Nominations open for York University Alumni Awards

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Each year, the York University Alumni Awards celebrate outstanding alumni who have achieved the extraordinary and made remarkable contributions to the University and the broader community. Nominations for award recipients are being accepted until Tuesday, Feb. 20, and the Alumni Awards ceremony to honour them will be held in the fall.

Nominations are open for the following awards:

  • Outstanding Contribution: an alum who has made a significant contribution to the advancement of York and its students through exceptional service, commitment and/or philanthropic contributions.
  • Outstanding Achievement: an alum who has achieved distinction in their field and whose integrity and ability inspire alumni, faculty, staff and students.
  • Tentanda Via: an alum who has demonstrated innovative, unconventional and daring leadership and success, reflecting the University’s motto, “The way must be tried.”
  • One to Watch: an alum 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.

Past recipients included a wide range of people contributing to society in their professional field.

Do you know a remarkable individual deserving of an Alumni Award? Complete the nomination form.

For questions about the nomination process, contact Nicole Light, senior alumni engagement officer, at nlight@yorku.ca. For more information about the Alumni Awards, visit the Alumni Awards page and YouTube channel. Looking for some inspiration? Check out the 2023 Alumni Award recipients.

Professors receive CIHR grants to advance dementia research

caregiver supporting elderly person banner

Two York University professors from the Faculty of Health – Lora Appel and Matthias Hoben – have received Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) grants to further their contributions to the study of individuals with dementia and their caregivers.

There’s still much about dementia – and dementia care – that remains unexplored, but Appel and Hoben are looking to change that thanks to projects that have received CIHR funding.

Lora Appel
Lora Appel

Appel’s $308,952 grant will be put toward the first study to explore how virtual reality (VR) experiences can be used to benefit both people living with dementia (PWD) and their caregivers.

With an increased interest in the therapeutic use of VR with older adults, some studies have suggested there is potential for the technology to manage behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia and promote quality of life.

For PWDs, VR can potentially reduce apathy, depression and agitation; for caregivers, as those they care for are occupied, it can be used to provide more breaks from the high levels of burden they often navigate.

Appel’s project, titled “VR&R: Providing Respite to Caregivers by Managing Behavioural and Psychological Symptoms in People with Dementia Using Immersive VR-Therapy,” is one of 13 that received a collective $8.7 million from the CIHR Operating Grant: Mechanisms in Brain Aging and Dementia – Factors and Mechanisms that Impact Cognitive Health in Aging.

The project will now pursue a six-week trial, where PWDs will be given the chance to experience immersive VR stimulations as frequently as they choose. Caregivers will then be able to engage in a desired activity at this time, remaining close by to assist only if needed. In the process, Appel’s project seeks to understand how caregivers benefit from the breaks VR gives them, especially as caregivers often describe respite as an internal experience where they can recuperate without removing themselves from a situation.

Matthias Hoben
Matthias Hoben

Hoben, the other grant recipient, received $100,000 in funding for a study of existing literature on adult day programs – part-day supervised activities for dependent adults. Adult day programs aim to maintain or improve older adults’ health, well-being, social, physical and cognitive functioning, and independence, while also providing caregivers a break or opportunity to continue working a paid job.

Because, to date, studies on the outcomes of day programs are inconclusive, Hoben’s project will look at developing program theories that explain how and why these settings lead to positive, negative, or no effects on individuals with dementia and their caregivers.

Titled “Adult Day Programs and Their effects on individuals with Dementia and their Caregivers (ADAPT-DemCare): Developing program theories on the how and why,” the project – one among 16 that received a collective $1.5 million – has been funded by the CIHR Operating Grant called Brain Health and Cognitive Impairment in Aging (BHCIA): Knowledge Synthesis and Mobilization Grants.

Its goal is to provide greater insights and theories into adult day programs with the hope that any resulting theories will be tested and further refined in future studies, and become essential in guiding future research and improvement of day programs.

Both Appel and Hoben are members of the York University Centre for Aging Research & Education (YU-CARE), which looks to support and promote the work of researchers and graduate trainees who study changes, challenges and policies to support aging at individual, organizational and societal levels.

Call for nominations: 2024 Honorific Professorships

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The Senate Committee on Awards is now accepting nominations for University Professorships and Distinguished Research Professorships.

University Professorships are conferred upon long-serving, tenured faculty members who have demonstrated a commitment to participation in University life and/or contribution to the University as a community, as well as appropriate levels of scholarship and teaching success. 

