York University’s Spring Convocation ceremonies will take place June 9 (Glendon) and from June 15 to 23 (Keele) and community members are invited to join the team of volunteers who help make these ceremonies memorable for graduates and their guests.
Volunteers will participate in the convocation key coordinator (CKC) role – a rewarding experience that will allows volunteers to be a part of supporting students as they cross the stage and become alumni. The CKC role entails working with the convocation team to support and supervise student-staff working in the guest services and graduand areas.
Volunteers in this role will receive:
complimentary lunch and snacks on ceremony days;
training at the Sobeys Stadium for those who are new to the CKC roll on Wednesday, June 7; and
choice of various positions and shifts.
This invite can be shared with any full-time colleagues who may be interested in supporting convocation.
To volunteer, submit your availability here: https://uecr.apps01.yorku.ca/machform3/view.php?id=500436. CKC roles are volunteer positions so please seek your manager’s approval to participate. This opportunity is not open to work-study students or student-staff as it is a supervisory role.
Faculty of Health targets anxiety with support from Beneva
The $200,000 Anxiety Research Fund, powered by Beneva, aims to enhance assessment and treatment supports for individuals coping with anxiety – a debilitating and frequently hidden affliction experienced by one in five Canadians.
“Anxiety prevention is the main focus that guides Beneva’s social and philanthropic action nationwide,” notes Beneva President and Chief Executive Officer Jean-Francois Chalifoux. “We are proud to have teamed up with York University to create the Anxiety Research Fund, dedicated entirely to accelerating research which will have an immediate and positive impact on the community, bringing new insight and change around this important issue.”
“York’s partnership with Beneva will have lasting benefits, not only for individuals struggling with anxiety, but for society as a whole,” says Faculty of Health Dean David Peters. “Through strategic collaboration with their community partners on these projects, our researchers will ensure their findings are used to address one of the most critical mental health issues today: anxiety.”
Four projects were selected for funding through a competitive application process led by the Faculty of Health Research Office.
Exposure Therapy Using Virtual Reality
With her team in York’s PrescribingVRx lab, School of Health Policy & Management Professor Lora Appel is using virtual reality technology to pilot an Exposure Therapy program focused on anxiety experienced by people with epilepsy. Project participants have identified common anxiety-provoking themes, which will be recreated virtually into 360-degree videos.
After conducting randomized trials in a controlled environment at Toronto Western Hospital, the study will move into the community (recruiting through Epilepsy Toronto), where therapy can be administered in people’s homes. While the results are expected to have a direct impact on people with epilepsy, the researchers also envision applications to others who suffer from anxiety.
Retooling Black Youth Anxiety
Headed by School of Global Health Professor Godfred Boateng, who is director, Global & Environmental Health Lab and Faculty Fellow, Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research, this project will address anxiety and mental health issues of Black youth and their families, resulting from encounters with the criminal justice system and the child welfare system.
Partnerships with the Ghana Union of Canada (GUC) and Gashanti Unity (GU) will play a critical role in implementing this project to their communities. Researchers will recruit participants, identify key needs and work with clinical professionals to provide interventions. An online resource centre and sensitization programs aimed at improving the mental well-being of Black individuals and Black families will be created.
Reducing Anxiety About HPV Tests
A School of Nursing project led by Professor Catriona Buick focuses on anxiety that is anticipated in response to upcoming revisions to Ontario’s Cervical Screening Guidelines. In other countries, anxiety has been minimized by introducing evidence-based communications with patients around Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection and cervical cancer.
The project will assess whether an infographic education intervention about primary HPV testing can decrease anxiety and increase understanding and acceptance of the upcoming changes to existing screening guidelines. The intent is to manage anxiety, dispel myths and misconceptions, normalize HPV, and improve acceptance of primary HPV testing for routine cervical cancer screening.
Decision-making in a Global Health Crisis
This project will investigate how mental health issues can interfere with people’s compliance with important public health measures – such as mask wearing and vaccination – during a global pandemic. The team, led by Department of Psychology Professor Shayna Rosenbaum, studies “delay discounting” (undervaluing or discounting future benefits when making health decisions).
