York U researchers receive CIHR funding to study dementia care

Nurse consoling her elderly patient by holding her hands

Professors Matthias Hoben, Tamara Daly and Liane Ginsburg from the York University Centre for Aging Research & Education (YU-CARE) have been awarded $750,000 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Institute of Aging (CIHR-IA) to support their study examining the impact of day programs on individuals living with dementia and their caregivers.

This funding opportunity, made possible through the CIHR-IA’s Brain Health and Cognitive Impairment in Aging: Implementation Science Team Grants, is supporting 10 projects that plan to evaluate the effectiveness of existing programs, services and models of care for those impacted by cognitive impairment and dementia, and to improve access to care and support.

According to the York U research team, most individuals with dementia and their caregivers want the person in need of care to remain at home for as long as possible; however, doing so safely and well may become challenging as the affected person’s needs increase. Adult day programs aim to maintain or improve older adults’ health and well-being, while also providing respite to caregivers.

The researchers are setting out to address what they identify as a lack of robust Canadian research on the effects of day programs on older adults living with dementia and their caregivers, especially those of equity-deserving groups with multiple, intersecting vulnerabilities.

“Health systems have increasingly shifted care for people with dementia from institutions to the community,” says Hoben, the Helen Carswell Chair in Dementia Care. “While care in the community is the preference of persons with dementia and their family/friend caregivers, most of the care is provided by caregivers who, in turn, receive little support.”

The team believes supports are important for both the person needing care and their caregivers, so they are examining the effectiveness of adult day programs as a method of support.

“Adult day programs are among the few community supports that aim to meet these simultaneous needs,” Hoben explains, “but we lack research on their effectiveness and on how and why they do or do not work.”

By partnering with key experts across Canada – those in need of care, their caregivers, advocates, day program staff and health system policymakers – this project aims to reveal how and why day programs have positive, negative or no effects on people with dementia and their caregivers, uncovering important avenues for improving their effectiveness.

With the help of the CIHR-IA funding, and in collaboration with health systems and regional Alzheimer societies, the team will recruit individuals with dementia who have recently been admitted to day programs and their primary caregivers. The researchers will compare them to a group that is not using day programs. They will also assess how program characteristics and the social identities of participants are associated with study outcomes. To further contextualize the data, they will conduct semi-structured interviews and focus groups.

“I am passionate about supporting persons with dementia and their caregivers,” says Hoben, “and this research will be an important step to build these supports.”

For more information about the funding, visit the Canadian Institutes of Health Research website.

Three York U graduate students earn Governor General’s Gold Medals

2024 Governor General Gold winners BANNER

Three York University graduates received this year’s Governor General’s Gold Medals, which recognize the outstanding scholastic achievements of graduate students in Canada. The 2024 recipients are Jennifer Porat, Carly Goodman and Alison Humphrey.  

The Governor General’s Academic Medals are considered the highest honour earned by exemplary Canadian scholars throughout every level of academia. This year’s awardees offered words of gratitude to their peers and mentors, and expressed what the medals mean to them, ahead of their Spring Convocation ceremonies.

Jennifer Porat

Jennifer Porat
Jennifer Porat

Porat earned a PhD in biology following the completion of her bachelor of science degree at York University. Both degrees were pursued under the mentorship of Professor Mark Bayfield in the Department of Biology. Her research focused uncovering novel functions for RNA-modifying enzymes and understanding the mechanisms by which they promote RNA function and stability to carry out different cellular processes. 

Porat credits Bayfield and his support for her decision to pursue graduate studies at York U and her positive experiences at the University. She also expresses gratitude to the Faculty of Graduate Studies – notably, its funding of conference travel that she urges other students to take advantage of.

“I’m incredibly grateful to be receiving this honour,” says Porat. “I’ve been fortunate enough to conduct research that I am passionate about, so it is very gratifying to learn that other people are excited about my work as well.”

Porat will continue that work as a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University, still focused on RNA biology, in hopes of one day running her own lab. 

Carly Goodman

Carly Goodman
Carly Goodman

Goodman earned her master’s degree in clinical developmental psychology within the neuropsychology stream. Her work has focused on conducting a systematic review and meta-analysis on the sex-specific impact of pre- and post-natal exposure to chemicals on children’s intelligence. Its aim is to provide new insights into prevention strategies and identifying high-risk groups.

