EUC provides opportunities to high-school students

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A recent initiative highlights how York University’s Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) is helping high-school students reach their potential as the next generation of sustainable changemakers.

With the ongoing climate challenges the world faces, the need for active citizenship and environmental stewardship has never been greater. It’s why EUC has made an ongoing effort to provide climate, sustainability and social justice education for the leaders of tomorrow.

The Faculty fulfills that goal with the students currently enrolled in its post-secondary programs, but it doesn’t want to stop there. Among its key objectives, EUC commits to frequently offering high-school outreach activities that provide resources, hands-on skill building opportunities and support to young people who want to make a difference in the world.

Big events, like February’s annual iteration of the Change Your Work conference – which welcomed 500 Ontario high-school students and their teachers to York U’s Keele Campus for a day of environmental education and inspiration – are part of those efforts. Smaller initiatives are part of them, too – like the recent Design Thinking Challenge event in May, attended by 60 students and teachers from several York Region schools.

The event offered local students two programming tracks. The first was a Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) ICE Challenge Case Competition, which tasked participating students to come up with a sustainable architectural solution for redesigning the front entrance and foyer of the Health, Nursing & Environmental Studies Building on York University’s Keele Campus.

The second track was a new extracurricular Urban Solutions program, where students presented their solutions to global challenges, ranging from language accessibility in the Toronto Transit Commission system to disaster relief in Haiti.

Once students worked through their projects, they had a chance to present their design proposals and get feedback from Abidin Kusno, EUC professor and undergraduate program co-ordinator; Teresa Abbruzzesse, EUC professor and Cities, Regions, Planning program co-ordinator; and Laura Taylor, co-author of the SHSM challenge, professor and master of environmental studies Planning program co-ordinator.

“The students came up with some ingenious solutions for the challenge that was presented to them,” said Philip Kelly, professor and interim dean of EUC.

One example was a student who presented a proposal to solve period poverty – the inability to afford feminine hygiene products – in Uganda, building upon her existing interest in gender equality. Her solution was a more sustainable, accessible, disposable pad that would be produced using locally sourced materials.

For students, EUC initiatives like this can provide experiential learning opportunities that are rewarding in more ways than one. In this case, the event featured several prizes: the Feasibility Laureate award for the most practical and easy-to-implement solution; the Empathy Emblem award for the solution that shows the deepest understanding of the users; and the Impact Pioneer Plaque award for the solution with the greatest potential for positive impact.

EUC hopes experiences like these – representative of the Faculty’s broader efforts with high-school students – are rewarding in other ways, too.

“The event offers students early exposure to higher educational environments, which can motivate students to pursue further education and set higher academic and career goals,” said Brittany Giglio, EUC recruitment and liaison officer. “These partnerships contribute significantly to the development of well-prepared, motivated and successful individuals.”

Costa Rica provides canvas for Eco-Arts Residency

By Elaine Smith

York University’s Las Nubes Campus in Costa Rica is serving as a home base for its first-ever Eco-Arts Residency, an intensive, 10-day course being offered by two professors from the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD).

Professor Brandon Vickerd, a sculptor, as well as theatre and performance artist Laura Levin, director of Sensorium – a York research centre for digital arts and technology – are leading a group of 25 students in research centred on the Alexander Skutch Biological Corridor preserve and communities near Las Nubes.

The course focuses on developing research methodologies and strategies for building community-driven, site-oriented, collaborative approaches to art production.

“Current studio courses focus on students’ artistic skills and don’t teach them how to go to a community, make connections and respond to the reality of the environment, the politics and the institutions while producing meaningful works,” said Vickerd. “This residency-based course provides such an opportunity.”

The students are living with families in the local villages, two per home, and taking part in a curated, daily schedule of activities and exploration. Their experience began in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, with two days of visiting theatre companies and museums before travelling to Las Nubes. Once there, they were able to get a sense of the landscape, the people, the economy and politics.

“They will engage with the larger questions of the course in a site-specific way,” Levin said. “They’ll visit local farms, and – informed by their readings on food sovereignty – they’ll learn first-hand about the challenges of individuals running small farms in the global food system. 

“We’ll also travel to an Indigenous village that is the home of the Boruca people, a group that has developed over time an intricate mask-making tradition and a youth theatre company that imaginatively incorporates those masks. There will be a lot of hands-on engagement with cultural producers.”

