Professors consider long-term health impact of wildfires

Wildfire in the forest

Emilie Roudier and Olivier Birot, professors with York University’s School of Kinesiology and Health Science in the Faculty of Health, have published research calling for a rethinking of the potential long-term health risks of wildfires.

The paper, titled “Wildland fire, air pollution and cardiovascular health: is it time to focus on the microvasculature as a risk assessment tool?,” considers how our current understanding of potential long-term health risks from particulate matter (PM) exposure is limited and mostly ignores the microvascular system, a network of tiny arterioles and capillaries that may be just as important as the heart, lungs and arteries when it comes to understanding the health dangers of PM resulting from forest fires.

“While it’s understandable that initial attention focuses on the immediate impacts of losses and casualties after a wildfire, we know that there are also longer-term impacts from exposure to particulate matter pollution,” says Roudier, who is leading the research project, which involved spending a portion of the summer on the French island of Corsica in the Mediterranean, where summer wildfires are common. There, a partnership was created with the CNRS Wildland Forest Unit at the University of Corsica Pasquale Paoli (UCPP) and the Corsican fire authorities to further research efforts.

“Firefighters think about lung cancer, because they breathe the smoke, but because the fires are getting higher in temperature, the particulate matter is getting really small, so small that some can reach the bloodstream,” continues Roudier. “The PM are then in the cardiovascular system and travelling through our blood vessels. We are questioning whether we are using the right measurements to assess the risk posed to firefighters and the affected population. Having better tools, or additional tools, could hopefully lead to better solutions to mitigate risks.”

The paper notes that in North America, the length of the wildfire season has increased by nearly a fifth in the past 35 years, making the need to answer these questions more pressing. Population growth and development has increased human exposure to wildfire areas, growing the likelihood of both accidental ignition and fire-suppression policies that can lead to an accumulation of biomass fuels. While there is a clear link in the literature between PM pollution and cardiovascular disease, linking this to wildfires has been harder to show, given the complexities of studying this on a population level.

Birot, an associate professor who worked as a volunteer firefighter for seven years during his undergraduate and postgraduate studies, teaches a course at York that looks at extreme environments and their effects on health, including PM exposure and exercise.

“This microcirculation is not only important for delivering oxygen and nutrients to our tissues – it is also key for communication exchanges between organs, for example, between the working muscle and the brain. And it is also this microcirculation that’s key to dissipate excess body heat, moving heat from the core of the body to the peripheral skin. So think about wildland firefighters who are engaging in long periods of intense physical activity in a context where they’re going to produce heat because of their activity, and they are doing that in an environment that is polluted and extremely hot. So you’re combining a lot of stressors,” he says.

The two researchers have obtained samples of PM from wildland fires in Corsica and have started to analyze them back in their lab at York to test their effect on human endothelial cells, which line the inner layer of blood vessels. They are looking for epigenetic biomarkers that could act as early warning systems for those who might be more vulnerable.

A delegation from the UCPP will be coming to York in October, and Roudier and Birot will head back to Corsica in December to do more field work – collecting new PM samples from controlled biomass burning – and to expand their collaboration with Corsican fire authorities.

Watch a video of Roudier and Birot explaining their research:

See more ways York University is making headlines at News @ York.

New online workshop supports Black graduate student success

Woman laptop computer FEATURED

York University’s Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) is hosting its inaugural Fostering Black Scholars Scholarship Success Workshop for incoming and current graduate students on Monday, Aug. 28 from 10 a.m. to noon. This online event aims to create a welcoming space to share experiences and resources and build peer-to-peer connections.

One of the goals of the workshop is to share new funding opportunities that support Black scholars, including the Bennett Family Graduate Scholarship for Black and Indigenous Students, as well as many other scholarships and awards. Attendees will learn how to complete award applications and leverage all the resources available at York, both internally and externally. Additionally, the workshop will provide attendees with resources and guides for developing successful grant proposals, writing reference letters for scholarship applications and making their applications stand out.

Students will also learn about the self-identification forms and questionnaires implemented by FGS. The optional self-identification questions in award applications are important to determine eligibility for funding opportunities targeting specific equity-deserving groups and to implement funding equalization measures. Students can include relevant information in the Special Circumstances form on their applications to explain any personal circumstances (including gender, race, diversity, ability, sexuality, health disparities, educational access etc.) that have played a role in shaping their path, to allow for a fair assessment of their research productivity.

