Elder Duke Redbird draws on the wisdom of Mother Earth

Elder Duke Redbird

By Jenny Pitt-Clark

During the Faculty of Education convocation ceremony for the Class of 2022 that took place on June 10, Indigenous Elder Duke Redbird delivered a moving and passionate address about Mother Earth, strawberries and universities, and the enduring spirit of a mentor.

The month of June is National Indigenous History Month and in the Indigenous calendar it is also Ode Miin Giizus or Strawberry Moon. June is also a time of new beginnings for York University students as they receive their degrees and embark on the next stage in their lives.

So it was fitting that during Ode Miin Giizus, the renowned poet, actor, journalist and Indigenous Elder, Duke Redbird (MA ’78), returned to York University to receive an honorary doctor of laws degree. In his convocation address that he delivered through poetry and a story, Elder Redbird spoke of the importance of strawberries, universities, the nourishment that knowledge provides and the enduring spirit of a mentor to a young strawberry heart.

Above, from left: York University Chancellor Gregory Sorbara, Elder Duke Redbird, and York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton

Elder Redbird began by reciting his celebrated poem “Our Mother The Earth,” which speaks to the essential sustenance and love that Mother Earth provides to all living creatures and the importance of sustaining and protecting her against the perils of climate change. With this poetic setting in place, Elder Redbird, in acknowledgement of Ode Miin Giizus, observed that “the strawberry is shaped like a heart. This fruit is associated with the teaching of ‘truth.’ And unlike every other fruit, the seeds of the strawberries are on the surface, and we humans, like these seeds, occupy the surface of the Earth.”

He noted that universities could also be described as strawberries of knowledge “that require the human heart with the desire for the truth to be nourishing and successful.”

Referring to his own strawberry heart, he told the story of how in 1975, he was interviewed by York University politics Professor Ed Dosman (now professor emeritus) for his research on Indigenous life and culture. For the young Redbird, who was then 36 years old, Dosman’s interview was one of many he had completed with academics who were researching Indigenous Peoples. “I was regarded as a primitive source at the worst, and a layman without a formal education at best,” said Elder Redbird, noting the interviews that quoted him were then used by researchers to acquire degrees and publish papers and yet his knowledge, which was so freely and truthfully shared, was not credited or cited as a source, a visceral concern he relayed to Dosman.

After this conversation, Dosman introduced Redbird to David Bell, then a professor in both political science and environmental studies at York University and a globally recognized expert in learning for a sustainable future. Dosman and Bell offered to sponsor Redbird as a mature student to pursue a master’s degree. “With the support of Professor Christopher Innis, the founder of the master’s degree program in Interdisciplinary Studies at York University, I was accepted as a candidate,” he said.

In the years that followed, enriched with the gifts of knowledge, friendship and mentorship from Bell, the young Redbird’s strawberry heart was nourished and ripened. “On a June day, much like today in 1978, 44 years ago, I was the only recipient of a master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from York University,” said Elder Redbird.

Decades later, it was with a full strawberry heart that Elder Redbird once again turned to Bell. “Dr. David Bell passed in 2017. I wrote ‘Our Mother The Earth’ in 2020 during COVID-19. In my heart of hearts, I choose to believe that my friend David Bell co-authored the poem with me and was there in spirit when I recited it to a global audience last fall at the COP26 conference on Global Warming.” Poetry like science share many of the same insights and create new ways of thinking about the world, said Elder Redbird, who credited the theoretical physicist Carlos Rovelli with the original comparison. Elder Redbird asked the graduands to nourish their own hearts and minds by thinking of “nature as an Earth verse, like the Universe written by the Creator as beautiful, epic poem to embrace our spirits with love throughout our lifetimes.”

Elder Duke Redbird delivers his convocation address to graduands of the Faculty of Education
Elder Duke Redbird delivers his convocation address to graduands of the Faculty of Education

In closing his graceful story, Elder Redbird reminded all gathered for the convocation ceremony to continue to feed their own quest for knowledge because they too would eventually become ancestors. “Seven generations from now, the grandchildren of your grandchildren will be seeking the wisdom that you have learned and passed on in your lifetime,” he said. “I want to wish you every conceivable success as you continue to harvest the fruits of your enlightenment that may not have been tasted yet.”

Five faculty members receive 2022 President’s University-Wide Teaching Awards  

Vari Hall

Five individuals who have considerably enhanced the quality of learning for York students are recipients of the 2022 President’s University-wide Teaching Awards.  

The faculty members who will receive an award at the 2022 Spring Convocation Ceremonies include: Faculty of Health Professor Michael Connor, recipient in the senior full-time category; Faculty of Education Professor Susan D. Dion, recipient of the senior-full-time category; Lassonde School of Engineering Professor Andrew Maxwell, recipient of the full-time faculty category; Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) Professor Carolyn Steele, recipient of the contract and adjunct faculty category; and Janice Anderson of LA&PS, recipient of the teaching assistant category. 

Rhonda Lenton
Rhonda L Lenton

The purpose of the awards is to provide significant recognition for excellence in teaching, to encourage its pursuit, to publicize such excellence when achieved across the University and in the wider community, and to promote informed discussion of teaching and its improvement.  