The Distinguished Research Professorship is awarded to a member of the faculty who has made outstanding contributions to the University through research. The Distinguished Research Professor will have demonstrated scholarly achievement by sustained publication or other recognized and accepted demonstrations of sustained authoritative contributions to scholarship.

Nominations may be made by all tenured faculty members, who shall provide a complete nomination file, including the nominee’s CV and a detailed letter of nomination explaining how the candidate’s achievements conform to the general criteria, along with three letters of support from those in a position to comment on the nominee’s achievements and contributions.

Additional details about the criteria and nomination procedures are set out in the Senate Policy on Honorific Professorships.  Nominations for Honorific Professorships should be submitted by Friday, March 1 at 4:30 p.m. Nominations may be submitted via the Distinguished Research Professor Mach Form or the University Professor Mach Form available on the Awards web page, or by sending the PDF Form to Michelle Roseman at rosemanm@yorku.ca.

Pioneering York physicist honoured with memorial fund

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York University science alumni Itay and Mina Yavin have donated $200,000 to the Department of Physics & Astronomy in honour of late Professor Helen Freedhoff, a pioneering theoretical physicist, to create a memorial fund supporting students in the department.

Itay Yavin
Itay Yavin, the York alumn whose gift donation led to the creation of the Helen Freedhoff Memorial Fund. To his left is an image of Helen Freedhoff.

The gift will create the the Helen Freedhoff Memorial Fund, with a focus on supporting student mentorship and research at the undergraduate level. Specifically, it will further enable research in the lab of Professor Anantharaman Kumarakrishnan’s Atomic Physics Research Group.

It will also establish the Helen Freedhoff First Year Award for select entering domestic and international undergraduate students admitted into the Department of Physics & Astronomy with high academic achievement and a passion for science.

“We are thrilled to give back to York University, where we spent formative years, and to collaborate with the Faculty of Science to memorialize Professor Freedhoff’s life and work,” said Itay Yavin, who was personally mentored and supervised by Freedhoff. “We hope the funds will foster excellence in students’ research at the physics and astronomy department. We are excited that the funds will also support the lab of Professor Kumarakrishnan, whose devotion to students’ research and development over the past two decades truly exemplifies Professor Freedhoff’s legacy.”  

When she joined York University in 1967, Freedhoff was the first woman physics faculty member on a Canadian University campus. She worked to develop a new theory to describe novel physical phenomena in strongly coupled light-plus-atom systems. Her research focused on the areas of co-operative atomic effects, intense field resonance fluorescence and two-photon transitions. These remain important contributions to the field today.

The donation was celebrated on Monday, Jan. 15 with a plaque-unveiling ceremony and a dedication of the Helen Freedhoff Meeting Room in the Petrie Science & Engineering Building. The ceremony was attended by Freedhoff’s family, the donors and their family, members of the Department of Physics & Astronomy, and other science community members. The ceremony was followed by a tour of Kumarakrishnan’s lab.

“It’s so wonderful to see this relationship come full circle, where the student and mentee is now giving back so much to our Faculty, just as his mentor did,” said Rui Wang, dean, Faculty of Science. “I’m so pleased that Professor Freedhoff’s legacy – her important research contributions, her trailblazing career as a woman physicist, and her attention to and care for her students – has been memorialized with this donation that will benefit so many science students, current and future. This donation exemplifies the spirit of the Faculty of Science, working collaboratively and solving challenges head on in innovative ways that will benefit our community and beyond.”

Roll out the red carpet: York alum’s film premieres at festival

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Moving Matter, a short film co-created by actor, director and York University alumnus Beau Han Bridge, will see its world premiere at the Dance on Camera Festival at the Film at Lincoln Center venue in New York City.

Beau Han Bridge
Beau Han Bridge

Five years ago, Bridge, who holds a master of fine arts in film production from York, was visiting New York City and decided to see a movie premiere – followed by a director Q-and-A – at the Film at Lincoln Center, one of the foremost cinematic institutions in the world. “The experience stuck with me in a way that I really admired and cherished,” says Bridge. As a filmmaker himself, his mind drifted to what-ifs, imagining if a movie of his might ever end up at the Lincoln Center. “I never saw myself premiering any work of my own there,” Bridge recalls thinking at the time.

He was – happily – wrong.

Moving Matter, a 12-minute short film that Bridge co-created, shot, edited, sound designed and directed, will receive a world premiere at the Lincoln Center in February as part of the Dance on Camera Festival, the longest running dance film festival in the world that celebrates choreographic storytelling in cinema.