The workshop will feature talks from seasoned Black faculty members, including: Professor Andrea Davis, Department of Humanities; Professor Jude Dzevela Kong, Department of Mathematics & Statistics; and Professor Tokunbo Ojo, FGS associate dean of students.

Attendees will also hear from a panel of graduate scholars who hold prestigious awards, including: Joseph Agyapong, a PhD student in mechanical engineering and a 2023 Susan Mann Dissertation Awardee; Balikisu Osman, a PhD student in environmental studies and a 2020 Vanier Scholar; and Danielle Washington, a PhD student in nursing and a 2023 Canadian Institutes of Health Research Canada Graduate Scholarships Doctoral Program awardee. The panellists will answer questions and speak about their personal experiences, scholarship successes and how to make the most of available resources.

This online event is hosted by the FGS Scholarships & Awards team, led by Richolette Freckleton, associate director of research, scholarships and awards. York University faculty and staff are encouraged to share event details with their incoming and current graduate students. For more information and to register, visit:

Recognizing student influence: Robert J. Tiffin Student Leadership Award winners

a man holding a trophy

Ariana Mah first knew she was going to attend York University’s Glendon College during a tour in high school. 

“I looked around and I decided, ‘This one is my first choice. This is what I’m going to do; this is where I’m going to be,’ ” says Mah, a fifth-year political science major. “It was that moment when I found out that I could have a community here. It’s like a second home.”  

Ariana Mah
Ariana Mah

Despite feeling apprehensive when starting at Glendon, Mah quickly became involved. She entered her first year as a Top Scholar and has since sat on several committees, including serving as the Chair of Glendon’s Student Caucus and as a member of the Faculty Council’s Committee on Academic Standards, Teaching and Learning, where she actively discusses policy planning and academic expectations with her professors and peers.

She has been an undergraduate representative for the Board of Governors since 2022, where she dedicates her time to a multitude of issues, including improving student well-being and advocating for increased diversity at York. Mah also progressed from a section editor of Glendon’s bilingual student newspaper, Pro Tem, to editor-in-chief. 

Her impact has not gone unnoticed. Mah, who also has a certificate in law and social thought, is one of 11 recipients of the Robert J. Tiffin Student Leadership Award, which annually recognizes students whose leadership has contributed to the growth, development and vitality of the University. 

Now in its 11th year, the award was created in honour of Robert J. Tiffin, who served as York University’s vice-president, students, from 2005 to 2012. University members nominate individuals who demonstrate leadership and make valuable contributions to the York community. 

“I’m always impressed by the diversity of ways in which student leadership occurs at York,” says Tiffin. “The importance of active participation in the University, inside and outside the classroom, cannot be overstated. It is through this engagement that student leaders unlock their own potential and empower others to do the same, creating a ripple effect that extends beyond their time at York.” 

Mah is honoured by the nomination and recognition. 

“As a student leader, we don’t necessarily do the work we do for these awards, but it is always nice to be acknowledged for what we put forward,” she says. “Winning this award will encourage me in the coming year to continue to strive for the betterment of student life on campus and for better representation of students, especially undergraduate students.” 

This award recognizes students who have a wide impact on the York community. “We are all grateful for your pride in the institution and desire to be ambassadors for York,” says Yvette Munro, assistant vice-provost, student success. “Your work makes a difference and makes our institution – and, more importantly, the student experience – better.” 

Mah says her involvement at York has helped her find her voice and she is motivated to help other students find theirs as well. 

“The idea of the student voice inspires me and my work,” she says. “I know a lot of my peers are unsure about navigating student leadership or student governance – it’s kind of a scary thing to sit in rooms full of professors or University staff. I want to continue representing those that may not feel comfortable voicing their opinions, but also encourage others to try these things out, too.” 

When thinking ahead to the future, Mah has a few ideas. She says she is interested in eventually pursuing a master’s in journalism, focusing on learning more languages or working within legislature and policy. 

This year’s Robert J. Tiffin Student Leadership Award recipients also include: 

Alita Gideon, master of science, kinesiology and health science: Gideon has served as a class representative and has mentored underrepresented students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). She has also served on the York Federation of Students, most recently as the vice-president, equity, commissioner, and her contributions as an undergraduate student mentor have had an impact on individual students, both within the Faculty of Health and across the University. 