One of the students’ other major tasks is to assist with producing ExpoCOBAS, an annual festival organized by the local community designed to celebrate and consolidate identity around the Alexander Skutch Biological Corridor. It’s an exercise that will include everything from making piñatas to putting on a student art showcase to brainstorming about activities that will engage young people.

“There are important lessons we’d like our students to absorb,” said Vickerd of the residency’s goals. “We want to show them that they can engage with the environment in a variety of ways. We also want them to understand what it means to engage ethically with a community and collaborate, to engage in social action. They need to understand what’s important about a culture and how they can contribute with support and understanding, meaningfully adding to its health.”

Levin noted that some students had never travelled to Latin America before undertaking this residency, offering an additional opportunity for some.

“We want them to learn what it means for artists not to be tourists and how to negotiate their experiences in a thoughtful way, rather than viewing the community as a spectacle to be consumed,” Levin said.

Vickerd and Levin are providing the students with creative prompts and exercises to help them engage with the unique landscape, such as participating in outdoor classes or hiking in the rainforest.

“They won’t be able to sit back,” said Vickerd. “This course is about engagement.”

Po Kuen Cheung, a graphic designer and mature visual art and art history student who is studying part time for a degree, is one of the students registered for the intensive Las Nubes course.

“I want to explore the wonderful world of art when I retire, and when I saw the Costa Rica course, it matched exactly what I want to do – explore what happens elsewhere,” said Cheung. “It will be an experience of a lifetime.”

Once he and his fellow students return home, they will have the opportunity to reflect on the experience and translate it into either an essay or artistic output.

“This experience allows them to think about how to explore and explain the world in a different way,” Vickerd said.

Their responses, whatever form they take, will enrich the understanding of others, giving what they’ve learned a broader impact.

Professional opportunity engages AMPD students

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By Elaine Smith

When a group of researchers approached Professor Angela Norwood to ask about hiring a few of her York University design students to provide data visualization for the results of one of their studies, Norwood saw an opportunity to provide the students with a career-enhancing experience.

In anticipation of Congress 2023, the annual meeting of the Federation for the Social Sciences & Humanities hosted by York, a research team led by York’s Laina Bay-Cheng and Sarah Flicker, along with Jen Gilbert, needed some visual help.

Their mixed-methods study looked at the risks to which LGBTQ and racialized young women ages 16 to 22 were exposed during COVID-19 in three cities: Melbourne, New York and Toronto. The researchers sent out surveys, conducted interviews and had the participants maintain timelines of their risk-taking behaviours. They wanted the resulting data to be translated into a pop-up display for Congress.

Angela Norwood
Angela Norwood

The team approached Norwood, who applied for an Academic Innovation Fund grant and created a special topics course, Representing Risk: A Physical and Virtual Pop-Up Gallery, which would turn students into consultants for the research team.

Twenty-three students registered for the course, which was designed as a vertical studio – meaning that design students from second to fourth years could enrol.

“It allowed students to mix with others from different years and offered an opportunity for everyone to contribute,” Norwood said.

“It was the perfect bridge between the worlds of design and education,” said Helen Han, a York master of fine arts graduate working toward a PhD in education, who Norwood hired as her research assistant for the project.

The researchers visited the class to present the data and discuss ways it could be shared with the study participants, other researchers and the public. They collaboratively decided on a website with interactive visuals from the data set and a pop-up gallery that could travel.

Norwood's students presenting their progress to the research team via Zoom during class.
Norwood’s students presenting their progress to the research team via Zoom during class.

The students formed teams to work on various aspects of the project, often resulting in a fruitful mix of perspectives and collaboration.

“The youth in the class saw things differently than the older principal investigators, and they had to be open to new ways of seeing the data,” Norwood noted as an example.

The project resulted in a significant experiential education opportunity. “Professor Norwood made it possible for students to bring theory to life in class,” said Han.

“We allowed them space to reach their goal, and the work mirrored real life as professional designers,” said Norwood.

As for the end result? “They came up with totally dynamic, fantastic ideas, and any failures (problems) were just as interesting as the successes, because we learned a lot about collaborating with designers and about the data itself,” praised Gilbert. “The students amplified the voices of the young people in our research through their design choices.” 

