Creating and celebrating changemakers at EUC

gold and red stars

By Elaine Smith

The Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) at York University was formed in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, and began forging its identity during the challenging period of isolation and remote course delivery. The first Changemakers Celebration – slated to be an annual event – ushered in a special joy when the achievements of EUC educators were commemorated in person.

“I wanted to accomplish two things this year,” EUC Dean Alice Hovorka told the assembled students, staff and faculty during the April event. “I wanted us to build community, especially coming out of the pandemic when we find ourselves with new ways of being in the world, and I wanted to document our impact – thus, our Changemakers event.

“As a new Faculty, the first couple of years were spent telling people all about who we are, what we do and what our programs are. Now, I want us to tell stories about what we’re accomplishing and the impact we’re having on the York University community and well beyond.”

The celebration marked the launch of the inaugural EUC Impact Report and lauded student researchers, volunteers and leaders. First up were the recipients of the 2022 Dean’s Changemaker Awards: William Anthony, Justin Chan, Thereza Eric, Samantha Navalta and Kaitlin Pal. These five students were given paid placement opportunities with EUC’s living labs and were required to design and pursue a project that created change.

Dean Alice Hovorka, Kaitlin Pal, Thereza Eric, Justin Chan and William Anthony
Dean Alice Hovorka, Kaitlin Pal, Thereza Eric, Justin Chan and William Anthony

Many other students were recognized for their extra-curricular contributions to EUC during the celebration. Ann Tsirgielis, EUC’s student success advisor, congratulated the Faculty’s peer mentors, including Ryan Raymond Faria-Wong, the program coordinator.

Faria-Wong called his peers “highly dedicated individuals who go above and beyond to offer their knowledge and time to help others. … peer mentors assist in navigating questions and uncertainties and that goes a long way.”

Ann Tsirgielis, Summer Solmes, Kaitlin Pal, Ryan Raymond Faria-Wong, Phuong Tia Nguyen, Maya Olszewska, Sofia Colalillo, Emma Bramante, Catherine Lombardo
Ann Tsirgielis, Summer Solmes, Kaitlin Pal, Ryan Raymond Faria-Wong, Phuong Tia Nguyen, Maya Olszewska, Sofia Colalillo, Emma Bramante, Catherine Lombardo

Summer Solmes, a student leader, spoke about the value of student clubs, whose members were also celebrated.

“Student groups drive change in this Faculty because they are composed of hardworking and passionate individuals,” she said. “Being a member of a student group offers you a chance to grow into the person you will one day become; it is a chance to manifest your future self.”

Rosanna Chowdhury, experiential education coordinator, and Deena Shaffer, director of EUC’s Office of Student and Academic Services, offered praise for the many other engaged students, including participants in the governance process, work-study students, volunteers and student leaders. EUC recognized 50 graduate and 11 undergraduate students earning academic and research awards, including the EUC Research Award (EUCRA), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) awards, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) awards and many more.

The celebration also honoured recipients of the 2022/23 EUC Dean’s Awards.

Ilan Kapoor, Nashwa Khan, Joanne Huy
Ilan Kapoor, Nashwa Khan, Joanne Huy

Professor Ilan Kapoor was the recipient of the Dean’s Teaching Award (faculty) with his nominators praising his exceptional pedagogical abilities: “He brings complex and dense subject matter alive, encourages critical thinking and allows students to be their best.”

Nashwa Khan, received the Dean’s Teaching Award (graduate student) for her pedagogical innovation and student support. She noted: “As a first-generation student and a Muslim woman, I understand the challenges that students from unique, diverse backgrounds often face. I have strived to make my educational practice one that is rooted in equity and care.”

Paul Elliot, Nicki Hemmings & Dean Alice Hovorka
Paul Elliot, Nicki Hemmings and Dean Alice Hovorka

Joanne Huy, an alumni officer and EUC alumna, received the Dean’s Staff Recognition Award for her “unwavering commitment to excellence, creativity, innovation and leadership,” and her pivotal role in building community.

Finally, the Dean’s Impact Leader Award went to Nicki Hemmings, the departing human resources business partner, for her “substantive impact on our souls, hearts, processes, structures and culture,” said Hovorka.

The event concluded with the launch of the EUC Impact Report 2022/23.

“I want everyone to appreciate what EUC is doing to impact the world around us,” said Hovorka. “We’re enhancing the student experience, facilitating research excellence, advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and championing equity and Black inclusion.

“Like this celebration, I really see the report as a representation of all of us putting our best foot forward and working for more justice and sustainability in the world.”

For highlights from the inaugural Changemakers event, see the video below.

Congress 2023 screens Indigenous-focused films

film camera

By Elaine Smith

A group of female directors will bring their Indigenous-focused films to York’s Keele Campus during Congress 2023 in late May.