The short film is a product of a unique interdisciplinary collaborative project with two movement artists and educators, Rob Kitsos and Meagan Woods from Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts. The conceptual goal of the project was to explore a form of dance choreography and costume design influenced by materials – not as objects, but as a kind of collaborator. As described in an academic article published in the journal Theatre, Dance and Performance Training to provide a template for others to pursue material-led artistic projects, “In a challenge to normative structures where costumery operates ‘in service’ of dance, the textile designs for Moving Matter do not support the complete autonomy and freedom of moving humans; the wearables have striking characteristics of their own that limit what the human body can do.”

Still from Moving Matter short film
A moment from Bridge’s short film, Moving Matter.

The project began with a study of old kitchen flooring about to be discarded and – with artists from the world of dance and costume design – explored ways that raw materials like linoleum, wool and plastic could be integrated into garments and choreography. “I was drawn to the idea of how we could harness compositional ideas from non-human material and translate it into choreographic works,” says Bridge, who hopes audiences who see his, Kitsos and Woods’ film will share that interest. “I also hope viewers appreciate and see our efforts in attempting to give the materials an equal voice and consider them equal collaborators in the creative process.”

The short film is the latest in Bridge’s body of work, which has included films screened at international film festivals, as well as acting performances in numerous theatre productions. This latest accomplishment, however, is something special, he says. “A film premiere at Lincoln Center means the world to me, as I honestly could not have imagined ever having a work premiering there in my life,” Bridge says. “To have Moving Matter be the first original work that brings me so close to it is quite surreal … I honestly owe it all to my co-collaborators, Rob Kitsos and Meagan Woods. If it wasn’t for them bringing me into this very exciting and beautiful process back in February 2023, and introducing me to new ways of filmmaking through interdisciplinary collaboration, then I wouldn’t be here.”

You can see the trailer for Moving Matter here:

A heartfelt recognition: professor awarded for cardiac research

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Faculty of Health Professor Sherry Grace received the 2022 KITE Innovation and Impact Award from the University Health Network’s KITE Research Institute for the global impact of her work in the field of cardiac rehabilitation.

Sherry Grace
Sherry Grace

The Innovation and Impact Award, bestowed by the KITE Research Institute, is dedicated to rehabilitation science and counts as one of the principal research enterprises of the University Health Network (UHN), Canada’s top medical research hospital. The award is bestowed on two scientists – one senior, one not – whose research contributions have had a major impact, whether to policies, standards, best practice guidelines, regulations, dissemination of resources to the research community, intellectual property or commercialization, or collaborations with non-academic partners.

For Grace, the award served as a recognition of how, over a more than 25-year career – 19 of them at York – she has become recognized as a global authority on cardiac rehabilitation (CR) and has been credited for an ability to transform research into solutions that help reduce mortality and disability among heart patients.

Grace has published more than 320 research papers and has been cited almost 20,000 times, placing her among the top two to three per cent most-cited researchers globally across all fields of study.

Her work has also sought to promote accessible cardiovascular rehabilitation by supporting the growth of CR programs in resource-limited settings, looking to overcome barriers to cardiac rehab participation by increasing program capacity, as well as ensuring patients are better referred and engaged.

In doing so, both her past work and the work that is yet to come has created a catalogue of impactful accomplishment that helped earn her the Innovation and Impact Award.

York-affiliated changemakers appointed to Order of Ontario

Order of Ontario medal (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Four individuals with affiliations to York University have been invested with the province’s highest honour, the Order of Ontario, for their efforts in shaping the province for the better.

The four were among 25 new appointments announced by Edith Dumont, Ontario lieutenant-governor and chancellor of the Order of Ontario. Appointments recognize innovators and leaders from diverse fields whose work has played a role in building a stronger province, country and world.

“As chancellor of the Order of Ontario, it is my privilege to congratulate the Order’s appointees for 2023. These Ontarians have demonstrated the highest levels of merit, excellence and dedication in their respective disciplines, and they have made significant impacts here at home and around the world,” said Dumont. “Our province gratefully acknowledges their remarkable contributions, which inspire us all to be leaders and changemakers.”

