Welcome to the May 2023 issue of ‘Innovatus’

Header banner for INNOVATUS

Welcome to the final issue of Innovatus for the 2022-23 academic year. As we move toward 2023-24, it’s fitting that we end the year with a focus on education, a field that promotes growth and change.

Will Gage
Will Gage

Change is also afoot for Innovatus with my term as associate vice-president, teaching and learning, coming to a close. It has been a pleasure serving as publisher of Innovatus, because it has continually reminded me how prevalent creativity and dedication to innovation in teaching and learning are here at York. Each year, I am delighted as wave after wave of interesting, challenging programs and projects emerge from our Faculties. An enjoyment of learning is something we educators hope to inspire in our students, and from this vantage point, the myriad efforts are reaping rewards with no end in sight. I am proud that the team in this office has helped to disseminate the insights and efforts of so many of York’s excellent minds. 

In this issue, our spotlight shines on the Faculty of Education, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. A number of professors have collaborated in turning their research and experiences into books that can be used to teach others. Working in partnership is one of the University Academic Plan’s priorities, and Carl Everton James, the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora, and alumna Leanne Taylor, PhD, examine the experiences of first-generation university students. The inaugural chair holder, Nombuso Dlamini, serves as co-editor of a collection of scholarly essays she and her colleagues wrote during her five-year term. Meanwhile, Gillian Parekh assembled a team of colleagues at York and elsewhere to create an educator’s guide to equity and human rights in special education and a corresponding website.  

Our final story this month isn’t about a book, but about adding new technological education courses to the breadth of York’s offerings so teachers can instruct students who are looking toward jobs in the skilled trades. Tradespeople are in demand across the country, and educators can make those career pathways more inviting and accessible. 

I know you will find these stories illuminating, given that education is our business – and our passion, something that is reinforced as I review the Innovatus stories each month. 

As I leave my role as publisher, I thank you all for your interest in and support for Innovatus. I have no doubt that the team will continue to provide you with a stellar mix of interesting, informative stories each month. 

Best wishes,

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.

Groundbreaking work in Faculty of Education will foster positive change
Faculty of Education Dean Rob Savage shares how teaching and learning reflects a focus on innovation and improvement to shape and respond to the complexities of education in the 21st century.

Faculty of Education responding to need for careers in skilled trades
Professional Learning in the Faculty of Education has introduced four new courses to address the shortage of high school teachers with qualifications to teach skilled trades.

Book highlights the importance of supports for university students
A book co-authored by Professor Carl James, York University Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora, profiles York alumni as first-generation students.

Human rights and equity in special education
It’s time to rethink our approach to special education, says Gillian Parekh, and she and a group of fellow educators and scholars have put their energies into creating change with a guide on equity and human rights in special education.

Collaboration continues to be modus operandi for inaugural Jean Augustine Chair
Inaugural Jean Augustine Chair Nombuso Dlamini reflects on collaboration that led to collection of published essays.

Faculty of Education responding to need for careers in skilled trades 

One participant got support from his teachers and this greatly encouraged him to be himself

By Angela Ward

Professional Learning in the Faculty of Education has introduced four new Technological Education Additional Qualification (AQ) courses and is merging classroom learning with on-site sector experience to address the shortage of high school teachers with these qualifications. 

Technological Education encompasses 10 broad-based technologies with four of these in-demand courses being offered by York University as Additional Basic Qualifications (ABQs). Ontario teachers can now earn a new “Tech Ed” qualification in the following areas with more planned for the near future: green industries; health care; hospitality and tourism; and hairstyling and aesthetics. These new Tech Ed AQ courses allow teachers to expand and extend their knowledge, so they can design and deliver programs to the next generation of talent for in-demand careers.

Anna Jupp
Anna Jupp

“If technological education teachers have trade or sector experience, such as nursing, these Additional Basic Qualification courses support them in translating their specialized knowledge and experience to classroom teaching and learning,” says Anna Jupp, director, professional learning, Faculty of Education. “Our courses are designed to help educators create student programs that not only meet Ontario curriculum expectations but inspire students to pursue careers in the skilled trades.”  

The creation of the new courses results from a shortage of teachers who have the training and qualifications to teach these subjects, which has been a growing issue for years. Areas such as hospitality and tourism require specialized sites such as kitchen facilities, which can be a logistical and costly challenge for course providers. Accessing the latest technology is also a challenge, as teachers need to have access to tools and equipment in these areas to be trained in safely using the tools of the trade, so that students can also be taught.   