“York University has a well-established reputation for high quality teaching,” says York University President and Vice Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton. “This past year was no exception, despite on-going challenges associated with the pandemic, as evident in the foundational work of our five extraordinary award recipients who found innovative ways to incorporate international activities, experiential education and technology-enhanced learning to inspire another generation of students to drive positive change in their communities and in the world. We are deeply grateful for the superb contributions of this year’s recipients as well as of all our course directors.” 

The awards demonstrate the value York University attaches to teaching and recognizes individuals who, through innovation and commitment, have significantly enhanced the quality of learning for York students. The recipients are selected by the Senate Committee on Awards. Recipients receive $3,000, have their names engraved on the University-Wide Teaching Award plaques in Vari Hall and are recognized at convocation ceremonies. 

The President’s University-Wide Teaching Award recipients are:

Full-time tenured faculty with 10 or more years full-time teaching experience 

Michael Connor

Professor Michael Connor was selected as a recipient in the senior full-time category. The nomination file prepared by Professor Angelo Belcastro speaks eloquently to Connor’s achievements in providing excellence towards student learning, in supporting teaching development, and in his dedication to program and curricular development as undergraduate program director (UPD) in the School of Kinesiology and Health Sciences. Connor has been influential in his role as UPD in ensuring excellence, quality, and exemplary service in leading the undergraduate program. Maintaining the quality of such a large program is time intensive, and yet Connor is noted to tirelessly make himself available to listen to, and address each student’s concern, no matter the request. A core feature to Connor’s teaching strategies has been to employ multiple teaching approaches such as technology-enhanced learning, critical thinking assignments, and experiential education which are all complemented by his clear passion for teaching.  

Connor also strives to make course content relatable and meaningful to students, and to make each student’s voice heard by creating a safe and inclusive environment to ask questions. In addition to his role as course director for two demanding courses, and his responsibilities as UPD, Connor has been recognized as an outstanding mentor to undergraduate and graduate students, having taken the time to supervise 23 undergraduate students for independent research studies (including two summer Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Undergraduate Student Research Awards (NSERC USRA) students) and 17 MSc and PhD graduate students thus far. Connor serves as Chair on the Faculty of Health Committee on Examinations and Academic Standards, and as a member of the Faculty of Health Committee on General Education Requirements where he has been on the task force for developing effective teaching and learning practices at the faculty level.  

Full-time tenured faculty with 10 or more years full-time teaching experience 

Susan D. Dion

Professor Susan D. Dion was selected as a recipient in the senior full-time category. The nomination file prepared by Professor Sean Hillier describes Dion as a shining example as an educator, scholar and community advocate. Dion is also an internationally recognized Indigenous educational scholar at the cutting edge of the field. The letters of support for her nomination consistently referred to Dion’s teaching style as clear, respectful, kind and supportive, always asking the best of her students and making accommodations for those who need time to develop their thoughts allowing all to think deeply and authentically. Dion is noted for thinking and writing about her scholarship, teaching and service contributions as inextricably interwoven, and works to embody her life as a University professor through the themes of community, story, cultural practice and ceremony.  

Dion sees cultivating relationships between the University and Indigenous Peoples is part of her responsibility. She has a particular focus on both what and how teachers teach and ways that systems operate regarding Indigenous education and on hearing and learning from the voices of Indigenous Peoples and their encounters within systems of education. During her 19 years at York University, she has worked with colleagues in the Faculty of Education, across the University and at universities across the country sharing stories of land, history and Indigenous perspectives. While she is committed to teaching non-Indigenous educators how to represent the humanity and diversity of Indigenous people’s experiences and perspectives, she is equally committed to creating opportunities for Indigenous students to access postsecondary education, and specifically to access programs that are relevant to their experiences, perspectives and needs. 

Full-time faculty (tenured/tenure stream/CLA) with less than 10 years teaching experience 

Andrew Maxwell

Professor Andrew Maxwell was selected as the recipient in the full-time faculty category. The nomination file prepared by Professor Alex Czekanski highlights Maxwell has played an active role on the undergraduate curriculum committee since joining Lassonde and has worked with many colleagues to enhance their course proposals and design. He is a leader in the deployment of new technologies in the classroom and online, including using TopHat, iClicker, PolleV, and Peer Scholar. His deep links in the community, both locally and internationally, have enabled him to invite multiple guests to the school, to stimulate student engagement, and inspire the next generation of engineers. In addition to mentoring undergraduate students and supporting graduate students, Maxwell’s role in the Bergeron Entrepreneurs in Science and Techology (BEST) Lab allows him to mentor and support over 20 budding technology entrepreneurs from Lassonde, the Faculty of Science and Schulich School of Business. He is also the mentor for Lassonde Engineering Society, Women in Science and Engineering (WISE), Lassonde Renaissance Engineering, and several other student activities.  