Both conference attendees and the general public will have the opportunity to see the works of Ange Loft, Martha Stiegman, Angele Alook and Paulette Moore free of charge as part of the conference’s community programming. They touch on a variety of issues and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including reduced inequalities, life on land and gender equality.

Loft, a multidisciplinary artist, and Stiegman, an associate professor in the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC), are part of Jumblies Theatre & Arts’ Talking Treaties project which is produced By These Presents: “Purchasing” Toronto and screens on May 28. The piece was created to explore the treaty negotiations between the colonizing British and the Mississaugas of the Credit, for the land the City of Toronto now occupies. Afterward, Amar Bhatia, co-director of Osgoode Hall’s Intensive Program in Indigenous Lands, Resources and Governments, will facilitate a discussion with members of the creative team.

“Using archival records and minutes of the treaty negotiations, we see the underhanded calculus and fraudulent means used to acquire Mississauga lands,” says Stiegman. “It [the film] uses sardonic humour as sugar on the medicine of truth to draw people in and engage them in a different way of learning about history so they don’t feel like they are doing homework.”

Alook, assistant professor in the School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies brings her work, pîkopayin (It Is Broken), to the screen on May 27. Part of the Just Powers project on energy transition and environmental and social justice, the film looks at the impacts of resource extraction on the community of Bigstone Cree Nation in Alberta, Alook’s home territory, which sits amidst the oil sands in the boreal forest. It documents traditional land users’ practices such as hunting, harvesting, and land-based teaching, while talking to the residents about their visions of the future on these lands.

The final films, VeRONAka and Rahyne, screen on June 1 and are followed by a panel discussion moderated by director Paulette Moore, an EUC PhD student, filmmaker and owner of The Aunties Dandelion media organization. VeRONAka is a 10-minute live-action fictional film, both humorous and serious, that explores the true story of how a Mohawk clan mother gave COVID-19 a Mohawk name, personifying the out-of-control virus. Once a person is in relationship with the virus, they can understand why it is here and ask it to leave. Rahyne is a short, animated film about an Afro-Indigenous non-binary teen whose identity is united through two water spirits. Moore will talk with Rahyne’s co-directors Queen Kukoyi and Nico Taylor about how film can help explore concepts of identity and naming. 

York University and the Federation for Humanities and Social Sciences will host Congress 2023 from May 27 to June 2. Register here to attend; community passes are available and term dates have been adjusted to align with timelines for this year’s event.

Centre for Bee Ecology, Evolution and Conservation hosts garden party for World Bee Day

Macro photo of green metallic sweat bee perched on a yellow flower

The Centre for Bee Ecology, Evolution and Conservation (BEEc) will once again mark the annual United Nations World Bee Day with new events designed to promote the health of local pollinators.

This year, for the first time, BEEc and the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) welcome all members of the University community to the EUC Native Plant Garden party on May 16 from 2:30 to 5 p.m.

World Bee Day, led internationally by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), is dedicated to acknowledging and spreading awareness of the plethora of vital environmental processes that depend on the often underappreciated work of Earth’s busy bees.

“Bees are one of the most important groups of pollinators in the world, yet most people are unaware that we have at least 350 species in the GTA alone,” explains BEEc Coordinator Victoria MacPhail. “The EUC Native Plant Garden is an oasis for them on a campus full of concrete and buildings, providing food, shelter and nesting sites throughout the year.”

Observed around the world on Saturday, May 20, this year World Bee Day will arrive early at York in order to allow for the participation of as many interested community members as possible.

“We’re excited to celebrate World Bee Day a few days early with the whole York University community, to take this opportunity to share our love and knowledge of bees with others,” MacPhail says. “We have a wealth of free resources and are happy to chat with people about what they can do to help pollinators, from planting native flowers to advocating for increased protections.”

A lush planter box full of a variety of species of wild flowers
One of the EUC native species planter boxes to be maintained for World Bee Day

The featured garden party event is sponsored in part by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada and is open to all staff, students and faculty, as well as members of the public from outside of the University. Attendees will learn from York’s expert mellitologists, as well as free handouts, pinned insect displays, example bee nests and more, about the highly diverse bee species indigenous to Toronto and Southern Ontario at large, as well as the local flora that they depend on for sustenance. As a part of this hands-on learning experience, guests will be able to contribute to the University’s floral biodiversity by planting new native species in the EUC garden and removing invasive species that are less conducive to the health of local pollinators.

“We’re so thrilled to invigorate our relationship and stewardship of this wonderful garden started by [Professors] Gerde Werkerle and Leesa Fawcett, among others, with the partnership of BEEc. Hundreds of students pass by or attend summer classes in this rooftop garden sitting atop lecture halls and we want them to come to know this lively oasis of over 40 species – some of them edible. May 16 will be a great start to what we anticipate will be an amazing season,” says Phyllis Novak, director of the EUC Maloca Community and Native Plant Gardens.