The researchers will seek methods to reduce anxiety and optimize decision-making during global crises. Their findings will inform action by the Public Health Agency of Canada on the wider impact of COVID-19 and which sectors of society to target through technical briefing.
Faculty of Health receives Krembil Foundation grant to advance therapy for psoriatic arthritis
A collaborative research project led by York University Kinesiology & Health Science Professor Ali Abdul-Sater will seek answers at the molecular level to help develop more effective therapies for psoriatic arthritis.
The Krembil Foundation, a family-led charitable organization, has confirmed a $664,356 grant in support of this research. Having recently developed a successful therapeutic approach for rheumatoid arthritis and gout, Abdul-Sater’s lab will expand its focus to psoriatic arthritis (PsA), a less common debilitating inflammatory disease.
“The Krembil Foundation has generously supported medical research across Canada for more than two decades,” says Faculty of Health Dean David Peters. “We appreciate their recognition of Dr. Abdul-Sater’s innovative work investigating autoimmune diseases. By bringing together basic and clinical research, this project will lay the groundwork for developing new therapies to target psoriatic arthritis.”
The Foundation’s Scientific Director, Kate Williams, acknowledges there is a personal motivation for the Foundation advancing knowledge in this area, as some members of the Krembil family live with psoriatic arthritis. “Building on the Foundation’s established partnerships with clinical researchers, the new collaboration with scientists at York will shed more light on the fundamental mechanisms of psoriatic arthritis,” she says. “We hope the discovery of critical pieces of the puzzle explaining what drives PsA will ultimately provide better options for treatment.”
An incurable, inflammatory disease of the skin, joints, tendons and ligaments, PsA is currently treated by reducing inflammation in an effort to slow its advance and avoid severe damage to the skin and joints. Unfortunately, many patients either do not respond to this treatment, stop responding after initial success, or suffer from significant side effects.
In recent research on rheumatoid arthritis and gout, Abdul-Sater identified a protein called TRAF-1, which will either block or trigger inflammation, depending on the type of immune cell with which it interacts. By creating a modified version of TRAF-1, he was able to “pump the breaks” on the protein’s ability to activate those cells that cause excessive inflammation and tissue damage.
Since TRAF-1 is also associated with psoriatic arthritis, the new project aims to determine whether modifying this protein in cells from PsA patients will have similar beneficial results.
“We found that breaking the interaction with one specific protein is a really good way to limit inflammation and reduce activation of autoimmune cells, without affecting other functions,” says Abdul-Sater, the recipient of early career research awards from the Arthritis Society, Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Banting Foundation and York University.
Noting that inflammation is an essential component of the immune system’s response to infection, he adds “We don’t want to stop it occurring altogether. Instead, we want to reduce excessive inflammation, which can be very destructive. It’s a double-edged sword.”
In the first stage of this project, cells from psoriatic arthritis patients – provided by Toronto Western Hospital rheumatologist, Dr. Vinod Chandran – will be compared with cells from rheumatoid arthritis patients, as well as from healthy donors. The team will investigate how levels of TRAF-1 protein change in patients who are at different stages of the disease.
Next, they will “edit” the protein to bring its activation level as close as possible to that of healthy donors. Future studies will involve working on biopsies from arthritis patients, “moving from the simple to the complex,” explains Abdul-Sater. “We hope this will enable us to find the proper balance in people at risk for this very complicated disease.”
The researcher says that he looks forward to collaborating with the Krembil Foundation, “We’ve had a lot of discussion with the Foundation’s research team during the proposal stage and will continue to work with them throughout the project. I’m really excited about what we can accomplish together.”