Amireza Nikzadfar Goli, honours bachelor of science, kinesiology and health science: Goli was a founder of the Undergraduate Health Research Exploration Program (UHRE) and also helped to found and co-ordinate York University’s first-ever Conference of Undergraduate Health Research. He has also supported students as the Chair of the Student Advisory Committee and served as a student senator with the Faculty of Health. 

Ana Kraljević, bilingual honours bachelor of arts and bachelor of education: Kraljević has served as the president of Glendon’s Student Union. She has also represented the York community as a president’s ambassador and played a key role in the Glendon Tournament, a web-based initiative to help increase student engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Arman Sadr, bachelor of science, biomedical science: Sadr has been involved with Bethune College since his first year at York, most recently serving as the president of the Bethune College Council, where he represented and supported the growth of the community. Sadr has also served as the executive vice-president and vice-president, athletics, for the council. 

Christina Da Costa, honours specialized bachelor of arts, Indigenous studies: Da Costa has been actively involved with the Indigenous Student’s Association at York (ISAY). She has served as the president and has made various contributions to Indigenous life at York, including as an ISAY representative on the Indigenous Council of York and by planning and hosting the 20th and 21st All Nations Pow Wow.  

Kaye Trishia Canoy, honours bachelor of arts, psychology and linguistics: Canoy has served as both as the president of Calumet College Council and co-president of the Undergraduate Psychology Student Association. She is also the co-founder of Lingua Franca, an initiative that aims to support English as a second language students at York. 

Mohamed Elsayed Elghobashy, bachelor of science, kinesiology and health science: Elsayed Elghobashy has served as the president of the Kinesiology and Health Sciences Student Association and is a co-founder of the Undergraduate Health Research Exploration program. He has been involved in other leadership roles as a student senator, and has been equally active in supporting others in the community. 

Mustafa Abdulkadhim, honours bachelor of science, biomedical science: Abdulkadhim has served as a class representative for STEM courses and has been a member of the Science Student Caucus and volunteered as a research assistant for multiple labs. Abdulkadhim has also been a peer tutor with the Undergraduate Psychology Student Association and a member of the Committee on Examination and Academic Standards. 

Nathi Mbuso Zamisa, master of arts, social and political thought: Zamisa has served as the president of the York University Graduate Students’ Association. He has also served as the Chair of the York Community Housing Association and has been a representative on various committees, including the Advisory Council on Black Inclusion and the Student Representative Roundtable. 

Prabhjee Singh, honours bachelor of science, computer science: Singh has served as the Lassonde Student Government president, where he implemented new policies and organized multiple events. He has also actively participated in the Student Caucus and the Student Representative Roundtable, and has volunteered with York International. 

The recipients’ names will be added to the awards display wall in the Vari Hall Rotunda.

About the award

The Robert Tiffin Student Leadership Awards recognize students whose leadership has contributed to the growth, development and vitality of York University. Established in 2012, these awards are named after Robert Tiffin, who served as York University’s vice-president, students, for nine years. Through his strong leadership, dedication and integrity, Tiffin transformed his operation into one of the most professional student service organizations in the country, serving one of Canada’s largest student populations.

Four York researchers receive grants for knowledge mobilization projects

Aspire lightbulb idea innovation research

Four York University researchers have been awarded 2023 Connection Grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) for various knowledge mobilization projects, ranging in topic from local Indigenous history education to youth affected by conflict in Africa to corporate social responsibility and sustainability.  

Connection Grants support events, workshops and outreach activities that often lead to longer-term research projects and enable scholarly exchanges with academic and non-academic partners, and collaboration between the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.

The York recipients for this latest round of funding include Jennifer Bonnell, Alan Corbiere and Annie Bunting, professors in the Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, and Barnali Choudhury, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School.

“York University is a national leader in knowledge mobilization efforts and these successful grant recipients exemplify our research community’s exceptional talents in this area,” said Amir Asif, vice-president research and innovation at York. “With SSHRC’s support, our faculty members can more broadly engage, collaborate and share their work with the public. Congratulations to Dr. Bonnell, Dr. Corbiere, Dr. Bunting and Dr. Choudhury as they apply their research in ways that create lasting positive change.”

