Professor Emeritus Allan Carswell wins award for outstanding philanthropy

Image announcing Awards

York Professor Emeritus Allan Carswell, a renowned physicist and changemaking philanthropist, was recently named the Philanthropist of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP).

Allan Carswell
Allan Carswell

The AFP award, which was presented to Carswell in November 2022, recognizes “an individual or family that has demonstrated outstanding civic and philanthropic leadership through a proven record of exceptional generosity and financial support.”

“Dr. Carswell’s support for student scholarships, research, community outreach and groundbreaking technology has had a lasting and transformational impact at York University and beyond. Congratulations and thank you, Allan, for your many acts of generosity,” said York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton.

More than 50 years ago, Carswell joined York University as a professor of physics. He is credited as a pioneering researcher in the use of laser radar or LiDAR (light detection and ranging) technology, which maps the physical features of Earth and other planets. This development also has numerous applications in remote sensing and environmental diagnostics.

His research at York led Carswell and his late wife, Helen Carswell, to found Optech Incorporated in 1974, which would enable more practical applications of LiDAR systems. For the first several years of business, the couple operated Optech out of their family home. Helen oversaw the company that would evolve into an organization of more than 300 employees, which became a world leader in the provision of lasers for airborne surveying, 3D-imaging, atmospheric measurements, process control applications and space systems.

After 30 years at York, numerous senior leadership and research roles, and founding his own company, Carswell retired to run the Carswell Family Foundation, which funds education and health-care causes. Carswell and Helen contributed to numerous initiatives at York and beyond. The Carswells have funded three Research Chair positions in the School of Arts, Media, Performance and Design (AMPD), Faculty of Science, and Faculty of Health, along with the Allan I. Carswell Observatory.

From his first gift in 1986 to honour the life of York student Denise Hobbins, to supporting the Helen Carswell STEAM Program that connects students who are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), including women, Black and Indigenous high school students, with meaningful research opportunities, the Carswells’ legacy at York has become synonymous with positive change.

“It was actually my wife, Helen who started it all off,” said Carswell, reflecting on how the couple began their first major philanthropic efforts. “She trained as a nurse at what was the [Toronto] East General Hospital. When we toured that hospital, she was so taken with it that she decided to award them with $1 million to set up a special program there. I think one of the by-products of that was that it made both Helen and myself feel so good to give away money, especially when you saw the results in terms of people.”

In July of 2022, Helen died after almost 20 years of living with Alzheimer’s Disease. In her memory and in honor of World Alzheimer’s Month, the Carswell Family Foundation recently funded a $2.26 million partnership between York University and the Alzheimer Society of York Region to lead an evaluation research program of Alzheimer’s and dementia care programs.

New and renewed Canada Research Chairs at forefront of important, future-defining research

Hand holding light bulb with illustration on blurred background

York University has gained four new and three renewed Canada Research Chairs (CRC). Professors Antony Chum, Arash Habibi Lashkari, Kohitij Kar and Liya Ma received new CRC appointments and Professors Christopher Caputo, Raymond W.M. Kwong and Regina Rini had their CRCs renewed.

Antony Chum is assistant professor in the School of Kinesiology in the Faculty of Health and CRC Tier II in Population Health Data Science. Deaths and diseases of despair are those that are preventable, and they include substance-use disorders, suicides and overdose deaths. In 2019, they accounted for approximately 30 per cent of deaths for Canadians aged 15 to 49 years. Research into the causes of despair and strategies to reduce it may lead to substantial improvements in quality of life and life expectancy.

Chum is establishing a national hub that will use population health data science to study the causes of – and solutions for – deaths and diseases of despair. He and his research team are investigating the epidemiology of deaths and diseases of despair as a unified phenomenon. They are also examining the role of follow-up care in preventing suicides, overdoses and substance-use disorders as well as evaluating how public policies can reduce these self-inflicted deaths and diseases.

Arash Habibi Lashkari is CRC Tier II in Cybersecurity and an associate professor in the School of Information Studies in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS). Cybersecurity threats are constantly evolving and hackers are discovering new ways to disguise themselves. Detecting these threats requires new tools that can capture behavioural patterns and alert developers. Lashkari, aims to develop the tools that can do this.