Maxwell pioneers new approaches to student learning, such as encouraging first-year engineering students to participate in non-engineering activities across campus, and through active promotion of, and participation in activities such as StartUp Weekend, Engineering Competition, ElleHacks and Engineers Without Borders. Specifically, he has transformed the annual Mercier lecture to a bi-monthly Mercier seminar, so that over 1,000 students a year can meet with visiting guests. This activity is complimented by his active role in the community, where he has videotaped 500 guest lectures, which he not only shows in his classes, but shares with the broader academic community. Maxwell is a member of the evaluation committee for the Academy of Management’s Entrepreneurship Pedagogy Award, where he provides feedback and guidance to those developing new entrepreneurship pedagogies. He is also a member of the Entrepreneurial Engineering Consortium, focusing on integrating aspects of the engineering and entrepreneurship curriculum. 

Contract and adjunct faculty 

Carolyn Steele

Professor Carolyn Steele is the recipient in the contract and adjunct faculty category. The nomination file prepared by Professor Bridget Cauthery speaks to Steele’s many achievements including developing new courses, consulting on curricular change, mentoring hundreds of students and stewarding numerous projects that have fundamentally shifted and reinvigorated teaching and learning at York University. She is also the recipient of many faculty teaching awards. In 2020, Steele received the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching for LA&PS and the Department of Humanities Award for Teaching Excellence. Since 2019, she has been a member of the Research and Innovation in Teaching and Learning Subcommittee convened by the associate dean as part of the Teaching and Learning Council. Currently, Steele is part of the leadership team on a proposed three-year University-wide Academic Innovation Fund project to embed Sustainable Development Goals into York’s curricular vision at all levels. In each of these capacities, Steele is recognized as a pioneering educator with a strong vision for curricular change. It is Steele’s commitment to teaching boldly, to supporting students in developing a growth mindset, to championing work-integrated learning, and to developing innovative yet sound teaching and pedagogical practice through her scholarship of teaching and learning and greater University service that distinguishes her as an innovative faculty member.  

This is further demonstrated in a letter of support provided by student Carolyn White which states, “Professor Steele’s approach to teaching and learning has contributed to my development in essential skills that will positively influence my future career, qualities such as critical reasoning, problem-solving and daring to take creative approaches to problems… In my view, she is exceptional as a teacher and a mentor in every aspect.”  

Teaching assistants 

Janice Anderson

Janice Anderson was selected as the recipient in the teaching assistant category. The nomination file, prepared by York University alumnus Zamani Ra speaks to Anderson’s impactful and innovative practices which directly contribute to the enhancement of student success. Anderson listens to the immediate needs of her students through one-on-one and office hour sessions, advocates for necessary support, and develops individual plans of action for student success. Anderson’s practices informed skills development in student writing, the implementation of course-wide critical reading sheets, and support for colleagues and students navigating university systems during the emergence of major institutional changes due to COVID-19. Recognizing the different learning abilities of students, Anderson pivoted to uncommon methods of engagement to maintain student interest and support critical thinking to the students’ own amazement. 

In a letter of support, student Chantelle Afriyie describes Anderson’s teaching approach as follows: “Care [is] an integral part of her teaching pedagogy. Students are encouraged to see themselves as valuable contributors to humanity first and foremost who have been afforded the privilege to share communal space in a university classroom and participate with their ‘whole self.’” Anderson created a recycling course material program that connected former students with new students. At the beginning of the semester, she held a raffle for new books and set students on a path to pay the learning forward by opting into a shared book/give back program which demonstrates true community building with other equity-seeking groups across intersectional lines. Highlighted in the letters of support in the nomination file is Anderson’s innate ability to safely engage emergent ideas from students and ensure they know their value in world-making practices. 

In previous years, four awards are offered each year in the noted categories. Following on past practice, the Committee came to the decision that two professors would share the award for full-time tenured faculty this year. The Committee found the nomination files for this category to be particularly strong and determined that both nominees are equally deserving of the award. 

In keeping with the committee’s commitment to valuing diversity and equity within the York community, the committee made sure to discuss these values during the adjudication process. 

Faculty of Education Professor Sharon Murphy receives title of University Professor 

A drone image of Vari Hall on the Keele campus

York University will honour Faculty of Education Professor Sharon Murphy for her outstanding research contributions to the University with a 2022 University Professorship. It will be recognized and celebrated during Spring Convocation.

A University Professor is a member of faculty recognized for extraordinary participation and contribution to university life, as well as scholarship and teaching success. The award is conferred upon long-serving tenured faculty members who have made extraordinary contributions to the University as colleagues, teachers and scholars.

Sharon Murphy
Sharon Murphy

Such achievement fulfills the following requirements: significant long-term contribution to the development or growth of the University or of its parts; significant participation in the collegium through mentorship, service and/or governance; sustained impact over time on the University’s teaching mission; and recognition as a scholar.

Murphy, who currently serves as associate dean, academic in the Faculty of Education, is an esteemed scholar and educator in early childhood language and literacy studies, in learning assessment and in the role of play and creativity in learning and child development. 

“Among the highest lifetime honours a university can bestow on faculty, the University Professorship is awarded to Sharon Murphy to recognize her extraordinary contributions to York and to the communities we serve,” says Rhonda L. Lenton, York University president and vice-chancellor. “A truly outstanding scholar with significant research impact and a devoted academic leader, Sharon’s many achievements and unfailing allegiance to York’s core social justice values – as well as her tireless work to prepare the next generation of Faculty of Education students – is a deep inspiration to all. Sharon is simply the best of us, and this honour is so richly deserved.” 