Bonnell and Corbiere’s project, “Changing the Narrative: Connecting Indigenous and Settler Histories at Black Creek Pioneer Village,” received $43,911. The project brings together a team from York, the University of Toronto and Black Creek Pioneer Village, a history museum, to mobilize SSHRC-funded research to support the development of a permanent exhibition and associated programming on the Indigenous history of the northern Greater Toronto Area and its interconnections with settler history at Black Creek Pioneer Village.

Bunting’s project, “Youth and Gender Violence – Health and Gender Justice,” received $25,000. Bunting and her team will organize virtual workshops with youth and young adult survivors of violence in several African countries in crises (Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia), researchers, filmmakers and practitioners working with youth to develop a research program that focuses on intergenerational trauma and psycho-social needs of youth affected by conflict.

Choudhury’s project, “Sustainability impacts of Canadian companies,” received $17,776. The grant will support a conference that will bring together scholars from around the world to collaborate on ways to better address Canadian corporations’ impacts on sustainability issues. The conference will look to develop legislation and other regulatory vehicles to address corporate responsibility and feature a keynote speech by a member of the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

The York researchers were among 66 recipients across the country to receive funding.   

Lassonde research advancing astronaut training

View of the Earth from space

To help inform more inclusive astronaut training, Professor Michael Jenkin from the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering is gearing up for a project, “The Influence of Partial Gravity on the Perception of Self-Motion: Sex Differences (SMUG-PS),” which specifically focuses on women and their changes in perception of self-motion when exposed to partial gravity.

In space, unusual environments such as zero and partial gravity can significantly alter human perception of self-motion, leading to challenges with self-orientation and visual processing. Effective astronaut training is critical to ensuring survival and mission success. However, current training measures are based on heavily skewed data from human performance studies that concentrate on a very specific group of people.

Professor Jenkin floating in aircraft during parabolic flight
Professor Michael Jenkin floating in aircraft during parabolic flight

“People who are trained to go to space fit a very narrow superman type; they’re fit, young, healthy … and usually men,” says Jenkin. “Back in the day, most astronauts were men recruited from the military, but in the present day we want to send all kinds of people to space. We won’t be able to do this if training measures are only developed for a very specific group.”

Most research to date focuses on human responses to zero gravity; however, understanding the effects of partial gravity is becoming increasingly important for developing training methods to prepare astronauts for space missions involving the surface of the moon, Mars or other planets.

SMUG-PS is built on a previously conducted study, “The Influence of Partial Gravity on the Perception of Self-Motion (SMUG-P),” which focused solely on men. “We want to see if women respond differently to partial gravity than men,” says Jenkin. “If they do, we’ll need to change the way we’re training astronauts.”

Female study participants will undergo a series of repeated tests to measure their perceived distance of self-motion while aboard a thrilling, parabolic flight that ascends in a steep, curved pattern to simulate partial gravity conditions. Each test will be performed at various segments of the flight, including before and after, to develop a model of multi-cue integration processes.

Throughout the duration of the study, participants will wear a head-mounted display that simulates a virtual-reality environment, mimicking a long corridor. Participants will be asked to estimate their distance from an indicated target and will then experience a simulated forward motion towards it. When they believe they have reached the target, they are required to press a button. It is expected that this process will be easier said than done, as the partial gravity environment established by the parabolic flight will influence their perception of self-motion.

Results obtained from SMUG-PS will allow for a better understanding of how women process visual information in partial gravity conditions, to address issues in space and on earth. “By extending experiments to women, we can identify changes that need to be made to astronaut training measures to maximize mission success,” says Jenkin. Combined results from SMUG-P and SMUG-PS will also be used to inform the development of training and countermeasures to prepare astronauts for environments governed by partial gravity, thereby improving mission success as well as astronaut health and safety. Ultimately, these projects will be used to produce the first sex-balanced partial gravity perception of self-motion dataset.

In addition, these projects will establish crucial information that can advance global understanding of medical conditions affecting human perception of self-motion. “If we can understand how people respond to altered perception of their environments, we can provide stronger cues, like modifying the lighting or visual appearance of objects in someone’s home,” he says.