York community members who intend to join in the gardening are asked to RSVP here by Friday, May 12. Members of the public are encouraged to drop in to this event and are not required to register. No prior experience or personal equipment is required to join in the gardening. Participants are encouraged to dress for the elements as this event will run rain or shine.

MacPhail says gardening volunteers can expect to “see examples of bee species – from tiny, smooth, black solitary bees that are only a few millimeters long and can be mistaken for flies or ants, to the large, fuzzy bumblebees that can be up to a couple centimeters in size, and whose queens are easily seen this time of year.

“Toronto’s official bee, the green metallic sweat bee – or Agapostemon virescens – has already been seen nesting in the garden, and we are confident that the upcoming garden party will help to improve the habitat for it and many other wildlife species,” she adds.

Additional BEEc-hosted events will run following the garden party and in the lead up to the official World Bee Day, including a cocktail fundraiser to help endow a fund for EUC graduate students studying bees on May 17 in Markham, as well as a Scholars’ Hub virtual seminar on May 18 detailing the leading-edge research on bees being carried out at York.

For more information on these supplemental Bee Day events, contact beec@yorku.ca or see the BEEc news and social media page.

Visiting artist Zeelie Brown to celebrate Black, queer ecologies through quilt-making

quilt patches
quilt patches

The Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) welcomes visiting Artist-in-Residence Zeelie Brown from May 11 to 19.

Artist Zeelie Brown holding cello under dramatic teal lighting
Zeelie Brown

Brown’s artistry stems from her upbringing in rural Alabama. She creates Black and queer refuges called “soulscapes” – blending sound, performance, installation, wilderness and more to provide solace and challenge systemic oppression.

Hosted by EUC Professor Andil Gosine, Brown will collaborate with the Faculty to create a quilt, exploring the intersections of Black and queer identities and nature, which will be shared at Gosine’s keynote lecture at the Sexuality Studies Association conference as part of the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences on May 29.

Staff, students and faculty are encouraged to attend a meet-and-greet with Brown on May 18 at 10:30 a.m. in HNES 138.

Brown met with graduate student researcher Danielle Legault to talk about her upcoming visit.

Q: Can you please share a bit about who Zeelie Brown is?

A: Well, I am an installation artist, cellist and butcher. I am from the woods of Alabama and San Antonio, Texas, where I grew up going back and forth between both places. In my practice I am very much concerned with environment and space. I’m concerned with the ideas of wilderness, Black people’s experience of wilderness, the idea of wilderness as a constructed place, and how queerness, humanity and grace intersect in order to envision and build a more sustainable future.

Q: Can you describe what goals you have for your visit to Toronto and York University?

A: I’m only here for a week, so I’m excited to engage in the exploration of art, craft and culture and to share my perspective, the place I come from and the struggles of that place. These include struggles around adequately weatherproofed housing, the continued colonial legacy of environmental racism, the racism embedded within the landscape architecture of the American project – America being considered a continent and not just a country here – and struggles around place building and the intersections of Blackness, queerness and different identities. And more than all of that, the ability to create from, and beyond, those places.

I’m also excited to learn more about Canada and about Toronto. I’ve met other queer activists through work that I’ve done in the past that I’m interested in following up with. I’m excited to see where our struggles can meet one another and support one another.

Q: You will be working on a project with Professor Andil Gosine while you are here. Can you share some details about that?

A: I’ll be making a collaborative community quilt with York University students and Professor Gosine, centered around ideas contained within his book, Nature’s Wild. The quilt will be a meditation on the intersection of the students’ own personal expressions of their identities and their own interfaces with nature and the ideas of Blackness, wilderness and being from the margin. So, we’re making a quilt, but I’m really interested in pushing the boundaries and exploring what form the quilt will take.

Q: Can you speak about the significance of quilting and how it can push boundaries?

A: In Alabama, we’re world-renowned for our quilting tradition. But to me, quilting is about taking the things that are left over and making art of the discards. It comes from a very long African tradition of abhorring waste. Lots of traditions have this, where “waste not, want not” is traditionally part of the culture.

I think often art is seen as a solitary exercise and not as a means of holding and tying together a community. But what did those quilts in Alabama do? They reminded people of their lost loved ones. They kept people warm. They have a very practical function. And in a situation of enforced dearth, where a Black rural culture that has given everything to the American project is being inhaled, robbed and tied to a racist myth constructed to keep the plantation class rich in their culture and power. The community takes its scraps and makes art and warmth, and joy and love.

Q: Is there anything you would like to share with the York community before your arrival?

A: I want to thank Toronto, York and Professor Gosine for having me here. I would like to emphasize thinking about the folks back home in the Black Belt who, due to the soil tectonics of that region, which were very conducive to growing cotton, have limited, if any, access to adequate sewage and are penalized by the state for the state’s failure. I want to uplift the work of Black folks in rural America.