Murphy joined York University in 1988 after a career in education in Newfoundland and Labrador. During her time at York, she has held several leadership roles including: director of the Graduate Program in Education; associate dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies; undergraduate program director. She has also served as a coordinator for two graduate diplomas, and in 2020, stepped into the role of interim dean of the Faculty of Education during a challenging time in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Many of her contributions to the Faculty of Education revolve around her scholarly interests, including: the development of courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels; the development of graduate diplomas in early childhood education and in language and literacy; supervision of a significant number of graduate students; and a long history of active participation and leadership in local, national and international scholarly associations. 

As graduate program director, she participated on several committees to establish the Faculty of Education Doctoral Program and played an essential role in growing the program by expanding course offerings and diversifying the Faculty’s Summer Institute. She also co-developed the first Type 2 and 4 graduate diplomas offered at York, and is renowned for her work in co-developing and coordinating diplomas in early childhood education and language literacy. She supported the development of the first Graduate Students’ Guidebook for faculty and students, which continues to serve as the roadmap for students on their journey through their degrees. 

As well, at the completion of her term as graduate program director, she served as associate dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies where she turned her attention to the renewal of collegial governance structures and worked with graduate program directors, program staff and graduate students to come up with processes and procedures that ensure fairness, accountability, transparency and continuity. 

“As I have served the University in different capacities over the years, the thing that I have learned is how complex our institution is and how motivated staff and faculty are to have the lives we live here exemplify our motto – Tentanda via – the way must be tried – which is a wonderful testament to us all,” said Murphy. 

Her strategic leadership has greatly benefitted the York University community; Murphy has actioned several initiatives that align with York’s commitments to decolonization in education, equity, diversity and inclusion. She led the intensification and expansion of hiring Indigenous faculty, and also appointed a special advisor on anti-Black racism and inclusion. 

She is described by her nominators as an unfailing, trustworthy, and deeply fair leader who puts the University, and the Faculty of Education, first. 

York University commits $1M over three years to support Indigenous research  

Artwork by Métis (Otipemisiwak) artist Christi Belcourt

Indigenous research at York University will be supported with funding of $1 million over three years through the York University Indigenous Research Seed Fund. 

The fund provides emerging and established Indigenous scholars with support for research that advances excellence in Indigenous knowledge, languages and ways of knowing and being. 

A call for applications was administered by the University’s Indigenous Council, and in May, 10 scholars were awarded with Indigenous Research Seed Fund grants, receiving a total of $204,298. The applications for the seed fund were reviewed by a faculty committee chaired by the inaugural director of the Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Languages, Deborah McGregor, professor at Osgoode Hall School of Law.

The Indigenous Research Seed Fund will fund scholarly output to address colonialism and advance excellence in Indigenous scholarship. A further $795,000 has been committed to support Indigenous research over the next three years, for a total of $1 million. 

The fund was created by the Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation in collaboration with the Office of the Vice-President Equity, People and Culture in response to recommendations made in the the Indigenous Framework for York University: A Guide to Action. Guided by the Framework, and working in consultation with the Indigenous Council, the Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation (VPRI) supported the Decolonizing Research Administration Report and subsequent implementation plan that focused on addressing the University’s research administration practices and policies, and identifying further steps the University should take to better support Indigenous scholars.  

The fund builds on the University’s ongoing commitment to support emerging and established Indigenous scholars, their knowledge creation and the Indigenous communities they are working with. 

“The Indigenous Research Seed Fund supports York’s recognition of Indigenous world views and the importance of ensuring that Indigenous scholars have space and place to thrive.” said Sheila Cote-Meek, vice-president, equity, people and culture. “While this is an important milestone for York on its journey towards reconciliation and decolonization, we still have work to do. In order to bring about change and create a truly inclusive environment we must foster an environment where diverse views are nurtured and supported.” 

The Indigenous Research Seed Fund supports the goals of York’s Strategic Research Plan 2018-2023 which identifies Indigenous Futurities as an opportunity to advance social, cultural, artistic, legal, policy, economic and justice areas that holistically shape Indigenous experience. 

“Indigenous scholars and students have and continue to contribute significantly to the benefit and well-being of society. This investment signals York’s commitment to acknowledging and supporting Indigenous research and scholarly activity, now and in the future,” says Amir Asif, vice-president research and innovation. “The Indigenous Research Seed Fund aims to facilitate research that is relevant to Indigenous life and respects Indigenous approaches to knowledge and learning. The fund will foster opportunities to collaborate, engage with, and learn from Indigenous communities.” 

York’s 2020-2025 Academic Plan: Building a Better Future affirmed its commitment to the Indigenous Framework and identified six priorities for action for building a better future, including stronger relationships with Indigenous communities. 