The pop-up exhibit was featured at Congress 2023 and will be viewed in the other cities involved in the study, too. The researchers held a launch for the exhibit, attended by their design partners, who are grateful for the collaboration.

“We’ll definitely always build a design element into future research projects,” said Gilbert. “We also learned that it would be valuable to collaborate with designers from the beginning, because their design thinking can help us hone our research questions.”

Norwood, too, is open to overseeing future collaborations between her students and researchers.

“It was very much about the process of getting to the final product,” Norwood said. “The students brought all their advanced technical skills to the project and left understanding more about teamwork, peer mentorship and social science methodology.

“They know more about themselves as designers and what design can contribute to projects like this.”

Lassonde student turns space aspirations into a career reality

Satellite in space

Fourth-year mechanical engineering student Rehan Rashid, in York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering, always dreamed of working at NASA – the ultimate goal of every space enthusiast. He’s already done so three times now, thanks to internships and his time at York.

Rehan Rashid
Rehan Rashid

Inspired by stories he had heard of Lassonde students forging their own paths in space engineering and beyond, Rashid made the most of his time at Lassonde by getting involved in student clubs, extracurricular activities and programs that would allow him the opportunity to pursue his passions beyond the classroom.

With support from Lassonde, Rashid completed three internships at NASA during his undergraduate years. And he will soon begin his fourth, at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, where he will be working on a project about novel carbon utilization-based technology for the lunar surface. These internships, he says, have been instrumental to his academic and career progression.

“My internship experiences at NASA have strengthened my passion for space exploration and energy storage technology,” says Rashid.

His internships took place at three different NASA locations: Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.; Johnson Space Center in Houston; and Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Fla. As part of the internships, Rashid conducted several research projects, including designing, fabricating and testing new battery designs for electric aircraft. He was also recognized as a NASA Innovator for his work on a compact, plasma-based elemental analyzer for astronauts in the International Space Station.

Lobby of Crew and Thermal Systems Division at NASA’s Johnson Space Center
Lobby of Crew & Thermal Systems Division at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Beyond knowledge acquisition, skill development and invaluable real-world experience, each of these internships nurtured Rashid’s fascination with space, providing him ample opportunities to witness launches for companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin and, of course, NASA itself. During his first internship, in 2022, he also had the pleasure of meeting several astronauts who were preparing for upcoming space missions.

“My advice to students is to get involved early on,” he says. “I strongly recommend participating in extracurricular activities, especially the clubs offered at Lassonde. There are numerous organizations and programs that students can join to gain hands-on experience, like the York University Robotics Society and Bergeron Entrepreneurs in Science and Technology program.”

Doing just that has allowed Rashid to not only make his mark on NASA, and fulfill his dream of working there, but build on York’s ever-growing leadership in fields of study focused on what lies outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

Rashid’s extraordinary undergraduate experience has prepared him well for the next step of his academic journey, as a master’s candidate at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. As for where will he end up after that, the sky’s the limit.

SAS students shine at prestigious Canadian case competition

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Two School of Administrative Studies (SAS) students, and one alumnus, took top prizes at the 16th annual Canadian Marketing League (CML) – the largest marketing case competition in the country – which gives passionate marketing students the opportunity to demonstrate and gain real-world business experience.

Formerly known as Canada’s Next Top Ad Exec, CML recently hosted 270 student contenders hailing from 26 universities nationwide. Participants engaged in complex marketing challenges ­– provided by leading companies such as Microsoft, McDonald’s, Kraft Heinz and Environics Analytics – to win top spots in the competition.

For several years, CML has provided York marketing students an opportunity to excel, succeeding in the competition itself, gain experiential learning, and demonstrating their abilities. “This platform has offered fantastic opportunities,” says Professor Pallavi Sodhi, who dedicated countless hours this year mentoring students in preparation for CML. “For students, it has provided transformative experiences to showcase their marketing skills, determination and passion. Companies have benefited from groundbreaking ideas to address their most challenging business issues and access ready-to-go marketing talent.”

This year, Amanda Volpato, a fourth-year York SAS student majoring in marketing, won the first place, securing the esteemed CML grand prize of $20,000. It marked not just a professional accomplishment but a personal one, too. Seven years ago, Volpato arrived in Canada from Mato Grosso, Brazil knowing little English and struggling with mental health challenges. Nonetheless, she persevered to become an up-and-coming – and now award-winning – marketer. “Participating in CML has truly shown me that sticking to a strong work ethic is always worth it. For any international student who is struggling with mental health and may be reading this, don’t give up, there is light at the end of the tunnel,” she says.