CIFAL York hosts two-part symposium on Turkiye, Syria earthquake aid
A two-part virtual symposium will examine the responses of Canada and other cooperating countries to the recent crises in Turkiye and Syria resulting from the Feb. 6 earthquake. The symposium will strive to create better understanding of barriers to deploying humanitarian resources internationally on May 3 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Hosted by CIFAL York and Y-EMERGE, the “Canada’s Response to Earthquake in Turkiye and Syria” symposium features a range of confirmed guest speakers from agencies such as International Development and Relief Foundation Canada (IDRF) and Samaritan’s Purse International Disaster Relief, as well as potential appearances by featured guests from Care Canada, Canadian Red Cross, Islamic Relief Canada and Global Medic.
The February earthquake was among the deadliest natural disasters of the century, spanning multiple countries and resulting in the deaths of nearly 60,000 people, with over two million more being injured or displaced. To mitigate the effects of this catastrophe, 105 countries, including Canada, pledged to support those in need and contribute to humanitarian aid efforts.
Designed to engage academics, students, policymakers, first-responders and the general public, the symposium will analyze and critique Canada’s ongoing response to the earthquake in order to better understand and surmount emergency response obstacles in the future.
The first instalment of this series, titled “Canadian NGOs Response to the Earthquake in Turkiye & Syria” focuses on the role of Canada’s non-governmental organizations and highlights opportunities for collaboration between public and private sector actors. Speakers Rebecca Tjon-Aloi and Hanan Maolim, of the Programs and Operations Office at the IDRF, will explain how their foundation responded to the earthquake and share lessons learned for future emergency responses. Melanie Wubs, technical specialist in the International Health Unit at Samaritan’s Purse, will also explore cross- and multi-sectoral cooperation in humanitarian responses.
The second instalment of the symposium, titled “Canadian Government Response to the Earthquake in Turkiye & Syria” takes place on June 14, with guest speakers to be announced at a later date.
CIFAL York is part of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) global network of training centres for knowledge-sharing, training and capacity-building for public and private leaders, local authorities and civil society. CIFAL Centres are local and regional hubs for innovative, participatory and co-creative knowledge exchange opportunities to support decision-making processes, build capacity and accelerate the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals. Established in 2020, CIFAL York started its operation in June 2021 as the first CIFAL Centre in Canada. Health and development training and knowledge sharing is among the key focusing areas of CIFAL York.
Donation from Mark and Gail Appel supports programs that counter antisemitism, racism
York University has announced a new donation of $750,000 from long-time benefactors Mark and Gail Appel to support programs that foster deeper understandings of Jewish history and life, combat antisemitism and deter other forms of racism.
The funding supports two key programs. The first is the biennial Summer Institute on Teaching About Antisemitism – led by Kalman Weiser, associate professor of history and humanities, in conjunction with colleagues at the University of Toronto and Tel Aviv University. The program brings graduate students and faculty members from around the world to York to discuss pedagogies in teaching about antisemitism.
The second program is the Mark and Gail Appel Program in Holocaust and Antiracism Education, a study-abroad, experiential education and cultural exchange course to be held in Germany, Poland and Canada, taught by SaraHorowitz, professor in the Departments of Humanities and Languages, Literatures & Linguistics. The Mark and Gail Appel Program is a re-launched version of the Teach For The Future program which the couple funded several years ago at the University.
“York has a very diverse student population and some of our students come from places where oppression and discrimination are very real and dangerous forces. Those students understand that the Holocaust is something important to learn about more deeply. Students who have participated in this program in the past have told us, ‘This program was life changing,’” said Horowitz.
The positive impact of this new funding will be seen in new approaches and methods to be developed and refined on the teaching of antisemitism, and in the transformed perspectives of students who participate in the study-abroad course.
David Koffman, associate professor of history and acting director at CJS, said “Programs like these demonstrate that leaders like Mark and Gail… understand what our centre stands for: excellence in scholarship, inspired teaching, and the true importance of scholarly effort and insight out there in the world, helping shape minds and hearts, institutions, and policies for the common good. Gifts like these help make York the thoughtful and welcoming place for all it can be.”