Successful projects were awarded to: 

  • Delany McKenzie Allen, assistant professor, Department of English, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS) – Mapping Wampum Three Horizons 
  • Rebecca Beaulne-Stuebing, lecturer, Faculty of Education – The Full Moon Firekeeping Capacity-Building in Toronto 
  • Catesby Jennifer Bolton, PhD candidate, Department of History, LA&PS – National-Building: Exploring the Contributions of Anishinaabekwe to the Military, Their First Nation, and Canada 
  • Don Davies, postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Biology, Faculty of Science – Dementia Caregivers in the Metis Population 
  • Nicole Muir, assistant professor, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health – Parental Residential School Attendance, History of Foster Care and Incarceration: Urban Indigenous Peoples’ Experiences and Strengths 
  • Archer Pechawis, assistant professor, Department of Visual Arts & Arts History and Theatre, School of Arts, Media, Performance & Design – The Electric Jingle Dress
  • Brock Pitawanakwat, associate professor, Department of Humanities, LAPS – Anishinaabe Ethno-labour and Clan Responsibilities
  • Rebecca Lazarenko, PhD candidate, Department of History, LA&PS  Complices et victimes des projets coloniaux assimilateurs: les communautés francophones et Métis de l’Ouest (1890-1945)
  • Chandra Maracle, PhD candidate, Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change – Feeding the Good Mind: Nourishing the New Faces Coming and the Post-Partum Family
  • Cecilia Best, PhD candidate, Department of History, LA&PS – Intergenerational Resilience: A Survivor’s History of the Scoop 1950-2010

York welcomes the seventh North American Schelling Society conference to campus  

Laptop and coffee cup

NASS 7: Schelling and Philosophies of Life will be hosted at York University in a hybrid format, with an in-person meeting from May 24 to 26 in the Accolade East building at the Keele Campus and in an online meeting from May 30 to June 1.  

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling
Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling
Image: Wikimedia Commons

The North American Schelling Society (NASS) hosts a conference every other year in a different North American location. NASS7 has been postponed for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The theme of this year’s conference is “Schelling and Philosophies of Life.” Life is presented in diverse ways in Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling’s many works. Schelling’s nature philosophy gives prominence to organic life. Yet his emphasis on the activity of nature draws attention to the dynamic vitality of all natural phenomena. Many value Schelling’s work for its rich openings to spiritual life or the life of the mind. Some read his philosophy as a conspiracy of life and as exposing the tensions at the heart of philosophical systems. The conference also explores the connections of Schelling’s work to the philosophy of art and the history of philosophy. 

The conference will feature speakers from across North America as well as from across Europe. The North American Schelling Society is pleased to welcome several members of the Japanese Schelling Society for the first time to one of its meetings. 

Several York University graduate students will present papers at the conference. PhD students Robert O’Shea Brown, Cecilia Inkol and Chris Satoor in the Graduate Program in Humanities, are participating in the conference. Tyler Gasteiger and Shavez Imam, from the Graduate Program in Social and Political Thought, are also giving talks. Associate Professor Joan Steigerwald from the Department of Humanities is the organizer of the conference. Associate Professor Jay Goulding in the Department of Social Sciences is also presenting a paper at the in-person meeting. Conference details and schedules are available on the NASS website.  

Adrian Johnston, Chair and distinguished professor at the Department of Philosophy at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque and a faculty member at the Emory Psychoanalytic Institute in Atlanta will provide a keynote address during the NASS 7 conference. Johnston is the author of a number of books which address contemporary issues in philosophy, psychoanalysis, psychology, materialist theory, neuroscience and political theory. His current research interests have turned to Schelling’s nature philosophy.  

Participants who cannot attend in person will have access to the in-person presentations through the conference website. In-person participants may also participate in the virtual meeting. The website will have discussion forums for ongoing conversations. The conference website for this hybrid meeting is being maintained by York University Learning Technology Services. 

This event is sponsored by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Connection Grant; the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies; Department of Humanities; Vice-President Research and Innovation; Vice-President Academic and Provost; Faculty of Graduate Studies; Social and Political Thought graduate program; Department of Philosophy; Department of Political Science; and Faculty of Education. 

Further information about NASS7 can be found online. Registration is available through Eventbrite.  

Education research empowers youth to support planetary health

Usa globe resting in a forest - environment concept

Today’s youth will face some of the world’s most pressing challenges, including the climate crisis, global inequality and sustainability. Preparing young people with the educational tools and skills to navigate complex issues is a key driver behind the research of Faculty of Education Professor Kate Tilleczek.

Through the Young Lives Research Lab she leads, Tilleczek is working with, by and for youth to design revolutionary, innovative and community-based educational models that empower younger populations to respond to emerging global challenges while supporting their own personal and community well-being.

Professor Kate Tilliczek addresses new graduates
Professor Kate Tilliczek addresses new graduates of the Wekimün Project

“Education is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” explains Tilleczek, a Canada Research Chair in Youth, Education & Global Good. “As educators, our role must consider the different needs of different communities. What we need is not a set curriculum, but a model that can be adapted to what matters to youth, their communities and the planet.

“The kind of education I’m advocating for is one that opens up space for dialogue to talk about what one person can do, what one community can do. It is a shift towards understanding the place of education in youth socialization and development as it relates to planetary health.”