SMUG-PS will bring meaningful partnerships to Lassonde, through the collaborative efforts of Professor Robert Allison from Lassonde’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Professor Laurence Harris from York University’s Department of Psychology, as well as Nils-Alexander Bury and Professor Rainer Herpers from Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences in Germany.

Professor advancing hardware that mimics human brain

Brain and AI technology

Amirali Amirsoleimani, assistant professor in the Electrical Engineering & Computer Science Department at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering is leading efforts to advance neuromorphic computing, which aims to develop specialized software and hardware modelled after the human brain, mimicking its biological structure and function to establish computer systems with human intelligence at their core.

Like the human brain, which uses a complex system of neurons and other structures to perform various functions, neuromorphic computing systems use an expansive network of artificial neurons to receive and transmit signals, allowing for humanistic skills such as the ability to learn from and adapt to changing stimuli. These systems also replicate the brain’s ability to perform advanced tasks with minimal energy and remain functional when partially damaged, supporting energy-efficient computing systems that are resilient against component failure.

Amirali Amirsoleimani
Amirali Amirsoleimani

“By building computing systems that mimic the human brain, we can improve computing efficiency and also extend applications to health care. We need to change the way we’re computing,” says Amirsoleimani.

His work has explored the use and optimization of numerous hardware technologies to support a future, global transition from traditional to neuromorphic computing systems. This includes using emerging technologies to build spiking neural accelerators, which can reduce energy consumption and footprint, as well as increase throughput.

Amirsoleimani’s intent is to advance this emerging research field focused on building hardware for neuromorphic computing systems, which can be overlooked during the current wave of artificial intelligence (AI) advancements. “The AI side of research is very saturated, but not many people work on the hardware side,” he says. “We want to build hardware to support the design of novel computing systems.”

In a recent project, Amirsoleimani and his research team proposed a novel system for epileptic seizure detection and prediction. As the underlying mechanism of epilepsy is not entirely understood, experimental methods of treatment require accurate detection and prediction systems. Researchers have explored the use of electroencephalograms (EEG) and human intracranial electroencephalograms (iEEG) to monitor electrical activity in the brain, coupled with machine learning (ML) algorithms to classify seizures; however, these methods have proven to be tedious and inconvenient.

Amirsoleimani’s project explored the use of a convolutional neural network (CNN) based on in-memory computing (IMC) resistive random-access memory (RRAM) architecture, with analog crossbars. This dual-function architecture allowed for data storage and computation, and resulted in patient data being collected from EEGs and iEEGs in a way that the system effectively detected and predicted epileptic seizures with 97.5 to 99.8 per cent accuracy.

With promising benefits and applications of these intelligent computing systems, Amirsoleimani continues to work towards his purposeful research goals, while tackling the many obstacles that overwhelm the field of neuromorphic computing. “You have to be very flexible with this research; there is a lot of trial and error involved,” he says. “The world doesn’t even know exactly how the human brain works yet, so it can be difficult to develop computing systems modelled after something that isn’t completely understood.”

Amirsoleimani’s Lab for Computing Research and Innovation (LCRAIN) is open to interested undergraduate and graduate students looking to change the future of computing. Learn more about LCRAIN and research opportunities available in the lab.

York grad leaves legacy of positive change

Issa Jamaa and J.J. McMurtry

By Elaine Smith

Recent York University graduate Issa Abdi Jamaa is eager to apply the valuable lessons he has learned both inside and outside the classroom to the professional world. 

Jamaa arrived in Canada as a teenager for secondary school before attending university. After exploring various Canadian universities, he says he selected York for its academic excellence and vibrant multicultural and diverse community.

“As a Black international student, I felt that York exhibited real diversity and an authentic sense of belonging,” Jamaa said.

He enrolled in economics, where he excelled, earning an honours BA and graduating summa cum laude in Spring 2023. Jamaa was also a member of the Dean’s circle of student scholars in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS).

Issa Jamaa
Issa Jamaa delivering his speech at the Chancellor’s installation

Beyond academics, Jamaa cultivated a diverse skill set by seeking out challenging campus employment and extracurricular activities. As soon as he arrived at the Keele Campus, Jamaa jumped into governance activities, starting with the Economic Students’ Association. During his first semester at York, he was elected to the student government of Vanier College Council (VCC) as director of finance, then vice-president, academic and external affairs. A year later, he was elected as VCC’s president and orientation Chair.