The 2024 appointees with York affiliations are:

David Collenette, alumnus, faculty, donor

Collenette, current Chair of the NATO Association of Canada, served as a Canadian member of Parliament and cabinet minister under three prime ministers. Among his achievements, he helped bring former Warsaw Pact nations into NATO, changed federal policy toward racial equality and diversity, and led Canada’s security response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in the U.S. He has contributed countless hours to numerous not-for-profit projects, including in the arts, and served as Chair of the NATO Association of Canada. Collenette has also served on several Glendon Campus committees and has been a York U Alumni Award recipient.

Michael Latner, alumnus

The executive Chair of rental housing provider Shiplake Properties, one of the province’s most successful family-owned companies, Latner has contributed significantly to Ontario’s social and economic prosperity through business and philanthropy. Latner made transformational investments in local business, innovation and job creation through Shiplake, as well as though past leadership of Dynacare Laboratories in the 1980s and while playing an instrumental role in developing the Fallsview Casino in the 1990s. In the process, his efforts have helped Ontario become a beacon of excellence in health care, medical science, education and the arts.

Dwayne Morgan, alumnus

Founder of production company Up From The Roots, Morgan has been a pioneer in Canadian spoken-word poetry. His company has helped produce numerous opportunities for other racialized artists. He lobbied the League of Canadian Poets to include performance poets, produced North America’s two largest spoken-word events and has performed globally.

Gervan Fearon, former faculty, donor

Currently president of George Brown College, Fearon has also served in the past as the president and vice-chancellor at Brock University and Brandon University. A veteran educator with a vision for equity, inclusion and community empowerment, Fearon leads efforts to provide transformative education opportunities that benefit learners, industry and the greater community. His influential contributions to the white paper “Towards a Vision for the Black Community” pioneered ideas for positive change.

For more information about the Order of Ontario program, visit ontario.ca/page/order-ontario.

Biomedicine innovator earns awards, leadership role

doctor hand taking a blood sample tube from a rack with machines of analysis in the lab background / Technician holding blood tube test in the research laboratory
doctor hand taking a blood sample tube from a rack with machines of analysis in the lab background / Technician holding blood tube test in the research laboratory

York University Professor Yong Lian has earned recognition for his work in biomedicine, advancing circuits and systems to aid the development of in-home devices for disease prevention and detection.

Lian, from the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at the Lassonde School of Engineering, was honoured with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Circuits and Systems Society Mac Van Valkenburg Award, recognizing his years of technical excellence, global impact, and research contributions as one of the pioneering researchers who founded and established the evolving field of biomedical circuits and systems.

Yong Lian
Yong Lian

Over his career, Lian’s research has focused on wearable and implantable biomedical circuits used for applications ranging from seizure detection to heart monitoring. In addition to helping coin the term “biomedical circuits and systems (BioCAS)” and guiding the progression of the field, he has aimed to provide accessible solutions for early detection and prevention of various health conditions such as cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, his work may facilitate better home care for outpatients and reduce their need for frequent hospital visits.

In addition to the Mac Van Valkenburg Award, Lian was also honoured recently by IEEE with the Transactions on Biomedical Circuits and Systems Best Paper Award for research titled “A 13.34uW Event-Driven Patient-Specific ANN Cardiac Arrhythmia Classifier for Wearable ECG Sensors.”

Working together with his PhD students, Lian developed an energy-efficient solution for wearable electrocardiogram (ECG) devices, which are used to identify cardiovascular problems by detecting irregular heartbeats. The proposed solution reduces the power required to detect these abnormalities, allowing for longer usage time and smaller devices.

“Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in the world,” says Lian. “That is why we’re looking at solutions in this area. We need to develop wearable and cost-effective systems that are convenient for patients to use in order to help detect early warning signs of cardiovascular diseases and reduce hospital visits.”

Typically, ECG sensors constantly monitor a patient’s heart rhythm, whether an irregularity is detected or not. Sensors that can be used at home collect raw ECG data and wirelessly transmit it to a mobile phone – this requires a large amount of energy and limits battery life. Professor Lian’s work proposes a novel, event-driven approach to reduce the amount of ECG data collected by allowing an artificial neural network to only process data that can be used to classify different types of cardiac arrhythmia. This way, the device can save energy by focusing on critical events, rather than using excess power to monitor the heart’s constant rhythm.

As a further testament to his prestige, Lian was also recently elected as the first Canadian IEEE Division I director for the 2024-25 period. IEEE is the world’s largest technical professional organization dedicated to technological innovation and advancement for the benefit of humanity.