Tilleczek says that education will be key to achieving the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), which York University has pledged to support. The UN SDGs represent the blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.

“Education underpins every single SDG,” she says. “Young people’s lives are at the intersection of many of the SDGs, with climate justice being one of them.”

New knowledge

The Wekimün Project is one of the initiatives supported by the Young Lives Research Lab. With funding from Global Affairs Canada, Tilleczek and her team, including her Senior Research Assistant and Manager, Deborah MacDonald, worked with Indigenous communities in Chiloé, Chile to build a school and develop a community-centered approach to sustainable education for Indigenous Williche youth. The project successfully created a curriculum based on traditional knowledge informed by Indigenous youth and community members.

“Indigenous Peoples have experienced ongoing colonization for hundreds of years. This project puts those communities at the centre to design, implement and execute their own educational model,” says Pablo Aránguiz, a PhD student at Polytechnic University in Valencia, Spain, who is a visiting research Fellow and associate researcher with the Young Lives Research Lab, and professor of sustainable development for the Wekimün Project. “(It is) a model that addresses the problems of the planet, including issues such as climate change, biodiversity and pollution.”

Pablo Aránguiz (second from left) pictured with students

Wekimün, which translates to “new knowledge” in the Indigenous Williche language of Mapudungun, was integral to the creation of new relationships between people, but also with that of the Chiloé environment.

Tilleczek’s research at the Young Lives Research Lab has inspired a larger collaboration at York University through the Catalyzing Interdisciplinary Research Clusters (CIRC) grant, which was announced in December 2021. The project “The Partnership for Youth and Planetary Well-being,” brings together an interdisciplinary team that includes, among others: Tilleczek; Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Environmental Justice Deborah McGregor (Osgoode Hall School of Law, Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change); James Orbinski (Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research); and Postdoctoral Fellow in Planetary Health & Education James Stinson.

The research will employ ethnographic research to understand how young women, men and gender diverse people experience system inequalities and climate injustice, and how this impacts their well-being and ability to live sustainably. The project aims to support youth in sustaining life on the planet for healthier individuals and healthy communities.

Stinson is a cultural anthropologist working on a number of research projects centred around working with Indigenous youth in digital media production. Through the CIRC project, Indigenous youth will have the opportunity to head out into the field to record environment-themed content to connect with other youth, their Elders and the natural world.

“Research demonstrates that connecting to nature is really good for our mental and physical health, but consuming environment-related media – whether you’re seeing or hearing environmental images and sounds – can also have positive health benefits,” says Stinson.

“There are multiple pathways of learning that will take place for youth,” says Stinson. “The CIRC project will support youth with the skills to produce media content about the issues affecting their lives, their communities and the environment they live in. That information can be distilled to the broader community and with policymakers.”

Despite the challenges posed by climate change and environmental degradation, Tilleczek says that today’s youth are motivated and inspired.

“Young people may be overwhelmed by the challenges they face, but they are also hopeful,” says Tilleczek. “Being able to work alongside them, learning from their fresh ideas and perspectives makes me more hopeful for the future.”

Ron Owston Award to provide support for education students

three students look at a computer

A new award named after Ron Owston, who served as Dean of York University’s Faculty of Education from 2012-16, will provide financial support to students enrolled in the Faculty of Education’s Bachelor of Arts (BA) Educational Studies and Master of Leadership and Community Engagement (MLCE) programs.

Ron Owston
Ron Owston

Valued at $500 each, the awards will be granted to domestic or international students who, during their first year have a minimum 7.5 or A average and demonstrate financial need.

The BA Educational Studies and the Master of Leadership and Community Engagement programs were established under Owston’s leadership as dean of the Faculty of Education. A pioneer in teaching, learning, and research on the internet since its early days, he also was the founding director of the Institute for Research in Learning Technologies at York University.

“Since both of these programs are reasonably new and had no specifically designated student awards, I wanted to provide this opportunity for students in each of the programs,” said Owston. “The award will help ease the financial burden students in these programs face.”

Earlier this year, Owston decided to endow the award by committing to raise $30,000 over the next seven years.

Learn more about the Dean Ron Owston Award, or contact legacy@yorku.ca.

York professors receive awards from Government of Canada’s New Frontiers in Research Fund

research graphic

Two York University researchers have received research awards from the Government of Canada’s New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) special call for innovative approaches to research in the pandemic context.

Professors Natalia Balyasnikova (Faculty of Education) and Heidi Matthews (Osgoode Hall Law School) are the nominated principal investigators on the funded collaborative projects, which were announced earlier in April.

“During the pandemic, York University’s community of researchers have demonstrated creativity and ingenuity in pursuing research and scholarly activity despite many personal and professional challenges,” says Amir Asif, vice-president, research and innovation. “I am delighted to congratulate Heidi Matthews and Natalia Balyasnikova for their successful applications to the New Frontiers in Research Fund’s Special Call on innovative approaches to research in the pandemic context. Both research proposals identify novel methods for conducting community and field-based research and have the potential to transform how future research is undertaken in the fields of education and public policy.”