The Appels recently met with representatives from CJS and the LA&PS dean’s office to celebrate this important donation. At that meeting, a video by York alumna Anna Veprinska – now an assistant professor of literature at Cape Breton University – who participated in the earlier iteration of the Mark and Gail Appel Program in Holocaust and Antiracism Education, was presented. “This program changed the trajectory of my life,” Veprinska said.
“The program teaches about antiracism, with antisemitism as an avatar of racist ways of thinking,” Mark explained. “Our societies seem to be in a re-run. Attitudes we had hoped were behind us in the 1960s and 1970s are showing up again. There have been recent setbacks. Too many people are trapped by uninformed opinions. Gail and I looked at each other, thought of our previous involvement with York, and said, ‘We need to do something again.’”
“People can acquire racist attitudes in childhood or as they grow older,” added Gail. “We’ve seen the transforming power of these programs in the past. We have seen people learn to set those attitudes aside.”
“We are so grateful to Gail and Mark for this delightful contribution,” said J.J. McMurtry, LA&PS dean. “Now, another generation of diverse students can participate in this impactful study-abroad course in Poland and Germany with Professor Horowitz, and Professor Weiser’s work with the pedagogy of teaching about antisemitism can grow and expand. We could not be more grateful. The Appels are true partners.”
$1M donation to create endowed Spanish history professorship
The Mackenzie-Papineau Memorial Fund – named after the leaders of a battalion of Canadian soldiers in the Spanish Civil War – has donated $1 million to create an endowed professorship that supports scholarship, research and teaching in modern Spanish history.
The funding will also maintain and preserve popular existing course content in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS). For many years, York has offered scholarship and instruction on the Spanish Civil War, which included exploring the role the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion played in the war. This area of scholarship was developed over more than three decades by Professor EmeritusAdrian Shubert, a Fellow of Royal Society of Canada, and one of the country’s foremost experts on modern Spain. Shubert has written over a dozen books or articles about Spain and its history, and his Civil War course was immensely popular with students. Shubert retired in 2022, and the endowment is meant to ensure that the expertise and student interest he fostered will carry on.
“York is delighted to have the opportunity to partner with the Mackenzie-Papineau Memorial Fund in support of scholarship, teaching and research at the University. We are grateful for this generous donation and for your commitment to preserving this aspect of Canada’s history,” says Susana Gajic-Bruyea, vice-president advancement.
In recognition of this gift, the professorship will be officially named the Mackenzie-Papineau Memorial Professorship in Modern Spanish History. The new faculty position should be in place in 12 to 18 months.
“Like all major universities, York is always interested in partnering with donors who share our values and want to come alongside and support our priorities. This gift strengthens York’s existing expertise in Modern European History and aligns with the larger strategy and the priorities of the department, the Faculty and the University,” says LA&PS Dean J.J. McMurtry.
York mourns loss of visionary philanthropist Helen Vari
The York University community is mourning the loss of Helen Vari whose many contributions to the University had transformational impact. A visionary philanthropist dedicated to supporting students, Helen and her husband George William Vari, PC CM (Aug. 14, 1923 – Dec. 9, 2010) created an outstanding record of philanthropic activity.
Among countless charitable contributions spanning decades, their passion for education and research led them to become patrons of some of Toronto’s greatest institutions.
“It is with great sadness that I share the news of the loss of philanthropist Helen Vari,” says York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton. “On behalf of York University, I offer my heartfelt condolences to the many friends, family and supporters of Helen. She was a dear friend and will be greatly missed.
“Helen and her late husband George were passionate supporters of York and of higher education institutions across Canada. Their contributions have made a profound and lasting impact at York University and have played a significant role in enhancing the learning environment for York’s diverse body of students. They have been pivotal in York’s success as a leading international teaching and research university.”
Helen helped bring to fruition several building projects – among them Vari Hall, the nucleus of the Keele Campus – to the University. Often referred to as the “front door” of the University, Vari Hall is an iconic building at the heart of Keele Campus. Home to several lecture halls and other spaces, its three-storey rotunda has become the main gathering place on campus, a busy hub bringing community members together.