Working with his research team, they are creating an anomaly detection model for cybersecurity. The model is based on the analysis of benign users’ common behavioural patterns, which are then contrasted with those of known threats. The team is also developing a platform to increase awareness and general knowledge of cybersecurity. Ultimately, by providing the technical solutions needed to detect anomalous behaviours and encourage better cybersecurity practices, their research will improve the security of our computer systems.

Kohitij Kar is an assistant professor in the Department of Biology in the Faculty of Science and CRC Tier II in Visual Neuroscience. His research lab is a core part of the Vision: Science to Technology Application (VISTA) Program and the Centre for Vision Research at York University. As humans, we can seamlessly interact with the world around us thanks to our remarkably sophisticated visual system. These interactions depend on our brain’s ability to translate the images we see. But understanding the brain’s sophisticated computations has been a challenge. As Canada Research Chair in Visual Neuroscience, Kar is uncovering the inner workings of the primate visual system.

Kar and his research team are performing detailed circuit-level neural measurements in non-human primates and relating them to specific visual behaviours. They are using their findings to develop artificial intelligence (AI) systems that mimic the primate brain in hopes of coming up with treatment strategies for mental health disorders that could improve cognitive behavioral therapies. Ultimately, Kar’s research could help millions of individuals suffering from neurological disorders by providing new knowledge about brain function.

Liya Ma is CRC Tier II in Cognitive Neurophysiology and an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Health. Human brains are generally flexible enough to adapt to changes in the world around us. But, reduced flexibility in thinking and behaviour is common among patients who suffer from certain neuropsychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia or autism.

Ma and her research team are investigating how neurons in the brain enable flexibility in decision-making. The research team is exploring how neural communications can support cognitive flexibility in non-human primates. To do this, they are monitoring primates’ neuronal activities during tasks and manipulating the neurons’ activities to identify the roles that specific brain regions play in terms of cognitive and behavioural flexibility. Ma and her team are also using experimental data to design mathematical models for cognitive flexibility and identifying the pathological changes that lead to brain damage. Their research could shed light on new ways to treat neuropsychiatric disorders.

Renewed Canada Research Chairs

Christopher Caputo is CRC Tier II (renewed) in Main-Group Catalysis and Sustainable Chemistry and an assistant professor of chemistry in the Faculty of Science. Chemicals provide the building blocks of many of the products we rely on every day, from pharmaceuticals to agrochemicals for growing food to dyes for cosmetics. But producing chemicals is an energy-intensive and polluting process, so it is critical that we discover far more sustainable approaches. Caputo is tackling this problem using a two-pronged approach.

First, he and his research team are developing greener catalysts to create chemicals (a catalyst lowers the barriers to a chemical reaction). These catalysts are produced using less energy and without the need for precious metals, which are rare, expensive and unsustainable. Secondly, the team is working on an innovative platform technology from renewable feedstocks with the goal of revolutionizing personal care by producing ultra-long lasting sun protection.

Raymond (Wai Man) Kwong is CRC Tier II (renewed) in Environmental Toxicology and an associate professor in the Department of Biology in the Faculty of Science. Human activities such as overfishing, plastic dumping, oils and gas spills, and the production of agricultural and industrial waste, lead to the deaths of trillions of aquatic animals every year. Kwong is advancing our understanding of how these environmental stressors affect the function of aquatic animals’ nervous systems.

Kwong and his research team are using molecular neurophysiology and functional genetics tools to study the toxicity of metals and bisphenol compounds in the early stages of aquatic animals’ lives. Their aim is to identify the mechanisms behind their toxic response or tolerance and to shed light on the relationship between environmental toxins and geno- and phenotypes. Ultimately, their findings will support the development of better strategies to regulate water quality and protect aquatic life and biodiversity.