For more than four consecutive academic years, Jamaa served as a designated student representative on the LA&PS Faculty Council. In that role, he advocated passionately and consistently for students, focusing on the needs of racialized, first-generation and international students.

There, he challenged the tendency to treat international students as “income generators on one hand, and social and cultural challenges on the other,” arguing that both positions are problematic. He encouraged faculty, staff and the dean’s offices to recognize the humanity of all students.

“In his tireless dedication to student issues, he challenged everyone he encountered to think differently and reconsider the needs of racialized, first-generation and international students,” said LA&PS Dean J.J. McMurtry. “Issa exhibits all the qualities we hope to see in our graduates: passion, perseverance and a commitment to social justice and advocacy. Whatever he chooses to do next, I know he will change the future for the better.”

Jamaa further extended his student advocacy as a volunteer on a number of Faculty committees, including the Committee on Teaching, Learning and Student Success, and the Committee on Curriculum, Curricular Policy and Standards, where he combined his support for students with an interest in inclusive pedagogy.

In 2019, Jamaa was elected as a senator for the York University Senate, the University’s highest academic governing body, where he also chaired the Senate’s student caucus. Through the caucus, he supported initiatives that included the University’s Anti-Black Racism Framework. His work in the Faculty Council and Senate opened the door to other opportunities, such as serving as a member of three University search committees: dean for the Faculty of LA&PS; vice-provost, students; and chancellor. His efforts came full circle when was a speaker at the induction ceremony for York University’s 14th chancellor, Kathleen Taylor, in May 2023.

He also participated as a student representative to the advisory committee that created the Division of Students’ most recent five-year strategic plan and was one of President Rhonda Lenton’s ambassadors for three years.

“It is exciting to see students building their leadership skills here at York and bringing the commitments of our University Academic Plan to life. Issa has helped students access opportunities to realize their full potential and his work will have a lasting impact as they in turn create positive change in communities around the world,” said Lisa Philipps, provost and vice-president academic. 

“Through all of these opportunities, I learned about how the institution worked, with its complex systems and governance structure,” Jamaa said. “I also found things that needed improvement from a student-centric perspective by taking every opportunity I got to voice the concerns of students.”

For example, Jamaa successfully advocated to make work-study positions accessible and equitable to all international, as well as domestic, students, collaborating with University partners such as York International, and senior University officials.

Throughout his undergraduate career, Jamaa held various professional jobs on campus, such as lead ambassador and senior special projects assistant at the Dean’s Office (LA&PS), as well as a special projects assistant at the Office of the University Registrar. Additionally, he assumed the role of a CCTV operator on campus, joining the team in 2018 and earning a promotion to team lead in 2020. Currently, Jamaa continues working with the community safety department’s CCTV team while focusing on his future endeavors.

“I’d like to gain more work experience for a few years before I return to my academic journey in earning either an MBA, or a law degree, or even a combination of both,” Jamaa said.

In recognition of Jamaa’s leadership, dedication to student advocacy and service to the University community, he earned several University-wide awards, including the eighth Annual Robert J. Tiffin Student Leadership Award, the Robert Everett Exceptional Leadership Award in Student Governance, the Outstanding Student Leadership Award, Faculty of LA&PS (twice), the Marilyn Lambert-Drache Award for Initiative in Governance, and the Alumni Golden GRADitude Award.

“Issa Jamaa exemplifies the core values of York University, showcasing the transformative potential of higher education and the immense impact of actively engaging in various aspects of university life,” said Vinitha Gengatharan, assistant vice-president, global engagement and partnerships. “His relentless commitment to effecting positive change and breaking down barriers, particularly for international students, serves as an inspiration to his peers and the wider community. With his unwavering determination and excellent skills, Issa is poised to make significant contributions in his future endeavors, while leaving a lasting legacy at York University.”

York UNESCO Chair team attends 2023 UN High-Level Political Forum

hands holding a globe

York University UNESCO Chair in Reorienting Education towards Sustainability Chairholder Charles Hopkins and Coordinator Katrin Kohl will join the official Canadian delegation to the 2023 United Nations High-Level Political Forum (UN HLPF).