When we slow down and take time for the rituals, like quilting, cooking, care, cultivating – when we start viewing these acts as important as profit, things start coming together and problems start getting solved. But when everybody’s after a quick buck, there’s often only so many quick bucks to be had.

Going back to what the goal of my time at York is; the goal of my project is to slow down, to create community and to revive traditions that are nearly lost because they don’t make money fast, yet have kept folks alive through some of the most harrowing and wretched treatment that humans have ever inflicted upon each other.

EUC professor’s book illustrates ‘power of nature to thrive’

Abandoned red brick building overtaken by plantlife

The Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) will host a launch event for Associate Professor Jennifer Foster’s latest book, Post-Industrial Urban Greenspace: Ecology, Aesthetics and Justice (2022) on Friday, May 19 at 1 p.m. in HNES 142.

Jennifer Foster close-up portrait
Jennifer Foster

Inspired by “the power of nature to thrive – no matter the conditions – and the impressive ways that communities build restorative and reparative futures in these places,” Foster’s book examines the means through which urban environments become habitats. For the book’s launch, Foster will discuss her work with a guest panel featuring: Sean Kheraj, environmental historian, vice-provost at Toronto Metropolitan University and host of the Nature’s Past podcast; Loren March, PhD candidate at the University of Toronto; and David Miller, former mayor of Toronto and managing director of the C40 Centre for City Climate Policy and Economy.

To accommodate all potential viewers, this event will also broadcast via Zoom. To join the broadcast contact Denise McLeod.

In anticipation of the book launch, Foster met with graduate student researcher Danielle Legault to talk about urban habitat creation in old industrial sites, and their social and biological significance.

Q: Can you speak to how this book fits into the longer trajectory of your academic work?

A: My work explores urban habitat creation, including examining contemporary environmental orthodoxies, or received wisdoms about how nature works, in favour of more nuanced interpretations that incorporate concepts like novel ecologies, queer ecologies, anti-colonial ecologies and environmental justice.

Since the mid-2000s, my work has focused specifically on post-industrial urban greenspaces and their evolution in relation to environmental justice concerns. This involves a lot of field work, which I love. I get to explore some of the most fascinating urban spaces – for instance, old factories, dumps, rail lines – and talk to people who care deeply about these places.

This book is about old industrial sites that have been abandoned, or at least left to be without formal management. These sites are not conventionally beautiful, they are typically evaluated as unsafe and their ecologies are scorned as overgrown weeds. Yet, they offer some of the best opportunities for ecologically rich and socially inclusive greenspace. They are life-giving hotpots, nuclei of urban bounty. And they function as alternative public spaces that provide relief from surveillance and other stressors, as well as opportunities for pleasure that diverge from the mainstream.

Q: What drew you to Milwaukee, Paris and Toronto as sites of exploration in your book?

Post-Industrial Urban Greenspace book cover
Post-Industrial Urban Greenspace: Ecology, Aesthetics and Justice (2022) by Jennifer Foster

A: Each of these cities offers insight into possibilities for large-scale old industrial urban spaces, and together they demonstrate that nothing is predetermined. Milwaukee is my mother’s hometown, and it’s a place where people are very proud of their working-class manufacturing roots. It’s also an incredibly beautiful and ecologically rich city. After the industrial core of Milwaukee was devastated in the 1980s and ‘90s, and the large central valley became a putrid no-go zone, a local community health center led the charge in imagining a future for this valley that serves existing residents. Emphasizing the social determinants of health, the valley was cleaned up, made accessible and inviting, and re-industrialized with quality jobs for local residents.

I spent my youth on the edges of Paris, thanks to my father’s job. Paris is glamourous and picturesque, but up to the early 1990s the edges of the city were also heavily industrial. Friends and I loved trespassing to explore the rail line that connected the city’s factories, abattoirs and warehouses. When the trains stopped running along the tracks and the rail company let it all go wild, this 32-kilometer ring became one of the most stunning urban greenspaces. I had to return and get to know it once again.

Anyone who has spent time at Toronto’s Leslie Street Spit knows that it defies description. It is a former construction waste dump, it is a world-class birding site and it is an archive of the buildings and communities that have been destroyed. It is a place of refuge from the city, it is a landscape of astounding biodiversity and it is home for many people. I have been visiting the Spit since I came to Toronto in the mid-1990s and it is my favourite part of the city.

Q: What actionable steps for promoting equitable, sustainable development do you hope readers will discover?

A: Letting go of conventional conceptions of ecology is crucial, as is becoming curious about the incredible beauty and richness of so-called degraded urban lands. I am not a fan of hiding the scars of industrial development or sanitizing industrial legacies, and I hope that we can move away from the habit of “greening over” these spaces through park planning and design. Embracing novel ecosystems, including those comprised of ostensibly exotic or non-native species, allows us to support urban environments that are self-sustaining and richly biodiverse habitats. This means resisting conventional Western aesthetic conceptions of what is beautiful, appropriate and ecologically desirable. Whenever possible, the needs and preferences of marginalized communities must be prioritized, as well as those with historic connections to industrial labour and working-class experiences of these places.