Regina Rini is assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy, LA&PS and CRC Tier II (renewed) in Social Reasoning. In today’s political climate, social media is intensifying divisions and artificial intelligence is being used to target political messaging in new and effective ways. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have undermined our existing social norms around sharing information. (A social norm is a widely shared expectation about how members of a society should conduct themselves.) Rini’s research seeks to understand how best to manage the social disruptions caused by rapid technological changes while also protecting the ability of individuals to make moral decisions.

Rini and her research team are using moral philosophy and social science tools to examine how modern, diverse societies, like Canada’s, can manage disagreement and create shared social space. They are focusing on the social norms that are affected by shifts in technology and determining how new norms around truth and sincerity might protect democracies from the harms caused by these shifts.

The announcement of the Canada Research Chair appointments was made by the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, François-Philippe Champagne, during his announcement Nov. 22 of an investment of more than $139 million to support 176 new and renewed Canada Research Chairs across 46 institutions in Canada.

New task force on future of pedagogy seeking participants


The Senate Academic Policy, Planning & Research and the Academic Standards, Curriculum & Pedagogy committees are establishing a Future of Pedagogy Task Force. The task force is seeking faculty and student representatives.

The mandate of the task force is to re-examine the 2020-2025 University Academic Plan priority on “21st Century Learning: Diversifying Whom, What, and How We Teach” in light of learnings from the shift to online delivery of programming during the COVID-19 pandemic and pedagogical reform initiatives currently underway in academic units. The task force will make high-level recommendations on teaching and learning plans for the University moving forward. 

Universities across Ontario are engaging in the exercise of redefining their pedagogy plans and York University needs to articulate a teaching and learning agenda that will advance its distinctive vision, core values and academic goals.

Full information about the task force mandate, deliverables and composition is posted on a dedicated Task Force webpage. The task force will launch in early March and continue until its final report is issued in December 2023.

The Senate committees are issuing a call for expressions of interest for its faculty and student positions. Interested candidates are asked to complete this form. The deadline for submission of completed forms is Friday, Feb. 17. The submissions will be reviewed by the Chairs of APPRC and ASCP together with the provost who will confirm a representative membership for the task force by the end of February to enable its start in March.

Questions about this initiative can be directed to Cheryl Underhill, secretary of Academic Policy, Planning & Research committee.

New survey on climate change shows youth most motivated to take action

Photo by Tobias Weinhold on Unsplash

Learning for a Sustainable Future (LSF), a charity located at York University, has released the results of a new survey titled Canadians’ Perspectives on Climate Change & Education: 2022.  

The survey, administered by Leger Research Intelligence, assesses Canadians’ knowledge, understanding and perceptions of climate change and its risks; explores views on climate change education; and provides a snapshot of education practices regarding climate change in K-12 classes across Canada.

The report includes 4,035 survey responses from four participant groups: educators K-12; parents K-12; students 7-12; and the general public. Results show that 73 per cent of Canadians feel that we are experiencing a climate emergency and 50 per cent of all Canadians believe that climate change is causing mental health issues or making them worse. Almost one-quarter of educators, parents and students surveyed indicate that their worries about climate change are affecting their daily life. Students are more likely than any other respondent group to report feeling anxious (41 per cent) and frightened (32 per cent). 

Canadians are still hopeful though, and 69 per cent think the work and voices of young people can inspire important climate action with 76 per cent of educators feeling the most strongly about the inspiration provided by youth.

“It is not surprising to see a rise in support for the environment, sustainability and climate change being driven by younger generations and by their teachers,” said LSF President and CEO Pamela Schwartzberg. “We find that engaging kids in real issues empowers them. It lets them know that they can make a difference in their communities, which can also reduce some of the anxiety they may be feeling.”

Pamela Schwartzberg
Pamela Schwartzberg

The findings indicate that Canadians are more knowledgeable about climate change when compared to survey results from 2019. More Canadians passed the 10-question knowledge and understanding quiz (67 per cent in 2022 versus 57 per cent in 2019), and every participant group – educators, parents, students and the general public – answered more questions correctly. However, there is still work to be done in the area of climate science literacy, as just over half of Canadians (55 per cent) knew that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are the primary cause of climate change. According to 80 per cent of respondents, Canadians still feel they need more information about climate change. Students continue to be the group wanting information the most (85 per cent).