Goodman chose to pursue graduate studies at York University because of its unique accreditation in clinical neuropsychology, as well as the opportunity to work under Professor Christine Till.

“Her commitment to fostering innovative research and interdisciplinary collaborations has provided me with invaluable learning experiences and opportunities,” Goodman says.

The graduand is grateful for the training in clinical practice, advanced statistics, and the social and biological determinants of health she has received at York U, which contributed to her work now being recognized.

“I am deeply honoured to receive the Governor General’s Gold Medal for the work I completed during my master’s degree,” Goodman says.

The next step of her journey will see her remain at York University as a PhD student, once more under Till’s supervision, with doctoral research that will further investigate the impact of chemicals on children’s neurodevelopment and focus on moderating variables that influence risk and resilience.

Alison Humphrey

Alison_Humphrey
Alison Humphrey

Humphrey earned her PhD in cinema and media studies, and pursued work with a focus on misinformation and how it draws from storytelling to engineer fear and amplify anger.

She developed a new form of participatory storytelling called “citizen science fiction,” notably through Shadowpox, a mixed-reality storyworld imagining immunization through a superhero metaphor. The project aimed to intervene in the challenge of vaccine hesitancy by helping people explore what makes scientific evidence convincing, what makes a story compelling and how trust can be built or busted to affect people’s actions.

“Receiving the Governor General’s Gold Medal confirms for me that artistic production can contribute as meaningfully to the development of knowledge as the extraordinary doctoral work being done by my peers,” says Humphrey.

Moving forward, Humphrey is pursuing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Global Strategy Lab, where she and her doctoral supervisor Professor Caitlin Fisher will invent mixed-reality interventions against antimicrobial resistance for the initiative “Catalyzing Collective Action at the Intersection of Global Health and the Arts.”

She is also looking to build on work like Shadowpox with an upcoming project called The Undergrid, which will extend the citizen science fiction methodology into climate action.

About the awards

Pierre Trudeau, Tommy Douglas, Kim Campbell, Robert Bourassa, Robert Stanfield and Gabrielle Roy are just some of the more than 50,000 people who have received a Governor General’s Academic Medal as the start of a life of accomplishment.

Today, the Governor General’s Academic Medals are awarded at four distinct levels: Bronze at the secondary school level; Collegiate Bronze at the post-secondary, diploma level; Silver at the undergraduate level; and Gold at the graduate level. Medals are presented on behalf of the Governor General by participating educational institutions, along with personalized certificates signed by the Governor General. There is no monetary award associated with the medal.

York U study examines immigrant families’ experiences with autism stigma, caregiver stress

Woman and child hands holding together colorful puzzle heart on light blue background

A study by York University Faculty of Health Professor Farah Ahmad and her students Fariha Shafi and Amirtha Karunakaran, titled “Autism, Stigma, and South Asian Immigrant Families in Canada,” was recently published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

While existing evidence suggests early autism diagnosis and support results in positive outcomes for children and youth on the spectrum and their families, Ahmad believed the same might not be true for children of racialized families, who are often diagnosed at later ages and are more likely to be misdiagnosed and experience barriers to service access. She also identified a lack of research examining the experiences of parents in Canada from specific immigrant groups – many from racialized communities – who are caring for their children on the spectrum.

With funding from York University’s Faculty of Health, through a Collaborative & Community-based Research Seed Grant, the York U researchers set out to address this knowledge gap by looking at South Asian Canadian immigrant parents with children on the autism spectrum and examining their experiences with available care programs and supports, as well as their perceptions of social stigma.

“Disability should not hinder people’s opportunities to reach their full potential,” said Ahmad, “so it’s a matter of human rights to bring forth hardship experienced by families caring for their children or adult family members on the autism spectrum. This is particularly relevant for racialized immigrant families, given the dearth of scholarly knowledge in Canada on their experiences.”

The team worked with community collaborators, including the SAAAC Autism Centre and Health Access Thorncliffe Park, to find suitable study participants. Nine South Asian parents living in the Greater Toronto Area were selected and interviewed individually.

The study’s findings confirmed barriers to an autism diagnosis and to service access. Additionally, parent participants reported that the stigma surrounding autism kept them from receiving a timely diagnosis, access to support services and guidance on health-promoting behaviours. The findings also revealed considerable caregiver stress and psychological distress.