In addition to Volpato, other members of SAS also won awards.

The Top CML Alumni award was presented to Jacky Li, a former student and Top 10 CML winner in 2014, who is now a strategy director at renowned creative marketing and communications agency Cossette, and continues to serve as a mentor to numerous students, emphasizing the value of experiential learning.

Nicole Rodrigues, a fourth-year bachelor of commerce student, was also recognized, earning her the second prize of $750 for her role as a campus engagement leader. As one of the 47 campus managers, Rodrigues actively promotes CML at York through information booths and class talks.

These York community members add to an ever-growing catalogue of students and alumni who have earned top prizes at CML – a tradition bound to continue.

About the Competition: Canadian Marketing League/Canada’s Next Top Ad Exec was launched in 2007, with the goal to bridge the gap between classroom and industry. Today it has grown to be the largest marketing case competition in Canada, structured in a 3-phase process mirroring the intensity of NHL/NBA. To date more than 50 competitors have been awarded career-starts at major corporations and more than $575,000 in prize money has been awarded.

York University program offers teaching practicum in Japan

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York University’s Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) Certificate program offers students a unique experiential education opportunity: participate in an international teaching practicum in Japan, in partnership with Meiji University, where they can practice teaching in an English immersion program.

Setting teachers up for success when they’re at the front of a classroom is at the heart of every teaching program. York U’s TESOL Certificate program provides a 50-hour teaching practicum that allows participants to observe and apply what they have learned in a range of English language teaching contexts, including internationally. The Meiji University partnership provides a field experience in a global setting and enables participants to explore their new skills while enjoying the rewards of teaching abroad.

This year’s field experience with Meji University took place in March. TESOL students Denise Suarez, Kelvin Luk and Veronica Ward-Bone travelled to Japan where they worked with 50 students and five faculty from Meiji University. They were able to do so through funding support from York International Mobility Award and the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies (LA&PS).

York language students with Meiji University students
From left to right: York students Kelvin Luk, Veronica Ward-Bone and Denise Suarez with Meiji students.

Under the supervision of Antonella Valeo, professor and TESOL Certificate Program coordinator in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics of LA&PS, York students participated in a week-long course with formal English language classes led by Meiji instructors.

The York TESOL students helped provide lessons and support, while living together with Meiji students and faculty at a seminar house in a mountain setting just north of Tokyo. Teaching and learning inside and outside the classroom, the experience provided the York students with an opportunity to learn how to run a class, as well as how to support other instructors as teaching assistants.

“Getting to observe the teachers’ different instruction methods and activities, while seeing how the students respond to it in a new context, improved and expanded my own perspectives on teaching,” reflected Suarez.  

“It was amazing to see the students’ quick progress in their English proficiency as they became more comfortable talking to us in the new setting,” added Ward-Bone.

“The most valuable things I got out of the trip were the teaching practice in real classrooms and the opportunities to learn about Japanese culture through authentic interactions with Meiji students,” said Luk.

According to Valeo, that is an important part of this opportunity. “This unique international experience helps students broaden their perspectives and experience teaching abroad with personalized support and mentoring,” she says. “For many students, it is a life-changing experience that stays with them long after graduation.”

Urban Studies students advance learning with Montreal field trip

Montreal skyline

Living in the Greater Toronto Area, it’s not complicated for students in the Cities, Regions, Planning program at the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) to assess Toronto’s strengths and weakness, but an annual field trip to Montreal allows them to apply their analytical skills elsewhere.

For five years, Teresa Abbruzzese, an assistant professor and urban geographer, organized a field school – a short-term academic program consisting of mentored field research – in the fall for third-year Urban Studies students in her research methods course in the Department of Social Science in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies.  

She was excited to bring this experiential learning opportunity to her new home in the Cities, Regions, Planning program for her third-year course, Doing Urban Research: Theory & Practice, for the Fall 2024 term. 

The initiative gives students a chance to experience another city, using participant observation while taking notes and photos and having conversations with local citizens. The trip is mandatory and the costs are low, but there is a day trip to Hamilton, Ont., for a cheaper alternative. 