Charles Hopkins
Charles Hopkins

The UN HLPF is the central platform within the United Nations system to track progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. More than 2,700 delegates are expected to attend the meeting at United Nations Headquarters in New York from July 10-19. 38 countries and the European Union will present their Voluntary National Review (VNR) on national progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 12 special events, more than 200 side events and 21 exhibits will take place.

York contributed to Canada’s 2023 Voluntary National Review, which will outline the initiatives undertaken in Canada with a focus on quality education, gender equality, climate action and partnership. In their report, York highlighted the strategic commitments to elevate action for the SDGs through the University Academic Plan 2020-2025 and other frameworks, such as the Framework on Black Inclusion, the Indigenous Framework for York University and the new Decolonization, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2022-2027.

A key enabler, so far the only one recognized by the UN, of all of the SDGs is an Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) as stated in SDG 4, which York´s UNESCO Chair has long been engaged with. The team has also worked with UNESCO and other UN agencies to promote the transformation of education and training systems and to raise public awareness for ESD. At the UN HLPF, Hopkins and Kohl will advocate for the importance of involving higher education institutions in policymaking, for modelling sustainability in the university as whole and the transformative power of quality education.

Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living: Building a better future with Shooka Karimpour

Globe and York branded box for the Microlecture Series launch

Throughout the Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living, six of York University’s world-renowned experts share research, thoughts and advice on a range of critical topics related to sustainability. Their leadership and expertise, however, extends beyond the six-minute presentations.

Over the last several weeks, YFile presented a six-part series featuring the professors’ work, their expert insights into York’s contributions to sustainability, and how accepting the responsibility of being a sustainable living ambassador can help right the future.

Part six features Assistant Professor Shooka Karimpour.

Karimpour is an assistant professor of civil engineering at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering where she leads the Environmental HydroDynamics (EHD) lab. Karimpour’s research aims to investigate how turbulent mixing and entrainment are induced and how they affect mass and contaminant transport. Currently, her team is working on entrainment of multi-phase flow, focusing on aerated flow and microplastic contaminants.

Karimpour’s research has been published in Journal of Fluid Mechanics, Environmental Science and Technology, and Frontiers in Marine Science. She is also recipient of several international and national awards including the Kefeer Medal from the Canadian Society of Civil Engineering.

Shooka Karimpour
Shooka Karimpour

Q: What does it mean to be a “sustainable living ambassador” and how does it foster positive change?
We are reaching a point in that some of the changes to our planet may have severe consequences in the near future. Our ocean, freshwater lakes and rivers, for example, are under extreme pressure on many fronts from ocean acidification to widespread of plastic pollution. York University’s Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living enables the accessible training of “sustainable living ambassadors” on some of the key environmental issues including water quality and climate change.

Q: What does it mean to be a “sustainable living ambassador” and how does it foster positive change?
This is a unique and concise program that sets individuals on the right trajectory to understand some of the fundamental issues and it encourages them to take action and to be a part of the solution.

Q: What would make you most proud for viewers to take away from your lecture, and the series as a whole?
Unfortunately, today, we are facing many environmental issues that are complex and intertwined. Plastic production, for example, leads to greenhouse gas emission, contributing to climate change. Despite their complexities, there are also solutions, like those presented in the Microlecture Series. We have dealt with and managed other environmental issues in the past, for example the “ozone hole,” through collective actions and proper legislation. I want the viewers to know, we do have the knowledge to address some of these challenges, we have to ask ourselves if we have the collective will.

Q: Equity and equality are a common theme throughout these sustainability lectures. Why is that such a critical component of sustainability?
The inequitable impact of climate change, plastic pollution, water security, etc., is evident. For example, we have communities in the Arctic that have very little contribution to plastic pollution but are reported to have plastics in their diets. Coastal communities in a few developing countries, that have a very small contribution to greenhouse gas emission, are paralyzed by sea water level rise due to climate change. These issues, they aren’t limited to geo-political boundaries. They affect many beyond where they are sourced from. Equity must be in the forefront of the conversation on these topics to make sure solutions aren’t just tailored to those with more resources.

Q: Are there changes you’ve made in your work at York that other York community members can learn from?
I have made personal changes – carpooling, for instance, to work or going paperless when reading and writing – but I think the most important change I made was to pivot my research. My research is around environmental fluid mechanics and I question myself quite often on how I can incorporate things in my research and teaching with meaningful impacts in terms of making the world more equitable and sustainable.