“I believe in a proactive strategy,” said Ahmad, “where we as researchers examine the ‘ground reality’ of caregivers’ challenges and ways to cope, with the aim to enhance equity in practice and policymaking for improving structural supports for them, including efforts to reduce societal negative attitudes towards disabilities.”

Ahmad and her team expect the evidence revealed by their study to have wide-ranging impacts, including helping to inform equitable policy, programming, and practices that better support the needs of children on the spectrum and their immigrant families.

York University nursing professor wins teaching excellence award

hand holding heart near stethoscope BANNER

By Lindsay MacAdam, communications officer, YFile

When Archana Paul arrived in Canada in 2010 – with her husband, two children, a master’s degree in psychiatric nursing, and 10 years of experience as a nurse educator and frontline registered nurse under her belt – she was shocked to discover that she couldn’t get a job. Even entry-level positions at places like McDonald’s and Tim Hortons wouldn’t hire her without prior Canadian work experience.

Fast forward to 14 years later and Paul is now a highly regarded professor in York University’s School of Nursing who has recently been recognized by the Council of Ontario University Programs in Nursing (COUPN) Awards for excellence in teaching – one of the first internationally educated nurses to receive this honour.

Archana Paul
Archana Paul

“I held a certain degree of skepticism regarding my decision to settle in a new country and practise in a different environment,” admitted Paul during her COUPN Awards acceptance speech. “My initial experiences were marked by hardships and challenges, including the loss of my professional identity, as I felt I was ‘nobody’ even though I had more than 10 years of experience in nursing.”

Having to adapt to new ways of living, acquire clinical competency, deal with cultural displacement and perfect her language skills made the transition to Canadian life more difficult than she had ever imagined. However, with an unwavering determination, Paul went on countless interviews and gradually learned how to advocate for herself until she secured her first Canadian job a year and a half later, as a nurse in the emergency department at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction & Mental Health. Four years after that, she was hired as a nurse educator at Humber River Health, and then shortly thereafter she joined the faculty of York’s School of Nursing, which was seeking educators like Paul with clinical expertise in mental health nursing.

Today, while teaching full-time at York, Paul maintains her position as a frontline nurse in Humber River Health’s mental health crisis unit. She feels it is important to her teaching to remain a practising nurse, allowing her to bring that real-world perspective into the classroom. And that perspective is a big part of why Paul has been recognized by her peers, students and COUPN for her teaching excellence.

Paul is known for using creative teaching strategies to bridge the gap between classroom theory and real-life experiences, like engaging users of mental health services as guest speakers in her courses to help critically examine the power divide between patients and health-care providers.

Viewing herself as an instructor and her students as “co-creators” in knowledge, Paul seeks to shift traditional, hierarchical approaches to teaching.

“After years of practising as a nurse and nurse educator in Canada, I have confidently redefined power dynamics in education,” explained Paul in her speech. “I now see myself as a facilitator, mentor, guide and advisor who empowers students to achieve their full potential.”

Paul is committed to continuing to serve her community through support and mentorship, especially for international students and internationally educated nurses like herself who are facing challenges similar to those she faced upon arrival to Canada.

Quoting famed British nurse Florence Nightingale in her speech, saying, “‘Let us never consider ourselves finished nurses…. We must be learning all of our lives,’” Paul is a firm believer in lifelong learning. In fact, she plans to continue her learning journey by pursing her PhD in the coming years. And despite being a teaching-stream professor at York, she has involved herself in small-scale research focusing on student well-being, as well as teaching and learning.

“I am convinced that by being open to change, building knowledge and developing relationships, we can create innovative approaches to teaching effectiveness, optimize student learning outcomes and ultimately improve client care,” she said.

Despite her many career accomplishments over the past 14 years, having her teaching recognized with a COUPN Award – requiring nomination and support from colleagues, peers and students – has made Paul finally accept that she has achieved success in Canada.

“I now believe that I am ‘somebody’ in this country,” she concluded. And she’s right.

Muscle Health Awareness Day event expands its scope

Man's back muscle and body structure. Human body view from behind isolated on white background.

The annual Muscle Health Awareness Day (MHAD) event hosted at York University on Friday, May 17, looks to advance its research reputation in the field with an emphasis on introducing attending researchers to a lived experience session.