PhoneMe app: An innovative research approach to community literacy

Natalia Balyasnikova

Balyasnikova is the principal investor on the “PhoneMe app: An innovative research approach to community literacy” project. She will work with co-principal investigator Claire Ahn, assistant professor of education at Queen’s University and co-applicant Kedrick James, associate professor of teaching at the University of British Columbia. They will advance the PhoneMe project, a public digital platform featuring place-based poetry recorded on mobile phones.

Launched in 2017 as a community literacy research initiative and a digital map showcasing diverse site-specific poetic practices, the in-person work on the project was paused in 2019 due to the pandemic. Research activities were shifted online and in 2021, the research team launched a free PhoneMe mobile app that makes poetic data generation a user-driven autonomous process.

The PhoneMe app: An innovative research approach to community literacy project will evaluate the effectiveness of such mobile applications in the research of community connectedness in the time of social isolation and distancing. It will train diverse participant groups in generating multimodal data via the PhoneMe app to express their values related to places and spaces in their communities. The project will address the disruptive effect of COVID-19 on active community-engaged research and explore potential applications of mobile technology in qualitative research.

By creating opportunities for the community to draw on their own literacy practices, record poems in-situ, and share them on an interactive digital map, PhoneMe project addresses issues of self-representation in connection to the community spaces. In its first iteration, the project was carried out through researcher-led workshops and integrating data into an interactive digital map. In its current stage, the PhoneMe app places emphasis on user-generated content. It blurs the researcher/research participant divide and creates a unique inclusive space of digital dialogue and knowledge exchange in times of social isolation.

The project will create inclusive research protocols that deepen community leadership in this process and will effectively transform research into a process of community self-determination. The multimodal, user-generated data could be accessed by interdisciplinary groups researchers and research participants, expanding this research across disciplines.

Community Science and Accountability for Canada’s Colonial Genocide Past and Present

Heidi Matthews
Heidi Matthews

Matthews is the principal investigator on the “Community Science and Accountability for Canada’s Colonial Genocide Past and Present” project, which focuses on the state as perpetrator of colonial genocide.

It brings together a world-class team of legal, social science and policy scholars with Indigenous knowledge keepers and community leaders in the development of a “community science” tool – an interactive colonial genocide database – for documentation, analysis, policy (re)formulation, and education. Matthews will work with co-principal investigator co-principal investigator Yuzhi Joel Ong, assistant professor (School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design) and director of York University’s Sensorium: The Centre for Digital Arts and Technology. There is a broad cohort of researchers from York University involved in the project as co-applicants, they are: Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies (LA&PS) Professor Luann Good Gingrich (School of Social Work) and director of the Global Labour Research Centre, Assistant Professor Ian Stedman (School of Public Policy and Administration, Associate Professor Deborah McGregor (Osgoode Hall Law School and the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change), Assistant Professor Angele Alook (School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, LA&PS), Associate Professor Elaine Coburn, director of the Centre for Feminist Research, and Associate Professor Jeffery Hewitt (Osgoode Hall Law School). Collaborators on this project are Olivia Franks, research with the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres, and Ioannis Kalpouzos, visiting professor, co-founder and legal action committee member at Harvard University Law School and Global Legal Action Network.

This project aims to develop and test a decolonized research strategy integrating legal and policy analysis with research creation and community science, organized around the pillars of artmaking and accountability. Using crowdsourcing, it will build an interactive database of evidence, legal and policy recommendations, literatures, and artistic expressions of colonial genocide in Canada. The project will cultivate a novel approach to Indigenous-led research through a relational, reflexive and accountable data governance structure and methodology with particular attention to power relations. And finally, it will test how colonial genocide, as an analytic frame, can facilitate accountable truth-telling, highlight potential solidarities, and chart courses of redress.

Faculty of Education launches Public Lecture Series 

stack of books

The Faculty of Education is launching a series of talks that will feature leading scholars speaking about their research and scholarship on key publicly relevant issues in education and society. 

Dr. Robert Savage
Rob Savage

The first talk of the series, titled “Making sense of the great reading debate: A guide to the science and practice of helping all children read” will take place on April 27 at 7 p.m. via Zoom and will be delivered by Faculty of Education Dean Rob Savage.  

Savage will consider his own domain on early reading research and teaching. The goal of the talk is to help stakeholders in the community navigate through the complex and sometimes contested space of early reading teaching practices. Savage will review the research on the role of phonics and wider oral and written language in reading acquisition and its implication for practice and policy. A key goal is to dismantle unhelpful dichotomies that have held both research and practice back and to create positions that are “research-driven” but also informed by the complexities of children and classrooms. 

He will also describe two recent research themes exemplifying this needed balance, delivered at scale in Canada and around the world. The talk will be of interest to anyone seeking to learn more about aiding in all children’s early literacy including parents, teachers, administrators and policymakers.  

Savage is particularly interested in preventing early reading and spelling issues, often using technology. A school-based psychologist and classroom teacher by training, he has an interest in making schools effective learning places for all children. He is the author or co-author of more than 100 highly cited peer-reviewed journal and web articles, chapters and reviews, and frequently presents his research at international conferences. 

This free event is open to all members of the York community. Registration for the April 27 event is open.  