Q: How do you view collective responsibility vs. personal responsibility in creating a more sustainable future?
It’s everyone’s personal responsibility to care. This is important on many levels, one of the most important aspects of it is that it holds industry and for-profit organizations responsible. However, large-scale change isn’t really possible without collective responsibility and commitment from governments and industries.

Q: How is York leading the way towards a more sustainable future?
York has been amazing in terms of supporting research on sustainability, which is woven to the University’s Academic Plan. For example, over the past year, it has supported the establishment of a new research unit, OneWATER, and continuously looks for opportunities to empower teaching and research linked to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Visit the Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living to see Shooka Karimpour’s full lecture, as well as those by the other five experts, and earn your Sustainable Living Ambassador badge. This articles concludes the series. Read more in parts one, two, three, four and five.

Lassonde students embody Women in Engineering Day

Josephine Morgenroth collecting data

From the Civil Engineering department at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering, current student Peace Ikpotokin and recent graduate Josephine Morgenroth represent the intent of International Women in Engineering Day, celebrated annually in late June, to draw attention to women changing the face of engineering and the world’s future.

Peace Ikpotokin
Peace Ikpotokin

Ikpotokin, who is in the final year of her master’s degree at Lassonde, conducts research with Liam Butler, assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, focused on monitoring the distributed strain behaviour of two-way slabs produced with low-carbon concrete. The production of concrete poses a major problem for the world, accounting for 7 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions globally.

Ikpotokin’s research aims to find solutions to this growing issue with environmentally friendly alternatives to conventional concrete.

Josephine Morgenroth
Josephine Morgenroth

Morgenroth, who completed her PhD in civil engineering at Lassonde under the supervision of Associate Professor Matthew Perras and Associate Professor Usman Khan, researched combining disciplines of machine learning and rock engineering to predict geotechnical behaviour underground.

Contributing knowledge to an emerging field, her work aims to enhance the underground rock engineering design of structures such as tunnels, in a way that is useful for practical rock engineers.

Both graduates have garnered significant accolades. Ikpotokin has received the Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO) International Peace Scholarship, American Association of University Women (AAUW) Scholarship and numerous certificates acknowledging her leadership efforts. She is also a highly active member of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), an organization that empowers women to achieve their full potential in engineering. Morgenroth has been awarded the Professor Doug Stead PhD Thesis Award from the Canadian Rock Mechanics Association, NSERC Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship and Joan Bath Award for Advancement of Mineral Industry.

Ikpotokin and Morgenroth have made an impact too on the industry. Following her undergraduate studies, Ikpotokin began working in the industry as a site engineer, structural engineer and supervisor for various building and construction projects. Morgenroth works as technical services manager at digital mining company RockMass Technologies, supports clients by coordinating fieldwork and providing expertise to help implement solutions for rock engineering problems.

Together their efforts are indicative of a shift in the engineering field. Over the past decades, Canada has experienced its largest growth of women in post-secondary engineering programs and professions through the support of various organizations, events and campaigns addressing underrepresentation. However, with women making up a meagre 14 per cent of practicing engineers in Canada, there is still a need for improvement.

“There was actually a lot of women representation in grad school, but not so much in the mining industry,” Morgenroth says.

Ikpotokin agrees. “There is a low number of women in engineering, the gap is very clear,” she says. “It would be nice to have more peer support and female students. It’s really satisfying and empowering to work alongside other women.”

Despite the need of improvement, there are signs of progress – and hope. Both engineers credit the immense support they received from their Lassonde research and PhD supervisors to contribute pivotal knowledge to novel fields of research. Furthermore, Morgenroth is seeing change through companies like the one that employees her. “Our CEO is a woman of colour, and a lot of our team members are women too. We can talk about someone’s wedding at lunch, and then get into rock mechanics right after – it’s great.”

Looking to the future, it’s situations like hers that are important to highlight, which is why representatives like Morgenroth and Ikpotokin are so important. It’s also why Morgenroth ensures to use her platform to inspire and motivate women in engineering through various talks at Lassonde. “Representation is important in fields like engineering,” says Morgenroth. “Diversity breeds innovation and challenges people to think differently.”