The survey results indicate that Canadians increasingly think schools need to give climate change education a high priority (67 per cent in 2022 versus 59 per cent in 2019). Some 64 per cent of Canadians also think the education system should be doing “a lot more” to educate young people about climate change. When Canadians were asked “How do you think education systems should further contribute to climate change education?” the top answer was climate change should be included in the curriculum. 

Despite global advocacy for incorporating environmental education in all grades and subjects, 35 per cent of Canadian educators indicated they do not cover climate change topics in any subject that they teach. Of those that do, just 13 per cent taught more than 10 hours of climate change content in the school year. Only one-third (34 per cent) of educators feel that they have the knowledge and skills needed to teach climate change. And, while they would like to include climate change education in their classroom, a growing majority agree that they need professional development to learn about how to effectively teach this complex topic (64 per cent in 2022 versus 50 per cent in 2019).

“The need for better climate change education is clear. In order to prepare our young people for a climate-altered future, our school system needs to do more. Our teachers need to be better equipped with climate knowledge and resources, and our students need more opportunities to learn about and take action on climate change,” said Schwartzberg. 

The survey follows up on a baseline study undertaken in 2019 by LSF and Leger Research Intelligence, in collaboration with Lakehead University. The 2022 survey was updated and included questions from the original survey for comparison purposes, in addition to including new questions to gather information about some of the salient issues related to climate change, including the mental health impacts of climate change, the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge, the impacts of COVID-19, and the importance of youth engagement.

LSF has been located at York University since 1999. Its mission is to promote, through education, the knowledge, skills, values, perspectives and practices essential to a sustainable future.

For more information contact Schwartzberg at

Passings: Vito Mariani

A field of flowers at sunset

Vito Mariani died on Oct. 19, 2022 at the age of 79. Mariani was a long-serving employee of York University and worked in both Transportation and Facilities Services.

Vito Rocco Mariani
Vito Rocco Mariani

In 1985, Mariani began his career at York University. He retired in 2005 after 20 years of service to the University. He started in the Grounds Department in Facilities Services doing various duties before moving to the Transportation Department, where he worked as a bus driver. 

During his time working at York University, Mariani volunteered his time to serve as a union steward with CUPE 1356. He had a deep commitment to the welfare of others.

Colleagues recalled his love of physical fitness, noting that Mariani would take every opportunity to work out, and in his spare time he was often seen going to the gym to use the treadmill or other machines.

His retirement years were spent with his adored family and enjoying the warm weather with his wife each winter in Florida. He leaves his wife, Antonia “Nietta,” and his children Tom (Krista) and Lucy (Joe). He was the very proud Nonno to his granddaughters, Antonella and Giuseppina.

Declaration offers important consensus for reparations for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence

two people with their hands overlapping each other

York researchers release the “Kinshasa Declaration,” a collaboratively developed, survivor-centred document on the right to reparation and co-creation for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict situations.

Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) Professors Anna M. Agathangelou and Annie Bunting co-led and co-organized an international conference in November 2021 that led to the recently completed survivor-centred Kinshasa Declaration.

Anna M. Agathangelou
Anna M. Agathangelou

The Kinshasa Declaration is an urgent call for survivor-centred participation in the articulation, co-creation and evaluation of sexual and gendered-based conflict-related transformative reparations, and toward peace and justice for women, men and children. The document outlines the right to reparation for survivors of conflict-related gender and sexual violence. The Declaration comes out of many years of collaboration with partners and the culminating meeting, It’s Time: Survivors’ Hearing on Transformative Reparations held in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

“Survivors place emphasis in the declaration on the key issues of their dignity; their capacity and leadership and need to be involved as equal partners in creating programs; a broad definition of conflict-related sexual violence and victimization; children born of sexual violence and male survivors of sexual and gender-based violence; and intergenerational harm,” said Bunting, a professor in the Law & Society program.