Sponsored by York’s Muscle Health Research Centre (funded by the Faculty of Health), the Office of the Vice-President, Research & Innovation and the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, each year MHAD brings together doctors, scientists and trainees from across Canada and the United States. It aims to help advance understanding of the physiology and adaptation of muscles, vasculature and the heart during exercise and aging.

Among the nine speakers and 60 trainee presentations that will be featured at this year’s 15th annual event, something new will be introduced: a special lived experience session.

In recent years, among pre-clinical and clinical researchers in the field, there has been a growing movement to connect directly with individuals struggling with muscle-related health issues to better inform research.

“How can we truly understand what we’re studying if we don’t have any experience with that situation?” says Professor Christopher Perry, director of the Muscle Health Research Centre (MHRC). “What options are remaining? To listen to people who have it.”

Perry has experienced this first-hand at other conferences where, during sessions on particular diseases or conditions, people who were affected by them were involved in the discussion – putting a human face to what attendees spend their time researching. He still remembers the impact that can have. “The first thing I felt was not knowledge. The first thing I felt was inspiration,” he says. “‘This is why we’re doing and this,’” he thought.

He has found, too, that when listening to lived experiences, sometimes those who are affected by a condition will bring up feelings, pain or sensations that researchers hadn’t thought to ask about or were aware of through literature. That, in turn, can lead to new understanding and avenues for research.

When Perry became director of the MHRC, he pushed for the MHAD event to not only follow suit but demonstrate innovation – it is among the first conferences with pre-clinical researchers in attendance to include a lived experience session.

The MHAD event has invited Julia Creet, a filmmaker and English professor in the Department of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, who will share her experiences as a mature athlete and the process of how she maintains – even improves – her fitness. In her discussion she will cover how incorporating strength training becomes more important to build muscle, how it may take longer to warm up and recover, and how people can remain highly competitive even as they age. To help accentuate the talk, Creet aims to also share a five-minute documentary about her experience as a cyclist.

The session will also include an athletic therapist providing a professional perspective on the challenges faced by aging athletes.

The organizers’ hope is that the session will help provide information to many researchers focusing on aging, while also being relevant to anyone studying how aging affects fitness in all populations.

In its aim to underscore the impact attending researchers can have – especially when considering the lived experiences of those they study – the MHAD event will also feature a session with the CEO of the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, who will share how scientific discovery in exercise physiology can be translated into professional practice by front-line certified exercise physiologists.

The intent is for scientists and trainees attending MHAD to see how their roles as researchers can impact society, and how their research efforts can support a continuum of knowledge generation and dissemination towards health solutions for society.

For more information, to register and to submit abstracts or posters for consideration, visit the Muscle Health Awareness Day web page.

Students present sustainable solutions, enhance career-readiness at Spring Capstone Day

Photo by Singkham from Pexels

Five monetary awards were presented to teams of upper-year students at York University’s 2024 Spring Capstone Day, a public event hosted by the Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom (C4) in celebration of innovation, creativity, ambition and impact.

Held on April 26, this year’s Spring Capstone Day drew more than 350 members of the York community and external visitors to York’s Scott Library Collaboratory. There, attendees learned about the work of the 225 presenting students, whose capstone projects – finishing-year projects where student teams work with external clients to solve real-world problems – focused on innovative and sustainable design solutions, aiming to address societal issues, advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and create positive change. This biannual project showcase is an invaluable opportunity for students to share their experience and develop professional skills to enhance their career-readiness.

“For three hours, the entire Collaboratory was sparkling with conversations between project partners; York staff, professors and librarians; and students from every Faculty at York,” said Danielle Robinson, co-founder and co-lead of C4, a high-impact experiential education course intended to uniquely prepare students for the next phase of their career. “Our collective focus was on launching these students out into the world as the powerful changemakers they are ready to be.”

An important day for all participating students, Robinson described it as similar to a graduation or a professional debut, where students get dressed up and present their work to attendees and judges.

According to Mahogany Lopez, a Faculty of Science student whose team won the Sustainability Award, the day was bittersweet. “It marked the end of my journey with the C4 class, where I made new friends and had an amazing time,” she said. “However, I was happy to see our project well-received and to witness the impressive work of different groups. This experience emphasized the value of interdisciplinary learning and collaboration in solving real-world problems.”