Finally, I hope that we can become more comfortable with the ideas of vacancy and indeterminacy, that urban spaces don’t always have to fit into recognizable categories with functional identities in relation to neoliberal progress. I hope that we can leave these spaces to evolve in unexpected ways, with unplanned uses that respond to the needs of alternative lived experiences.

Q: Having completed this book, how do you see your work moving forward in the future?

A: I will continue exploring the core themes of this book, such as urban political ecology, environmental justice, novel ecologies and habitat creation. But my work going forward will focus even more on ecological repair and restorative urban landscapes. I am particularly interested in prison ecologies, based on the experiences of incarceration of many of my family members and friends. I am inspired by energy and leadership of Indigenous scholars, activists and communities, and plan to do a lot of close listening and thinking about how we invest in anti-colonial futures. Whatever happens, I know that I will be spending a lot of time in messy ecosystems.

EUC celebrates professor’s book on Indigenous land claims in B.C.

Book club image for YFile

York University’s Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) is celebrating the launch of Professor Patricia Wood’s latest book Unstable Properties: Aboriginal Title and the Claim of British Columbia (UBC Press, 2022).

Patricia Wood's close-up portrait
Patricia Wood

Wood celebrates this accomplishment alongside her co-author, David Rossiter, professor at Western Washington University and a York Geography alumnus.

The Faculty invites the York community and beyond to attend the book launch event on Monday, May 1 from 10:30 a.m. to noon in HNES 138. The event will also be broadcast on Zoom; for a zoom link contact Denise McLeod.

Wood will be joined by Assistant Professor Martha Stiegman and Matthew Farish, of the University of Toronto’s Department of Geography and Planning, who will discuss the book’s arguments and contributions. The moderator for the discussion will be Leora Gansworth, York geography PhD alumna and Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow at Osgoode Hall Law School.

As a precursor to the event, Wood met with graduate student researcher Danielle Legault to answer several questions about the new book.

Q: How does this book build on your previous research work, and what inspired you to write it?

A: David Rossiter and I have been researching the historical, political and legal geography of Indigenous title in B.C. for about 20 years. It started with a project on the referendum that the provincial government, under (former) Premier Gordon Campbell, held in 2002 about the “principles” of treaty negotiations. That became our first published article together, in The Canadian Geographer, in 2005. Several more articles, presentations and op-ed pieces followed on specific aspects, but there was a larger story that we wanted to tell that needed a book-length manuscript to do properly.

Q: What inspired your choice of British Columbia as the site of exploration in this book?

A: British Columbia is an important site of Indigenous-settler relations because the vast majority of the territory the Crown claimed was never “conquered” nor ceded by treaty. The Crown’s claim, even according to its own law, is without solid moral or legal foundation. It is thus inherently unstable.

Q: Can you discuss the unique approach of Unstable Properties in reframing the topic of Aboriginal claims to Crown land?

Unstable Properties: Aboriginal Title and the Claim of British Columbia
Unstable Properties: Aboriginal Title and the Claim of British Columbia by Patricia Wood

A: We would emphasize that the question is one of Crown claims on Indigenous land, not the other way around. This is at the heart of our approach. It has always been the Indigenous claim that is subjected to scrutiny, as a “burden” on the Crown claim. This is backwards; it is the legitimacy of the Crown’s claim that needs to be examined. It is Canada that needs to reconcile its actual history and present with its alleged principles of democracy and justice.

We also want to emphasize that what progress has been made on resolving these questions and moving forward towards a more just relationship should be credited to Indigenous individuals and organizations who did the political and legal work to compel the Canadian state to – start to – recognize the hypocrisy, injustice and violence of settler-colonial land claims.

Our argument about the instability of the settler claim to Indigenous land in British Columbia isn’t intended to suggest British Columbia is exceptional and everywhere else is fine, but rather that it exposes the problems of settler-colonial claims across Canada, and should lead us to question what existing treaties mean, under what circumstances they were established, and what kind of relationship we want to pursue from here.

Research is not politically neutral, and a lot of talk about “reconciliation” can be pretty superficial. We’re trying to contribute to a path that is more meaningful and material, where Indigenous sovereignty and land rights are part of the plan. Facing our history and decolonizing our thinking is not just in our publications; bringing this to the curriculum and the classroom is just as important.

Q: Having completed this book, how do you see your work moving forward in the future?

A: We know we still have miles to go, and Dave and I plan to continue to pay attention to specific cases that Indigenous organizations raise to see where we can help with research that exposes the instability of the settler claim, in hopes that it helps pressure settler governments to come to the table and negotiate honestly and fairly.

