York University announces recipients of the York U Alumni Awards


For 21 years, the York U Alumni Awards have celebrated alumni who exemplify the values of York University, have made remarkable contributions to their fields and have changed the world for the better. The tradition of recognizing their contributions will continue, honouring the legacy of the Bryden Alumni Awards, in a virtual event on Nov. 18 at 7 p.m.

Leaders honoured at this year’s awards include Earle Nestmann (MSc ’71, PhD ’74), Christopher House (BFA ’79), Pamela Ohashi (BSc Hons. ’82) and Weyni Mengesha (BFA ’05).

“This year’s award recipients are powerful examples of the positive change that York alumni are creating locally and globally in their professional industries and communities,” said Julie Lafford, executive director of alumni engagement at York University. “Like our past award recipients, the 2021 honourees set an example for students and alumni through their extensive achievements, leadership, philanthropic support and meaningful engagement with the alumni community. We look forward to celebrating them at the Alumni Awards ceremony this fall.”

The York U Alumni Awards feature four award categories, each of which honour a distinct set of achievements and contributions.

Outstanding Contribution

An alumnus/alumna who has made a significant contribution to the advancement of York and its students through exceptional service, commitment and/or philanthropic contributions.

Earle Nestmann (MSc ’71, PhD ’74), president, Health Science Consultants Inc.
Earle Nestmann
Earle Nestmann

Earle Nestmann, president at Health Science Consultants Inc., received both an MSc and a PhD in biology from York. While a student at Ohio’s Marietta College, he received the William Bay Irvine Medal for most outstanding student in the 1968 graduating class. After his studies at York, he served in the biology department as assistant professor from 1974-77, and later as a member of the Board of Directors of the Alumni Association from 2006-14 and the Board of Governors from 2013-20.

Nestmann has published more than 100 articles in scientific literature and was co-editor of the proceedings of an international conference on chemical mutagenesis and of a laboratory manual on recombinant DNA technology. He has served on several editorial boards for scientific journals and was president of the Genetics Society of Canada. He was a research scientist at Health Canada and pesticide regulatory manager for a multinational company before becoming a principal of an international consulting firm. Nestmann continues to consult part-time as president of Health Science Consultants Inc., serving on international expert panels as well as writing reports, scientific opinions and manuscripts for publication. Together with his wife, Berna, Nestmann has provided exemplary philanthropic support for York science students and faculty for over 15 years, including the Dean’s Undergraduate Research Awards and Science Exploration Camps for elementary and secondary school children. The Earle Nestmann Scholarship was established in 2008 for master’s or doctoral students studying molecular biology or genetics.

Outstanding Achievement

An alumnus/alumna who has achieved distinction in their field and whose integrity and ability inspire alumni, faculty, staff and students.

Christopher House, C.M. (BFA ’79), choreographer, performer, director and teacher
Christopher House
Christopher House

Christopher House received a BFA in dance from York University and was a performer and choreographer with the Toronto Dance Theatre for 42 years, including 26 as the company’s artistic director. He completed a political science degree from the University of Ottawa before beginning dance training in Toronto, Ottawa and New York. House created more than 60 works for the theatre, diversified the company’s repertoire and developed many programs that reflect his commitment to ongoing education, including the long-running Studio Series for young people and, along with Ame Henderson, the biennial Emerging Voices Project for young creators.

He has collaborated with many leading companies, including the National Ballet of Canada and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, as well as artists Kimsooja, Jordan Tannahill, the Hidden Cameras and Cirque du Soleil, and is an associate dance artist at the National Arts Centre. His works have been performed in 19 countries worldwide, and in 2018, his retrospective program House Mix toured to 15 cities in Canada and two in Colombia. His accolades include three Dora Mavor Moore Awards, the Muriel Sherrin Award for International Achievement in Dance, the Silver Ticket Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts and an honorary doctorate from Memorial University of Newfoundland. He was named a member of the Order of Canada in 2017.  He is currently at work on a new solo performance that will premiere in January 2022.

Tentanda Via

An alumna/alumnus who has demonstrated innovative, unconventional, and daring leadership and success reflecting the University’s motto, “The way must be tried.”

Pamela Ohashi (BSc Hons. ’82), director, Tumor Immunotherapy Program at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
Pamela Ohashi
Pamela Ohashi

Pamela Ohashi is the director of the Tumor Immunotherapy Program at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. Following a bachelor of science in biology at York University, she studied at the University of Toronto with Dr. Tak Mak and completed her postdoctoral training at the University of Zurich with Nobel Prize winner Dr. Rolf Zinkernagel and Dr. Hans Hengartner. Ohashi’s research interests involve understanding T-cell tolerance as well as strategies to promote tissue-specific immune responses and translating these findings into clinical trials. Her research has proven many basic principles in T-cell tolerance and identified novel concepts in immune regulation. One of her greatest achievements in the field of immunological science is her contribution to the establishment of an immunotherapy program at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto. This involved leading clinical, academic and industrial players in the field, linking research in genomics and bioinformatics with basic and translational science and clinical trials of novel anti-cancer immunotherapeutics.

One to Watch

An alumna/alumnus who has made a significant impact in their field and/or community within 15 years of a bachelor’s degree or 10 years of a professional/graduate degree.

Weyni Mengesha (BFA ’05), artistic director, Soulpepper Theatre Company
Weyni Mengesha
Weyni Mengesha

Weyni Mengesha is a Canadian film and stage director known for her groundbreaking work and community engagement. Since graduating in 2005 with a BFA from York University, she has directed plays that have gone on to break box office records, tour nationally and internationally, and have been developed into television shows playing on CBC, Global and Netflix. She made her U.S. debut in 2016 at Theatre @ Boston Court directing Bars and Measures, which received three Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award nominations and an NAACP nomination for her direction. Mengesha went on to make her New York debut with Martin Zimmerman’s Seven Spots from the Sun at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, along with the off-Broadway debut of the critically acclaimed Kim’s Convenience. In 2019, she became artistic director of Soulpepper Theatre Company in Toronto, a celebrated artist-driven company that offers year-round programming and training for artists from across the country. She is also cultivating a television and film career with numerous award-winning short films and episodic TV shows under her belt and a feature in development.

Mengesha is also a committed educator, mentor of new talent, and producer of youth arts initiatives. She was the co-director of the acclaimed A.M.Y. Project (artists mentoring youth) from its inaugural showcase in 2005 until 2011 and continues to be a member of their advisory board. In 2004, she co-founded Sound the Horn and was artistic director of the organization for seven years, providing a training and performance platform to hundreds of young artists from Ethiopian and Eritrean communities across North America. She continues to be a guest teacher for artistic training programs across Canada, including the National Theatre School of Canada, the Canadian Film Centre and the Soulpepper Academy. In 2018, Mengesha was named one of the 50 most influential Torontonians by Toronto Life magazine.

A special thank you to the premier sponsor TD Insurance, exclusive provider of car and home insurance for York University. Visit yorku.ca/alumniandfriends/connect/events/yorku-alumni-awards for more information about the York U Alumni Awards, to learn more about the recipients or to secure a complimentary ticket to attend the virtual event.