Donna Nguyen, a student in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, whose team won the Community Impact Award, appreciated the event for shining a spotlight on student work: “This event and this win was important to me as a student because our hard work was acknowledged and it signified that our ideas genuinely made an impact on the community,” she said.

Faculty of Health Professor Asal Moghaddaszadeh, who acted as a project shepherd, guiding students through their project journey in the C4 class, believes the Capstone Day event is pivotal for the University.

“It’s about instilling teamwork, fostering community partnerships and preparing students to tackle workforce challenges boldly,” she said. “Additionally, by working in interdisciplinary teams, students learn the importance of collaboration across diverse Faculties, enriching their problem-solving skills.”

Lassonde School of Engineering student Mehrshad Farahbakhsh agreed, calling Capstone Day a “transformative experience.”

“It taught me the value of collaboration and how diverse perspectives can lead to innovative solutions,” said the international student, whose team won the Innovation Award for their project focused on making the automotive industry more sustainable. “Each member of our group brought a unique background and approach to the table, which allowed us to brainstorm innovative solutions.”

The awards students were competing for included the YSpace-sponsored Innovation Award, with a prize of $100 for the winning student team; and the GHD-sponsored Community Impact Award and Honda Canada Foundation-sponsored Sustainability Award, both offering prizes of $1,500 to the winning teams and $500 to the runners-up.

The day’s award winners were determined by a committee of 16 York University judges – from YSpace, Alumni Engagement and the Office of Sustainability. The full list of award winners and project titles are as follows:

  • Innovation Award winner: “Finding Our Way through Sustainable Choices (Weins Auto Group)” by Team BF;
  • Community Impact Award winner: “Fostering Food Sovereignty (HiGarden)” by Team BE;
  • Community Impact Award runner-up: “Policy Pal (Engage)” by Team AC;
  • Sustainability Award winner: “Reconstructing Education (Sensorium)” by Team AA; and
  • Sustainability Award runner-up: “Saving the Planet (Independent)” by Team BD.

For more information about these projects, the winners and the Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom, visit the C4 website or email c4class@yorku.ca.

York University prof appointed to senior role in health organization

Globe with first aid health on it

Professor and Dahdaleh Distinguished Chair Steven Hoffman will join Wellcome Trust, the world’s third-largest foundation supporting global health research, for an 18-month secondment as an interim chief of staff.

One of the world’s leading global health law scholars, Hoffman’s new role will see him support the day-to-day management of Wellcome Trust, advance the strategic priorities of the organization and serve as a member of its executive leadership team. Over the course of his tenure, he will also continue to dedicate time to his research at York.

Steven Hoffman
Steven Hoffman

“I am very excited about this new role with Wellcome, and I’m also grateful for the opportunity to remain connected with York during this period,” says Hoffman. “The University’s incredible support for this secondment signals its commitment to achieving global social impact and supporting many different ways of advancing knowledge and the public good.”

The new role is a significant opportunity, as the U.K.-based Wellcome Trust – with its approximately $63-billion endowment and $2.7 billion in research grants funded each year – is a leader in solving urgent health challenges across the world. It has looked to advance biomedical research, open access and data initiatives, and more.

“Steven’s appointment to such a senior leadership role in a prominent organization advancing health research is an example of York expertise creating positive change toward our goal of building a healthy world for all,” says Faculty of Health Dean David Peters.

Hoffman was selected for the role based on an already lengthy and accomplished career – frequently combining law and epidemiology ­– focused on the global governance of health threats.

An elected member of the Royal Society of Canada, he has previously worked with the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, and the Executive Office of the United Nations Secretary-General in New York City. Between 2016 and 2022, he served as scientific director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s Institute of Population & Public Health. Recently, he also served as the vice-president for data, surveillance and foresight at the Public Health Agency of Canada, where he led the branch’s 400 employees in implementing the Government of Canada’s $436-million transformation of the agency’s core capabilities following the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At York, Hoffman has built and led the Global Strategy Lab – one of Canada’s largest social science research institutes – which is a WHO Collaborating Centre on Global Governance of Antimicrobial Resistance.