“The trip enables our students see the historical and contemporary issues facing Montreal and to develop a comparative understanding of cities,” said Abbruzzese. “It’s also important to give them the opportunity to do preliminary fieldwork.” 

“The point of the trip is to prepare them to work on their own individualized research project,” she said. “It trains them to be social scientists and allows them to hone their academic skills, such as critical analysis, research and writing.” 

Members of the Montreal field trip
At City Hall, (Front Row, L to R): Prof. Doug Young,  Prof. Teresa Abbruzzese, Councillor Sterling Downey, Prof. Silvano de la Llata (Concordia University), and Prof. Mike Cado right (Music, York); other rows: third-year students in Urban Studies/Cities, Regions, Planning 

The Montreal field school emerged from a political moment in history when Donald Trump assumed the American presidency in 2017. Abbruzzese and her colleagues in Urban Studies at the time decided to halt the field school to Buffalo – the original international location of the field school for many years – and instead they chose Montreal as the setting.  

Once the Canadian city was decided, Abbruzzese thoroughly enjoyed the creative process of putting together a new field school.  

“Logistically, it’s never easy to execute, but I strive to enhance the field school experience each year,” she said. “All the guest speakers make this field school special and welcome our urban group from York University back each year.” 

She, her students, and other professors boarded a Megabus for the ride east and followed a packed itinerary that included historian/expert-led walking tours of neighbourhoods such as Saint-Henri, Montreal North, Little Burgundy and Mile End; a visit with City Councillor Sterling Hall – who has experienced homelessness – and a tour of City Hall; and talks by professors from Concordia University.  

The students packed a lot into the trip, getting a sense of the richness and diversity of Montreal. They saw poverty and affluence, arts and industry. They gained an understanding of some of the city’s challenges with issues such as housing, transportation, socioeconomic disparities, public spaces and heritage as well as the French-English divide, said Abbruzzese. 

“All of this sparks comparative analysis in their heads and they begin to ask a lot of questions,” she said. “They’ll use all of this to create a manuscript – a fieldwork diary organized around themes. They’ll organize, reflect, and analyze their empirical notes and contextualize their observations with broader scholarly conversations in Urban Studies.” 

Just as important, noted Abbruzzese, is that the trip serves to transform the class from individual students into a community.  

“It is a tradition for professors from the program to join this field school, so that students have an opportunity to get to know the other professors in the program, and professors get to know the students,” she said. “Professor Doug Young from the Urban Studies program has joined me on this field school from Buffalo to Montreal for the last eight years. Students have always appreciated sharing this experience with other professors from the program, which made the experience more memorable.” 

“In addition, students become a support network for each other and become more connected after this field school,” she said. “They’re all friends afterward.” 

Vanessa Reynolds
Vanessa Reynolds

Vanessa Reynolds, a third-year geography and urban studies major, confirms that. “This was a group that hadn’t talked to each other in class, but we all bonded and, now, we’re really friends,” she said. “It was such a great experience; I’d recommend that anyone do it.” 

She found the trip eye-opening in many ways, and changed her perspectives. 

“I’m so Toronto-centric, but seeing Montreal gave me deeper insights into how a city runs, and seeing different parts of the city that people often don’t was amazing,” Reynolds said. Furthermore, she added, “I want to travel more. It makes you want to see the world. It was an experience that made university different.” 

Shazde Mir, a fourth-year urban studies major who plans to pursue a career in policy development or community planning, said Abbruzzese’s passion for Montreal made her glad she took the trip, as she got to know the city and gain insights into city planning. 

“I saw a different perspective of what it means to be an equitable city,” Mir said. “You can’t treat people as less than.” 

After visiting a working-class neighbourhood with prominent community initiatives that reminded her of Toronto’s Jane and Finch area, Mir wondered why cities have areas where a lack of investment from the government is visible. 

“I’ve started looking into tours here in Toronto to get to know the history of the city’s development,” she said. “I want to go back to Montreal and I’d like to visit other cities to see how different governments went about developing them, what the priorities were. 

“The trip solidified my love for Toronto. I want to see more progressive policies so we can create a more equitable city.” 

Ultimately, said Abbruzzese, “our objective is to produce graduates who are informed, critically engaged, and sensitive to issues of sustainability, social justice, equity and diversity.” 

