Status of Women and Equity Award of Distinction from the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations. The award recognizes faculty whose work has improved the lives and working conditions of academics who belong to historically marginalized groups.


Toughest global health challenges will be tackled by Distinguished Research Chair at York University
York University Professor Steven J. Hoffman was named inaugural holder of the Dahdaleh Distinguished Chair in Global Governance & Legal Epidemiology. This unique research Chair brings scientific rigour and a social justice lens to seemingly intractable global health issues.

York researchers receive $1.1 million in COVID-19 research funding
Three York University researchers received more than $1.1 million in COVID-19 rapid research funding over two years to explore issues of trust, stigmatization and social perceptions of risk from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). Additional funding from CIHR for COVID-19 rapid research was announced later in March.

As the seriousness of the global pandemic became apparent, faculty at York worked to educate the community about COVID-19 through the development of a simulation model to help families understand how to ‘flatten the curve’ and by explaining the math behind social distancing and why it works. Community members were also reminded of the benefits of mindfulness, and offered group meditation sessions online as part of the COVID-19 response.


More research and development on COVID-19 continued to be a focus at York University, including: Schulich’s development of an analytics dashboard to predict spread of the virus; research on why the feeling of mattering is an important source of support during the pandemic; the development of the Dahdaleh COVID-19 Global Health Portal; and the effects of mothering through a pandemic. In addition to ongoing research, the York community also rallied to support its students, front line healthcare workers, and its researchers.

AMPD faculty member receives prestigious award for young artists
Freya Bjorg Olafson received the National Art Gallery of Canada’s 2020 Sobey Art Award. Described as a pioneer in Canada’s dance community, Olafson is an intermedia artist who works with video, audio, painting and performance.

Check back in the next edition of YFile for Year in Review 2020: Top headlines at York University, May to August.