York launches online training hub to support equity, diversity and inclusion in research and search committees

Two students looking at a computer monitor

York University has launched Places of Online Learning for the Adjudication of Researchers Inclusively and Supportively (POLARIS), an online asynchronous education and learning hub to foster equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the adjudication of professors in research and search committees.

POLARIS is offered through a collaboration of the Offices of the Vice-President Research & Innovation, Vice-President Equity, Peoples and Culture and the Provost’s Office.

POLARIS allows professors to complete six core online modules on EDI for faculty adjudications that can be completed at their own pace. Faculty members who serve on search committees will also be required to submit a pre-module exercise, go through a seventh module on York search procedures and policies, and attend a synchronous online meeting with the Affirmative Action, Equity and Inclusivity Officer Tania Das Gupta and EDI Program Manager Christal Chapman.

This training will not be required by any search committee currently underway; however, it will be required for members of search committees and Vice-President Research & Innovation awards adjudication committees that begin their work after September 2022. Other University committees that adjudicate professors for awards at department, Faculty, or pan-University levels, can also access EDI training with POLARIS for their committee members before taking on their own faculty adjudications.

Rebecca Pillai Riddell
Rebecca Pillai Riddell

“POLARIS was inspired by a need for change by creating a system that invites research excellence from people who are typically overlooked and disadvantaged when it comes to research opportunities in academia,” says Rebecca Pillai Riddell, POLARIS Chair. “This platform creates a user-friendly journey that addresses challenges that adjudicators face when navigating the awards and faculty search process and provides a fulsome approach to hiring and adjudication.”

Certificates will be issued to professors and recorded to confirm their completion. Participants are encouraged to add this training to their CVs. POLARIS is available today for all York faculty and staff involved in research adjudication who would like to upgrade their EDI education right away and be able to pace out the core six modules, approximately two hours in total, over the spring and summer.

Each module is designed to support each step of the adjudication of faculty, from thinking about a unit’s readiness to hire or adjudicate awards from diverse faculty, to evaluating CVs and job interviews, to what needs to be done to build a more inclusive faculty adjudication system. Each module has four parts, including a personal narrative, a guidance video, a conflicts and challenges video, and a downloadable written summary for learners to keep.

“Excellence in research is founded on ideas and knowledge that come from people with diverse backgrounds and lived experiences,” says Sheila Cote-Meek, vice-president People, Equity & Culture. “POLARIS creates a stepping stone for EDI in research hiring and adjudication and will play an important role in supporting the University’s long-term goals and ongoing work in addressing the many forms of bias and discrimination in research and search committees.”

In addition, to help support the EDI practices of faculty, the Diversity Composition Report Generator application can be found on POLARIS site. This application allows faculty to request a report on the diversity of their search committee or adjudication committee, to integrate more tailored inclusivity strategies and consider the overall diversity of their research team or committee. The report is automatically generated through a process that respects the privacy and confidentiality of respondents on committees.

A workshop will be hosted and archived in the Research Commons to help professors and research staff learn about how the new training could improve their adjudication processes on May 9 at 2 p.m. Register for the workshop online.

“POLARIS provides a holistic approach to EDI training that is intended to underpin the work of search committees and research award adjudication committees to foster better awareness and education of their role in EDI,” says Amir Asif, vice-president research & innovation. “POLARIS will help initiate large-scale transformative and structural changes to the way York hires and adjudicates research opportunities.”

“York is a leading international teaching and research university, and a driving force for positive change,” says Lisa Philipps, provost and vice-president academic. “Through POLARIS, which offers rich and informative tools and videos, we can better support our faculty and through more inclusive adjudication, and ultimately better serve the York community.”

POLARIS was made possible by an EDI Stipend from the Canada Research Chairs Secretariat and matching funds by York University. It will be maintained by the Offices of the Vice-President, Research & Innovation and the Vice-President, Equity, Peoples & Culture.
Members of the POLARIS Leadership Committee:

  • Rebecca Pillai Riddell, POLARIS director, professor (Faculty of Health) and special advisor to the President for Faculty Relations and Equity
  • Ali Abdul-Sater, assistant professor, Faculty of Health
  • Annette Boodram, EDI program manager, Vice-President Equity, People & Culture
  • Abigail Vogus, strategic and institutional research specialist, Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation
  • Brad Meisner, associate professor, Faculty of Health
  • Carl James, professor (Faculty of Education), senior advisor on Equity and Representation to the Vice-President Equity Peoples and Culture
  • Denielle A. Elliott, deputy director, Tubman Institute, and associate professor, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Services
  • Elaine Coburn, director, Centre for Feminist Research and associate professor, Glendon Campus
  • Evan Light, associate professor, Glendon Campus
  • Ethel Tungohan, associate professor, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies
  • Paulina Karwowska-Desaulniers, director, Research Priorities and Partnerships, Research & Graduate Studies, Lassonde School of Engineering
  • Raymond A. Mar, professor, Faculty of Health
  • Susan Dion, professor (Faculty of Education) and associate vice-president Indigenous Initiatives
  • Alyson Nemeth, POLARIS operations manager