Given the feedback, it is apparent she is meeting that goal. 

Psychology professor brings community to the classroom

Students collaborating around table

York University psychology Professor Lesley Zannella changed things up in her recent Critical Thinking in Psychology course by offering students the opportunity to bridge the gap between classroom and community.  

In a year-long, fourth-year psychology capstone course of approximately 60 students, Zannella first helped students build the foundational skills of critical thinking during the fall term, and then allowed them to translate those skills into real-world scenarios in the winter term, through a community-based project. By engaging with community organizations, students were encouraged to critically analyze psychological research, apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations and develop creative solutions to challenges as they arose.

Lesley Zannella
Lesley Zannella

“It is important to me that students in this course not only develop the ability to be critical consumers of research in psychology but that they also develop the ability to communicate that research in an accessible way,” said Zannella.    

Working alongside Sophie Koch and Paola Calderon-Valdivia, the Faculty of Health’s experiential education co-ordinators, Zannella partnered with five local community organizations dedicated to supporting various underserved communities: the Writers Collective of Canada (WCC), Innocence Canada, the Remedy Institute, the Haven Mental Health Wellness Centre and Progress Place.

“By fostering partnerships with organizations that support underserved populations,” Zannella explained, “I sought to facilitate a collaboration between academia and the community with the shared goal to promote empathy and social change.”

Zannella divided students into 10 groups and assigned each community partner to two of the groups. In advance of the student involvement, the professor worked with each community partner to design and develop a project that responded to the needs of the organization and aligned with the learning outcomes of the course.

“One of my teaching strategies is to facilitate opportunities for students to strengthen employer-valued skills such as critical thinking, communication and collaboration” said Zannella.

Each week, students collectively worked on the community-based projects within the classroom. They also participated in three touchpoint meetings with their community partners throughout the term.

Working with Lisa Endersby, an educational developer at York’s Teaching Commons, Zannella developed an assessment structure that would provide students with the opportunity to reflect on their experience. Their reflections were overwhelmingly positive, and many indicated interest in pursuing future studies or career paths related to their community organization.

“I love the experiential learning opportunity that this project has provided me. I am applying the theoretical concepts and research processes I’ve learned within the academic space to a practical challenge,” wrote psychology honours student Megalai Thavakugathasalingam, who believes every psychology student should participate in a program like this one. “I have also been stretched to critically reflect and creatively develop a solution on behalf of the organization, which has provided me with a real chance to consider how academic research can be disseminated and benefit everyone.”

Psychology honours student Blake Haig echoed those sentiments: “This experience showed me the transformative potential of collaborative learning environments,” he said. “This class not only challenged my preconceived notions about group work but also instilled in me a new-found appreciation for the power of community in academic pursuits.” 

Shelley Lepp, CEO of collaboration partner WCC, who worked with York students to identify best practices in training for volunteer facilitators of community writing workshops, sees the value of this initiative for both parties – to help establish relationships that will lay the groundwork for future progress.

“As a charitable arts-health organization deeply committed to alleviating isolation and loneliness for those most vulnerable, we know these students will one day be our partners on the front lines,” she said. “Connecting with them in this context and in this moment empowers us both to understand how clinical and community supports can work together to improve mental well-being for all.”

Teaching Commons explores novel professional development approach

diverse group of women around conference table

By Elaine Smith

In its ongoing effort to remain at the forefront of pedagogy, York University’s Teaching Commons (TC) is testing a novel approach to in-person professional development workshops that allows for a more relaxing, enjoyable and informative experience.

On March 27, TC will host Teaching & Learning Day, which will offer a series of workshops exploring some of the leading subjects in pedagogy – including artificial intelligence (AI) and experiential education.

The sessions share no common theme and will look at – among other things – how educators can create teaching strategies to support students in becoming informed about generative AI, how to help students benefit from opportunities for critical reflection while engaging in experiential education activities, and how well-being of both students and instructors can be integrated into teaching experiences.

What TC is hoping to achieve with the initiative is a morning of in-person professional development experiences that are more informal than might be the norm. In particular, the aim is to have Teaching & Learning Day not only advance understanding and discussions about pedagogy but to also facilitate conversations and connections among its attendees.