Annie Bunting
Annie Bunting

As part of the Conjugal Slavery in War Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Partnership Grant (2015-22), housed at the Harriet Tubman Institute, the partnership grant project led by Bunting with Agathangelou and other researchers, partners in Africa worked with the research team and the Global Survivors Fund to identify key themes for the survivors’ hearing in Kinshasa. 

Researchers, experts, civil society organizations and survivor activists from 12 African countries contributed to the development of the Key Principles on reparations at the survivors’ hearing over several years with the support of SSHRC Partnership Grant at York University. Partner organizations, survivors, graduate students and the drafting committee worked together to articulate the most important issues for meaningful transformative reparations, developing a consensus document on reparations for conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence. The document was finalized through workshops in Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Chad, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and Uganda.

“The Kinshasa Declaration is a tremendous achievement among partners across more than a dozen countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and many other international actors to make concrete change for survivors of sexual violence. York researchers’ leadership on this document and on the partnership that underpins it is remarkable,” said York Vice-President Research and Innovation Amir Asif.

The survivors’ hearing and the process was funded through SSHRC, the Global Survivors Fund, the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies and the Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation at York University, the Ford Foundation, the Global Fund for Women and the Government of Canada.

New appointees to Order of Canada have connections to York University

Order of canada medal laid out on black background

Four individuals with an affiliation to York University have been appointed to the Order of Canada. They are Justice Harry LaForme, philanthropist Pierre Lassonde, Holocaust educator and filmmaker Eli Rubenstein and environmentalist John Robert Lounds.

The individuals from the York University community are among 99 new appointments to the Order of Canada, including two companions (C.C.), 32 officers (O.C.) and 65 members (C.M.). Three appointments are promotions within the Order of Canada.

Officers of the Order of Canada

Justice Harry S. LaForme (O.C.)

Honoured with the appointment of officer of the Order of Canada is honorary degree recipient and Osgoode Hall Law School alumnus Justice Harry LaForme (LLD [Hons.] ’08, LLB’ 77). LaForme was appointed an officer of the Order of Canada in recognition of his work advancing national Indigenous rights as a groundbreaking jurist, and for championing underserved communities in Canada.

Pierre Lassonde (O.C.)

Promoted from within the Order of Canada to an officer, York University honorary degree recipient and the founding donor of the Lassonde School of Engineering, Pierre Lassonde (LLD [Hons.] ’14), is being honoured for his long-standing contributions to the gold industry and for his transformative philanthropy, notably in support of the arts and education.

Eli Rubenstein (O.C.)

York University alumnus Eli Rubenstein (BA ’84) is a Holocaust educator, writer and filmmaker. He was appointed as an officer of the Order of Canada for his significant contributions and innovative programs in Holocaust education as a writer, storyteller, film producer and community organizer.

Member of the Order of Canada

John Robert Lounds (M.C.)

York University alumnus John Robert Lounds (MES ’81) works to preserve Canada’s biodiversity and protect some of the country’s most threatened landscapes. He was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in recognition of his substantial contributions to land conservation across Canada.

Since its creation in 1967, the Order of Canada has honoured more than 7,600 people whose service has shaped society, whose innovations have ignited imaginations, and whose compassion has united Canadian communities. The announcement was made December 29 by Governor General Mary Simon.

CIFAL York to bring youth leaders, changemakers together to create SDG action plans at Congress

social and environmental justice featured image

By Elaine Smith

Congress 2023, hosted by York University and the Federation for Humanities and Social Sciences, is coming to campus in May and CIFAL York is leading an event that will start new conversations on achieving social and environmental justice.

The event’s theme, Reckonings and Re-Imaginings, explores ways of changing belief systems and imagining a radically different world that is safe, equitable and sustainable for all. York will offer an intriguing mix of programming throughout, focused on the arts and on community engagement and connections – that’s where CIFAL York comes in.

The centre’s Equity Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) committee is organizing a community connection dialogue, under the leadership of Idil Boran, professor and associate director of CIFAL York, and Julia Satov, global director of diversity and inclusion at Litera, who serves as co-Chair of the committee. The event will bring together professionals from various sectors and community youth voices representing the Humber River-Black Creek Youth Council, and other youth groups in the Greater Toronto Area.