About the authors

Wood is a professor at the York University’s Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change. Currently, Wood is a visiting scholar in the Department of Geography and the Indo-Canadian Studies Centre at the University of Mumbai. Her research addresses topics of Indigenous sovereignty and settler colonialism, political ecology and citizenship and governance. Rossiter is a professor in the College of Environment at Western Washington University. He completed MA and PhD degrees in the graduate program in geography at York University.

Welcome to the April 2023 issue of ‘Innovatus’

Header banner for INNOVATUS

Welcome to our April issue of Innovatus. This month, our newsletter shines the spotlight on the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) as it celebrates Earth Month.

Will Gage
Will Gage

Each month, the Faculty continues to find innovative ways to respond to some of the most pressing challenges facing people and the planet. During Earth Month, which takes place every April, we have an opportunity to raise ecological awareness of the pressing issues impacting our people and planet, and EUC sees students as future changemakers. 

“Our Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change is especially inspired by and committed to students. We are empowering students with fundamental knowledge, critical thinking skills, hands-on experience and global perspectives throughout our program offerings. Undergraduate students can choose majors in environmental arts and justice, environmental science, global geography, sustainable environmental management or urban studies. They can also mix and match these options through minors or certificates according to their passions and interests,” EUC Dean Alice Hovorka says in the welcoming address from the dean.  

“Our programs highlight career readiness as a means through which students can realize their potential as changemakers in the workforce as problem solvers, policymakers, planners and leaders.” 

With its focus on experiential education for students, EUC is showcasing the living labs, the transformative change, and the equity, diversity and inclusivity in its programs.  

This issue of Innovatus offers you a glimpse at several of the innovative initiatives the Faculty provides its students. Our first story demonstrates EUC’s commitment to its living labs, such as the Ecological Footprints Initiative, Zig Zag Gallery, Maloca Garden, Waste Wiki and Las Nubes. EUC students undertake a change project through a Dean’s Changemaker Placement (DCP), showcase it at a networking event and then apply for the Dean’s Changemaker Award. The innovative work of these DCP students helps them become career ready and provides them with an opportunity to work with EUC’s living labs.  

EUC’s dedication to student success is also evident in the Black Mentorship Program starting in Fall 2023. The initial phase consisted of a consultation with the EUC community (staff, alumni, students and faculty) focused on Black futures to inform best practices to ensure visibility, Black student success and accessibility. The new program also highlights the Faculty’s commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion in its EUC Black Inclusion Action Plan 2020-2025 Action Plan.  

Student success, broadly speaking, is a large part of EUC’s student education. Our third article demonstrates how, on alternating Tuesdays and Thursdays, EUC offers specialized lunch-and-learn opportunities, which influence employability and can help advance career success and satisfaction among students. Finally, in our last article, the range of experiential educational opportunities available to EUC students is detailed, emphasizing their positive impacts on students.  

We hope you enjoy learning more about the path EUC has created to ensure a better future for all of us, especially as we enter this new world of unprecedented environmental change.  

Will Gage
AVP, Teaching & Learning

Faculty, course directors and staff are invited to share their experiences in teaching, learning, internationalization and the student experience through the Innovatus story form, which is available at tl.apps01.yorku.ca/machform/view.php?id=16573.


EUC empowers students as future leaders for green labour shift 
Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) Dean Alice Hovorka shares how the Faculty is empowering its students as changemakers and future leaders for a labour shift toward “green jobs.”

Dean’s Changemaker Placements offer unique experience 
The guiding principle behind placements with the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change’s living labs is that students must design projects that have the potential to create change. 

Lunch n’ Learn pilot a pathway to career opportunities 
First-year student Anthony Loschiavo has turned the resume guidance he received at his York University Faculty’s Lunch n’ Learn program into a summer position with the Toronto Region Conservation Authority.

Consultation first step in creating EUC Black Mentorship Program
EUC is launching a Black student-to-alumni mentorship program to enhance learning opportunities and support for  the Faculty’s Black students.

EUC champions hands-on learning, creating immersive outside classrooms
The Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) is dismantlig the traditional four walls of a classroom for students.

EUC empowers students as future leaders for green labour shift 

Earth at night was holding in human hands. Earth day. Energy saving concept, Elements of this image furnished by NASA

Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) Dean Alice Hovorka talks about creating opportunities for students to become changemakers as the future of work evolves to focus on “green” jobs.

When it comes to future job opportunities for students, GREEN is the new black.

Alice Hovorka
Alice Hovorka

Climate action commitments by national governments and international organizations come with increased investments to achieve climate resiliency and demand for millions of new jobs over the next decade.  

Openings for ”green jobs” related to the environment will increase by 17 per cent over the next three years according to labour market research from Environmental Careers Organization (ECO) Canada. Globally, the shift to a greener economy could create 24 million new jobs around the world by 2030 according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). The push for net zero transitions has ignited dedicated sustainability and ESG streams in public, private, not-for-profit and civil society sectors; new jobs are emerging in sectors not traditionally thought of as “green.” Notably, equity-based solutions and “just climate resilience” are important parts of these trends.  