“The workshops are being facilitated by our educational developers, but the wisdom sharing among participants is where a lot of the deeper learning can happen,” said Mandy Frake-Mistak, interim director of the Teaching Commons.

Promoting those opportunities for inter-colleague conversation and learning is a major reason TC wanted to host its professional workshops all at once as a series.

“It’s often tough for people to find time and space in their day for workshops, and if they’re working off campus, they may not want to commute for a 1.5-hour workshop,” said Frake-Mistak. “If we hold a series at once, it allows people to stay for one or stay for all of them.”

Matthew Dunleavy, the educational developer who first proposed the event, says York has always been a commuter campus where people come and go. By bringing people together in person, he hopes they’ll have the opportunity to connect with colleagues and have unexpected conversations with unfamiliar people.

“I’m a big proponent of all the things that happen in liminal spaces around formal offerings,” Dunleavy said. “Here, conversations can bleed into the hallways, just because people are together for a longer event. In spaces for transition, conversations happen and new ideas might emerge or cross-pollination might result.”

The workshops will take place in the Victor Phillip Dahdaleh Building, and their titles and details are as follows:

For more information about the Teaching Commons and its initiatives, visit their website.

k2i academy engages Black youth in STEM

k2iacademy event participants banner

Through two of its programs, the k2i (kindergarten to industry) academy at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering has looked to provide Black students in Grades 5 through 12 with exciting, hands-on learning experiences that provide unique opportunities to explore and engage with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

K2i academy Lisa Cole
Lisa Cole

The k2i academy’s Path2STEM and Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) in STEM programs look to provide Black youth with access to opportunities that help the academy achieve its aim of breaking systemic barriers and transforming the future of STEM. It aspires to do so by ensuring that Black youth see themselves as integral parts of these fields.

“Our educational systems have deeply rooted inequities that must be addressed,” says Lisa Cole, director of programming at k2i academy. “As we work alongside collaborative partners, including school boards, the Canadian Black Scientists Network (CBSN), faculty, community members and government, we are better able to design programs that create impact by enhancing access to opportunities, resulting in more equitable outcomes for students and families.”

Recently, as part of its Path2STEM and SHSM in STEM programs, the k2i academy sought to advance its goals through a two-day event that invited over 400 students from the Toronto District School Board and Peel District School Board to participate in activities that provided practical STEM skills, as well as highlighted United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Each day was dedicated to different grade levels, with students in Grades 5 through 10 participating in the Path2STEM program, and those in Grades 11 and 12 taking part in the SHSM in STEM program.

Students at the Path2STEM and SHSM in STEM events.

Among the activities were hands-on sessions where the k2i academy’s mentor team led students through opportunities to explore engineering design, coding, robotics and 3D design. High-school students also got to take part in a hackathon experience, designed to solve real-world problems in transportation and mobility. The immersive challenge encouraged teamwork and innovation, as students worked to develop solutions for smart roads, the safety of autonomous vehicles and accessibility issues.

The two-day event was also indicative of the k2i academy’s commitment to fostering relationships within the community, such as its relationship with the Peel District School Board.

Students at the Path2STEM and SHSM in STEM events.

“We have developed a Black Student Success Strategy with objectives to integrate the experiences of Black Canadians into the curriculum and inspire and support Black student success,” says Camille Logan, associate director, Peel District School Board. “The k2i Path2STEM and SHSM programs align with this work. Characterized by a deliberate focus on uplifting Black students in STEM and enhancing teacher capabilities, this program has flourished into an excellent partnership with the k2i academy. Together, we are not just addressing gaps, we are laying the foundation for a more diverse and inclusive future in STEM education.”

The Path2STEM and SHSM in STEM programs, and event, are the result of funding from the Ministry of Citizenship and Multiculturalism, which has provided the k2i academy $523,800 over two years to support the Bringing STEM to Life: In Schools SHSM in STEM for Black Youth program. This project, in collaboration with the CBSN, focuses on career pathways, skill development and mentorship, illustrating a collective commitment to building a more inclusive STEM community.

“k2i’s work supports the Black Youth Action Plan’s mission of helping participants develop skills to launch their careers in high-demand sectors and working towards eliminating race-based disparities by dismantling barriers and increasing opportunities for Black children, youth and families across Ontario,” says Michael Ford, minister of citizenship and multiculturalism.

For more information, visit the k2i academy website.