“The main purpose of this role is to help shape the IEEE as a whole, not just my division,” he says. “I will support collaboration between researchers and engineers, as well as look at how we can meet industry needs, underdeveloped regions and IEEE members in our changing world.”

Four York community members invested into Order of Canada

Order of canada medal laid out on black background

Four individuals with connections to York University are among the 78 new appointments to the Order of Canada, announced in December 2023 by the Right Honourable Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada.

The York-affiliated and newly appointed individuals include one officer (O.C.) and three members (C.M.) joining the Order of Canada, one of the highest civilian honours in the country. Appointments recognize people whose services, compassion and innovations have shaped society and communities throughout Canada.

Officer

Wenona Giles, professor emerita, donor
Giles, who is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and 2023 York University Research Leader Award recipient, was appointed for her significant contributions to refugee and migration studies, and for her efforts to increase access to higher education among those living in refugee camps

Members

Patricia Sybil Pritchard Fraser, alumna, donor
Fraser, a retired artistic director of the School of Toronto Dance Theatre (now the Dance Arts Institute), was appointed for her lasting contributions to Canadian contemporary dance as an artist, dancer, educator and artistic director.

Flavio Volpe, alumnus
Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturer’s Association, was appointed for advancing Canada’s automotive and technology industries on an international scale as a leading policy expert in national trade and industry competition.

Sara Joy Angel, affiliated faculty
Angel, a former journalist and now executive director and publisher at the Art Canada Institute, was appointed for her significant contributions to Canadian art history as a visual arts journalist and founder of the Art Canada Institute, which makes Canadian art history accessible online.

For more information about the Order of Canada program, visit gg.ca/en/honours/canadian-honours/order-canada.


Addendum: The original version of this YFile post omitted a fifth York-affiliated individual to be invested in the Order of Canada as an officer. They are:

Zainub Verjee, alumna, affiliated Fellow
Verjee, executive director of the Ontario Association of Art Galleries, was appointed for advancing representation and equitable policy legislation within Canada’s arts and culture sectors as a leading artist, administrator and critic. Verjee is a former graduate student of York’s interdisciplinary studies program, as well as a McLaughlin College Fellow at the University.

Work advancing electrical energy systems earns prof award

York University Associate Professor John Lam has earned recognition from an industry-leading organization for his work advancing the development of leading-edge power electronics technologies for renewable and reliable electrical energy systems.

Lam, from the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at the Lassonde School of Engineering, was honoured with a second-place prize paper award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Industry Applications Society.

“IEEE journals are top ranked in electrical engineering, particularly in the field of power electronics and power engineering; any prized-journal paper award from IEEE is prestigious,” says Lam. “This award is only given to the top three papers from more than 150 submissions, so I am very happy to receive this recognition.”

John Lam
John Lam

Lam’s awarded paper, titled “Fault-Tolerant Operation of a Multi-Mode Stacked Switch Rectifier Leg through Built-In Circuit Redundancy,” was developed alongside his former PhD student who is now working in the power electronics industry, Reza Emamalipour, and published in the IEEE Transactions on Industry Applications journal.

The paper proposes a method that can improve the resilience and reliability of power electronic converter circuits and, therefore, entire electrical energy systems.

Many electrical energy systems ranging from household devices to industrial equipment require abundant power supply to function. While starting an electric device may seem as simple as flipping a switch, the electrical energy supporting these systems must first be converted to a usable form of power through processes governed by the field of power electronics.

“Many existing electrical circuits don’t have fault-tolerant operation; if one component fails, you have to replace the entire device,” says Lam.

To solve this issue, Lam and Emamalipour tested and developed a multi-mode power electronic circuit with a control scheme that allows electrical circuits to continue adequate function amidst circuit failings. By incorporating built-in circuit redundancy, their proposed system demonstrated the ability to switch between different operating modes, allowing for continuous power supply at high power efficiency without interruption from any cases of circuit failure.

This work has a wide range of pragmatic applications, boasting the potential to improve the longevity and reliability of power electronic circuits that support technologies ranging from electric vehicles to household electronics. Improving the lifetime of electric circuits can also help reduce the need for costly and burdensome system repairs and replacements.

“I am always pleased to see my students’ research receiving recognition and I want to give a lot of credit to my student who was involved in this work,” says Lam. “He helped execute the research very well, even with circuit debugging, different hardware challenges and testing. This project took a lot of work.”

Lam will continue to advance the field of power electronics through ongoing and future projects with the ultimate goal of improving the efficiency, reliability and cost-effectiveness of electrical energy systems.