According to Smart Prosperity Institute’s 2022 report on Job and Skills in the Transition to a Net-Zero Economy, Canada’s workforce lacks knowledge and skills vital to sustainable and just transitions. Training and capacity building is urgently needed. Specifically, economic transformation, creation of sustainable cities and providing clean energy solutions, for example, require changing technology or processes to meet environmentally focused market or policy-driven changes. They also require visioning, leading and managing the transition with jobs found more in policy, decision-making and planning realms.  

As the future of work evolves through a greener economy and societal commitments to justice and sustainability, EUC is empowering students as changemakers and future leaders for this labour shift.  

We are doing so by offering professional development and career readiness opportunities – fully informed by our commitments to equity, diversity and inclusion – within our academic programs and through extra-curricular career pathway initiatives.  

Our EUC undergraduate and graduate programs are preparing students with the knowledge and skills needed to fully embrace the “green jobs” coming our way. We are training students who can understand, analyze and implement climate policies, who have geographical and ecological expertise, who are well versed in monitoring and assessing environmental and urbanization trends, who are authentically attending to issues of diversity, equity and inclusivity, and who excel in critical thinking, consensus building, leadership and communication skills needed for shaping a more just and sustainable future.  

And as you will read within this issue of Innovatus, EUC is preparing students directly for the increasingly green job market through innovative initiatives such as the Dean Changemaker Placements in EUC living labs, Lunch n’ Learn career seminars, an upcoming Black Mentorship Program linking students and alumni, and immersive outside classrooms that bring students into the community.

Alice Hovorka
Dean, Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change

Dean’s Changemaker Placements offer unique experience 

Eco campus bridge

By Elaine Smith

Since she’s planning a career in environmental law, undergraduate student Kaitlin Pal was thrilled that the Dean’s Changemaker Placements at York University’s Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) funded her to undertake a summer project related to her interests.

Kaitlin Pal
Kaitlin Pal

The placements program offers students the opportunity to apply scholarly knowledge through paid positions with EUC’s living labs: Ecological Footprint Initiative, Zig Zag Gallery, Maloca Garden, Waste Wiki and Las Nubes EcoCampus. The guiding principle behind the placements is that the students must design projects that have the potential to create change. 

“I was looking for a summer job that was related to my research interests and came across the Dean’s Changemaker Placements,” said Pal, a second-year environmental arts and justice (BES) student. “There was an open call to apply, so I applied to all of the labs and got assigned to the one that interested me most.” 

Pal spent the summer working with the Ecological Footprint Initiative, a group of researchers and organizations who work together to advance the measurement of ecological footprint and biocapacity, which includes cropland, grazing land, built-up land, fishing grounds, forest products, and forest carbon uptake, providing measurements by country, as well as worldwide. Her task was to run the lab’s social media accounts, which required featuring the data in meaningful ways. She also developed a strategy report for the team so they could keep the accounts active.  

In addition, she pursued her own change project: a research paper that applied environmental metrics to the land claim case being put forward by Saugeen Ojibway Nation. She estimated the biocapacity – or number of biologically productive global hectares – for the area being claimed. The goal of this project is to apply these metrics to this land claim to determine the value of the land that has been dispossessed.  

Pal, who has continued working with the team part-time during the academic year, has already presented her work at an Ecological Footprint event and will do so again in May at the Dean’s Changemaker Exhibit. She also hopes to be accepted to present her research at the Canadian Society of Ecological Economics conference. 

“I’m trying to get it out there,” Pal said. “Initially, I was pretty nervous about presenting, but they’ve given me a lot of opportunities that have allowed me to improve. I’ve grown in terms of confidence in a professional setting.”

Thereza Eric
Thereza Eric

One of her professors encouraged fourth-year environmental studies student Thereza Eric to apply for a Changemaker’s Placement in eco arts, and she took up the challenge this past fall, continuing through the academic year.  

“I like and practise art myself,” Eric says. “I had to create a project to implement change in the Faculty, and I wanted to build community through art. This has been a very transitional time as people return to campus from the COVID-19 lockdown and I thought about rebuilding community and how art could help do that.” 

Reviving and programming EUC’s Eco Arts and Media Festival post-pandemic was a major focus of Eric’s work. The February festival brought faculty, staff and students together through events such as workshops and art exhibitions. The theme of the festival was “Mending,” and Eric was eager to repair the damage to the sense of community lost during the months of remote learning. 

A collaborative mural was one of her favourite events, because it brought students together in an informal way. Everyone who dropped by the student space where the canvas was laid out was invited to paint a part of the mural. Ultimately, it provided what Eric calls, “a mosaic of the students and cultures involved in our Faculty.” 

Eric says that the Changemaker’s Placement allowed her to “realize my skills in a professional setting.” Initially, she fell victim to imposter syndrome, wondering “Who am I to host workshops and be an event promoter?” Soon, she became comfortable in her role and tasks became second nature as her skills came to the fore. 