Earlier this year, he also received $200,000 in funding from the government of Ontario to advance a groundbreaking new field of research, global legal epidemiology, to improve the equity and effectiveness of international law and to better prepare Ontario for global health threats.

The selection of Hoffman for this pivotal role with a leading global health research funder highlights the talent the York University’s Faculty of Health has been able to attract and retain, notes Peters. “This is an excellent opportunity for Steven and, by extension, York’s Faculty of Health and York University as a whole, to make an impactful contribution towards advancing health research,” he says.

Dahdaleh Institute accepting global health research grant applications

growing seed in hand

Now in its fifth year, the Critical Social Science Perspectives in Global Health (CPGH) research program looks to continue to provide seed grants to support research that meets the three themes of the Dahdaleh Institute: planetary health; global health and humanitarianism; and global health foresighting.

Every year, the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research provides four seed grants, each valued at up to C$7,000, to initiate novel and innovative ideas that take a critical social science approach to global health research.

In past years, funded projects have advanced research to improve safe water optimization in the Canadian North, study Black anxiety among families with children in and out of the criminal justice system, harness social media data to aid infectious disease outbreak surveillance and more.

The grant is tied to the annual CPGH Workshop, which will take place this year on Tuesday, April 30 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET. All are welcome to attend this hybrid workshop.

The grant application deadline is Tuesday, May 14 at 11:59 p.m. Learn more about the application details and eligibility requirements.

York demonstrates global, national education leadership in latest QS subject rankings

York University commons pond

With three placements in the top 100 of the 2024 QS World University Rankings by Subject report, York University builds on ongoing momentum to right the future as it positions itself as a global leader in post-secondary education through its academic programming.

Each year, the QS Subject Report ranks a total of 55 disciplines grouped into five subject areas: arts and humanities; engineering and technology; life sciences and medicine; natural sciences; and social sciences and management.

The most recent report – which evaluated more than 15,000 programs from 1,561 institutions – placed York among the top 100 in the world in three subject areas: education, English language and literature, and philosophy. Within Canada, the University also received top-five placement across 11 subjects.

“These rankings reflect the high quality education and impactful research that define York University,” says York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton. “We continue to drive positive change locally and globally guided by our values as a progressive university dedicated to excellence, social justice, diversity, inclusion and sustainability. It is gratifying to be recognized for our leadership in the higher education sector. We are providing the talent needed for the 21st-century workforce and solving the complex problems facing society today and in the future.”

The new QS rankings add to the momentum of York’s continued impressive results over the past year in other prestigious rankings. Notably, in June 2023, the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings placed York among the top 40 institutions advancing the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Then, in July, the QS World University Rankings saw the University strengthen its global position as a leading research-intensive university by climbing more than 100 spots from the previous year.

Faculty of Education advancing its leadership

In the new QS subject rankings, released this April, the University placed particularly high in education, demonstrating its ongoing efforts in advancing the future of pedagogy.

That leadership has been shepherded by York’s Faculty of Education, which offers a broad range of programs, research initiatives and community partnerships, all of which embody its long-running dedication to practices of equity, diversity, inclusion and decolonization.

Last year, the Faculty advanced those efforts for the occasion of its 50th anniversary and developed its new five-year strategic plan. Through the plan, the Faculty reaffirmed its commitment to providing an environment where students are encouraged to challenge the status quo to uncover new possibilities in the advancement of education and social justice.

Opportunities – like its Concurrent Bachelor of Education and Bachelor of Arts in Educational Studies – also have helped the Faculty stand out, as have initiatives like its Public Lecture Series, Additional Basic Qualifications courses and the Wüléelham offering, which engages participants in learning from Indigenous peoples.  

The Faculty of Education also this year launched a new international consultancy called ED Global, offering education and professional learning consulting services to school boards, educational organizations and diverse communities.

Top five in Canada

In addition to York’s placement in the top 100 globally in three subjects, it was represented further within the top 150 in eight other subject areas: anthropology, history, accounting and finance, communication and media studies, psychology, performing arts, sociology, developmental studies and psychology (at Glendon college). The University was also represented in the top five for each of these subjects within Canada.

The rankings reflect a range of Faculties and schools at York, including the Faculty of Health, the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, and the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design.

QS World University Rankings is an annual publication of university rankings by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) that serves as an important indicator for global post-secondary education leadership and success.

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.”