Idil Boran
Idil Boran

The community dialogue is titled “Climate change is not the change we want! Community connection dialogue between changemakers and youth leaders for inclusive social transformation.” The event will allow participants to “debate and co-design radical collaboration to accelerate credible and impactful implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030,” said Boran. “Invited professionals who are changemakers in their areas of practice, will make brief statements about how they champion EDI and the positive change they catalyze within their organizations and communities. Youth leaders will respond and debate with changemakers to co-create action plans for improving and scaling up implementation of social and environmental justice.”

The event aims to create a space for changemakers and community youth voices to brainstorm solutions for action on pressing problems that are identified in the discussion and debate.

“The needs of societies have become a powerful catalyst, not only as protests in streets or in conversations by the company water cooler, but as a reckoning that has fundamentally impacted emergent and established economies, global relations, and human capital,’’ said Satov.

“This event is about mobilizing all actors in society for social transformation and leaving no one behind in efforts to advance the SDGs,” said Boran. “We want to celebrate community members and youth leaders as impactful participants toward a sustainable future that offers quality education (SDG 4); climate action (SDG 13); good health and well-being (SDG 3); the reduction of inequality (SDG 10); sustainable cities (SDG 11); catalyzing gender equality and women’s empowerment (SDG 5); the inclusion of LGBTQIA2S+, and partnerships to achieve these goals (SDG 17). We plan to produce output of knowledge mobilization that can be used by stakeholders to advance change.”

CIFAL York is part of a global network of training centres focussed on knowledge-sharing, training, and capacity-building for leaders. It is affiliated with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) in partnership with York Region.

This event is one of more than 50 open programs being offered by York at Congress 2023, happening between May 27 and June 2.

Register here to attend or find out how you can volunteer in a variety of roles to support Congress.

Iain Reid talks about aging in his novel ‘We Spread’

An open book

The novel We Spread explores ideas about aging and living in a long-term care facility and it’s told through the perspective of an elderly woman named Penny. The author discussed the book during his presentation for York’s acclaimed Canadian Writers in Person series.

Cover of We Spread by Ian Reid
Cover of We Spread by Ian Reid

Iain Reid, author of I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2016) and Foe (2018), as well as two memoirs, One Bird’s Choice: A Year in the Life of an Over-educated, Underemployed Twentysomething Who Moves Back Home (2010) and The Truth About Luck: What I Learned on my Road Trip with Grandma (2013) visited the Canadian Writers in Person series at York on Jan. 17 to talk about his latest novel, We Spread.

“Something has to come to me that feels exciting, it can be a character or an image, but it has to be exciting,” said Reid as he spoke about starting work on a new project.

We Spread was inspired by his grandmother’s experience going into a long-term care facility. He got this idea to write about an older woman named Penny who was an artist and who was having to experience this adjustment in life.

“I think I really used my grandma as guide or inspiration in this case, more so than I realized. Really her whole demeanor while she was living in long-term care was so impressive to me,” said Reid. “It was the opposite of fearful, the opposite of gloomy or bleak, and I think that’s why I wanted to explore these ideas of [old age] not being just something to fear, or move away from, or be disgusted by. It’s actually beautiful in many ways, for many reasons.”

He thought about the cultural forces that shape this stage of elderly life in our society. “The more I thought of it, the more I realized that we are conditioned to fear it and not think about it in a variety of different ways and to understand the aspects of that stage of life that we should be welcoming and that we should embrace and value. And that got me thinking about ideas of extending life unnaturally and ideas of immortality that are sometimes presented as something that people want. And that started to scare me,” said Reid.

We Spread explores ideas about aging and living in a long-term care facility through the perspective of an elderly woman named Penny, who is experiencing some cognitive decline. Reid leads us on a journey into her mind, her fears, her regrets, her joy and her relationships (old and new). Readers are left to decide how they want to navigate and interpret Penny’s world.

“The books that I love to pick up are those where I feel I’m part of it, I’m making little discoveries the way that the author does when they’re working on it,” said Reid, “and then it feels like a discussion between the reader and the author. I hope that this is the case with We Spread.”