As she finishes her placement, she is creating a handbook that contains a record of her work and tips for navigating the position in future. 

“I had to start from scratch, so I want to pass on any strategies that worked,” she said.

Samantha Navalta
Samantha Navalta

Samantha Navalta, who is in the third year of her undergraduate degree in sustainable environmental management, also had a Changemaker Placement. She worked with the Las Nubes EcoCampus, focusing on expanding the communications and marketing program for the Casita Azul library there. It was the perfect way to mix her interest in the environment with her advanced diploma in public relations. 

“When I first joined the library team, I did an online search and couldn’t find much information about their place in the EcoCampus,” Navalta said. “I wanted to make it clear that the library was a part of York and that it served both the campus and the surrounding community.” 

Navalta is also updating and refreshing the library’s branding to fit with York’s brand, which means revising the website, communications materials and handbook. 

“While working in public relations, I knew I needed a deeper connection to my own interests,” she says. “York is so big in environmental studies that I really feel at home and in the right place for my career. This placement feels like a good fit, because I’m doing what I want to do and can see that it’s something I want to do in the medium- and long-term. 

“It has given me real-life skills and has helped me be excited about potential career prospects.”

Dana Craig
Dana Craig

Dana Craig, director of Student Learning and Access Services for York University Libraries, was thrilled to have a student with marketing expertise to assist her in promoting the Las Nubes library. 

“Casita Azul is the connector between York and the community, but it’s hard to explain what it is because it has so many audiences,” Craig said. “We needed a student voice to help make it more visible in the Las Nubes universe and Samantha has that magical communications experience in environmental education, so we hit the jackpot. 

“Changemakers is definitely a successful program.” 

Lunch n’ Learn pilot a pathway to career opportunities 

Two women chatting over coffee

By Elaine Smith

First-year student Anthony Loschiavo has turned the resume guidance he received at his York University Faculty’s Lunch n’ Learn program into a summer position with the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA). 

“I attended a session about resumes and cover letters and created a resume with help from Aren Sammy, our Faculty’s experiential education (EE) coordinator,” said Loschiavo, who is in the sustainable energy management program at the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC). “I took my resume to a career fair in January and talked to the people at the TRCA booth. I discovered they had field assistant positions available each summer. I applied for a number of them, had interviews in February and will begin working for TRCA’s Erosion Hazard Management Division in April. 

“The Lunch n’ Learn I attended was the seed for all of this. I’m glad the Faculty offers this kind of assistance.” 

Sammy and her fellow EE coordinator Rosanna Chowdhury are delighted by Loschiavo’s success and hope other EUC students will find the sessions equally helpful. 

“We knew that Career Education & Development offered workshops, but green careers are so specialized that we decided to tailor a professional/skills development series to our EUC students’ needs,” Sammy said. “These sessions provide our students with the opportunity to receive coaching and development from York staff, alumni and industry partners.”

EUC lunch n learn
Both undergraduate and graduate students, as well as recent graduates, attend the Lunch n’ Learn sessions

The Lunch n’ Learn sessions take place during the lunch hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the fall and winter terms. Students can attend in person or virtually, although the organizers see additional benefit to the in-person option. 

“The sessions were always held on the same days and time, so we fostered a community each semester,” Sammy said. “Everyone was growing with each other. They could collaborate, compare and communicate about the plans they were putting into action, and it was heartwarming to see the students wanting to help each other.” 

Sammy and Chowdhury promoted the sessions on social media channels and through internal communications networks. They drew undergraduate and graduate students, as well as recent graduates, to the sessions. The topics addressed the basics of professional development, such as resume writing and interview preparation. Other topics included career well-being and optimizing a LinkedIn profile. People in the field also share their experiences. 

“We scheduled the first month of the programming and used the feedback from participants to develop the programs for the next month,” Sammy said. 

They drew on faculty and staff experts to lead the sessions and also reached out to external partners such as the City of Toronto. Staff from the Prince’s Trust Canada, a not-for-profit organization inspired by King Charles III, delivered a series of four workshops focused on Green Career Excellence. 

“The concept of sustainability and partnership has always resonated with me,” said George Amoh, program manager with Prince’s Trust Canada. “Through these workshops, I am able to combine my passions more interactively and inclusively … It will be great to host more workshops and inspire people to pursue and obtain green jobs authentically.” 

The organizers are pleased by the success of the program and plan to continue beyond the pilot to the 2023-24 academic year. 

“We want to make this a recurring annual item,” Chowdhury said. “We want our students to learn about career paths and benchmarks that indicate where they should be in their career planning so that they aren’t panicking when they reach their final semester before graduation.” 

As climate change becomes increasingly apparent, “every organization is looking for sustainability personnel,” Sammy noted. “The opportunities are vast but specific, so a specialized program is key to our students’ success.”