Helen received an honorary doctorate from York in 2003 where she gave her perspective as the longest-serving York board member. “I always emphasized, and it is the philosophy of the board, that…in essence, all the intellectual and material riches of York University should serve only one purpose: the interest and well-being of our students, to make their life richer intellectually, and to provide the best possible learning, recreational and living conditions for our students.”
She was appointed to York’s Board of Governors in 1990 and served until 2002, at which point she was made an honorary governor. She also served on the boards of the Ontario Heritage Foundation, Canada Council, Canadian Scene, The Council for Canadian Unity, Canada House at the Université de Paris, and the World Monuments Fund. A member of the Order of Canada, she received the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal in 2003.
Dedicated to supporting students, the Varis also established numerous student awards at York, including: the Helen Vari Award in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design, given in recognition of outstanding creative or scholarly achievement and overall academic excellence to a third- or fourth-year film and video student; the Helen Vari Award for Excellence and Good Citizenship, recognizing a graduating student in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies for their outstanding academic achievement and community service; and the George and Helen Vari Foundation Entrance Award (Environmental Studies), supporting graduate students entering their first year of the Master in Environmental Studies program at York.
The York community will be forever grateful to the legacy that Helen and George Vari have left at York.
Professor Emeritus Allan Carswell wins award for outstanding philanthropy
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).
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.
York celebrates Markham Campus construction milestone and major gift
Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, Ontario Minister of Colleges and Universities Jill Dunlop, York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton and Metropia Founder and CEO Howard Sokolowski
A milestone event at the Markham Campus involved a ceremonial signing and installation of the final structural beam and a $5-million donation from Metropia.
York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton, together with dignitaries, University leadership, local community members and philanthropists, marked an important phase in the building of its new Markham Campus with a topping-off ceremony Feb. 1 and the announcement of a $5-million donation toward capital construction costs from Metropia, presented by Howard Sokolowski, a York alumnus and the company’s founder and CEO.
The milestone was recognized with a ceremonial signing of the final beam of the Markham Campus structure. The final structural I-beam was then lifted and placed by a crane – completing the building’s frame.
The $5-million donation from Metropia and Sokolowski will go toward the capital construction costs of the campus. In honour of this gift, the student success centre on the first and second floors of the new building will be named the Metropia Student Success Centre.
Watch the video below for more on the topping off ceremony and gift announcement. The Markham Campus is set to open in Spring 2024.
York Cares United Way campaign raises over $132,000
Each year, the York University community engages in the York Cares United Way Campaign to raise funds to help vulnerable members of the community facing crisis.
The 2022 campaign, which ran from Nov. 1 to Dec. 9, succeeded in raising $132,305.
Staff, faculty and instructors came together to support the campaign and York’s commitment to creating positive change for its students and local communities.
The success of this campaign is a key example of what York stands for: to right the future. York members responded with overwhelming support and participated in GetUP – United Way’s virtual physical challenge, joined the Finding Home workshop, and used their personalized links to the pledge form to donate.
Dedicated staff worked together to plan and make this campaign possible. The 2022 York Cares United Way Campaign Committee, Division of Advancement’s Barbara Antenos and Nadia Dar engaged many volunteers across the University and were assisted by the following staff: Susana Gajic-Bruyea, Louise Spencer, Karen Furlong, Tien Do-Ky, Ashley Goodfellow Craig, Vanessa Thompson, Mario So Gao, James Hsieh, Kaizad Kabraji, Mohini Jaggan, Marion Frankian, Isabelle Montagnier, Johanne Roberge, Vina Sandher, Lyna Truong, Scott Labron, Amal Awini, Gillian Cameron, and 50 executive assistants across the University who engaged their teams.
Antenos and Dar say the success of the campaign speaks to York’s commitment to support local communities.
Funds raised during the campaign were directed to United Way Greater Toronto in support of social services and organizations in Peel, Toronto and York Region, some of which directly impact York community members.