Typically, 125-hour AQ courses are structured in a fully online format, where candidates sign in at various times to complete their coursework. In contrast, these Tech Ed AQs offered Jupp and her team a new way to restructure the way educators learn in their chosen broad-based technology. While those enrolled may or may not have sector experience in their chosen field, the Tech Ed AQs are structured to account for 60 hours of traditional learning and 65 hours of experiential learning.   

“There have been challenges in the last several years when it comes to technological education in high schools,” Jupp explains. “We’ve seen a lot of technological education classrooms being dismantled. High schools had carpentry or mechanic shops and kitchens but because of low enrollment among students and a shortage of qualified teachers to teach these subjects, these classrooms were shut down.”  

Both education and the government are preparing teachers and students for future jobs in the skilled trades, highlighting experiential education and technical skills. Jupp notes that the Ministry of Education recently announced that to obtain a secondary school diploma, students will require at least one technological education course to graduate, starting in September 2024.   

“It’s important that teachers be trained, so that students get excited about the trades and get the opportunity to explore them at the high school level,” Jupp says. “This way, students with an interest or talent in the trades can start thinking about this option for their post-secondary path.  

“In thinking about equity and different pathways, it’s important to provide not only options but opportunities for those who are university-bound and those considering a future in the skilled trades. In education, we’ve been looking at ways to offer possibilities for both routes.”  

The technological education additional qualification courses help to build the necessary skills, knowledge and expertise of teachers and feature a custom Moodle Learning Management System (LMS) platform. This offers users a balance of both flexibility and structure as the courses are a blend of online (both synchronous and asynchronous) and in-person learning. The 65-hour sector experience component is unique to York and to all technological education courses across Ontario.   

“We’re proud of our design,” Jupp says. “We included subject matter experts, such as teachers who hold both experience teaching these courses and experience working in their tech sector. The course developer for the health care course, for example, is both a health-care teacher and a former nurse, bringing with her a wealth of sector and teaching experience.”   

Their Moodle LMS design “allows for the initial development of a course,” Jupp notes, “but also provides instructors with the opportunity to customize the course they’re teaching based on the needs of their students. We’ve designed a course where instructors and candidates meet online synchronously once a week for five weeks. Online is preferred since candidates are participating from all over Ontario and attend these classes in the evenings. While facilitated by an instructor, these AQs allow for a highly collaborative environment.”  

After the class, candidates complete Moodle assignments or activities which reflect the topic of the evening and connect back to the classroom. Within their chosen sector, candidates job shadow to earn their 65 hours of sector experience in a placement through the approval of their instructional leader.  

Jupp sees the hands-on learning element in technological education courses as key. “Some providers in the province offer similar courses but went the fully online route, which I think leaves a gap,” Jupp says. “Educators need hands-on experience of knowing how to use the tools and equipment such as properly sanitizing hairdressing tools. They need to know how to effectively transfer this knowledge in a classroom setting.”   

The Office of Professional Learning in the Faculty of Education has been offering AQ courses to Ontario educators since the mid-’90s and are proud to now offer over 100 additional qualifications. These technological education courses and their innovative format are their latest development. Jupp and her team say they are looking forward to always finding new ways to offer their high-quality, in-demand courses in ways that bring the best learning experience to educators possible.   

Human rights and equity in special education 

Two people sitting on floor, one with laptop, one with workbook

By Elaine Smith

It’s time to rethink our approach to special education, says Gillian Parekh, as she and a group of fellow educators and scholars have put their energies into creating change with Equity and Human Rights in Special Education: Critical Reflective Practice Guide, as well as a corresponding interactive website.

Gillian Parekh
Gillian Parekh

“Our work addresses a need,” said Parekh, a York University associate professor and Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in Disability Studies in Education. “For a long time, social justice discourse in education has ignored ableism, but we argue that ableism intersects with many types of discrimination. For example, how we evaluate students’ capacity and organize students into ability-based placements and programs as well as who we assume will benefit from particular opportunities and/or interventions can be influenced by gender, racial, class and other forms of bias.

“Disability is also identity. Both the identity and experience of disability can be produced through social, rather than biological experiences. To understand disability solely through a medical lens is a very Western, and limited, approach. Part of our work is to identify how schools exclude on the basis of ability, the implications of those exclusions, and to advocate for practices that generate the best outcomes for students.” 

In recognizing the need for change and planning to effect a shift in attitude, Parekh gathered a team of 10 scholars and practitioners with expertise on equity and human rights and special education from four institutions to create the guide. Her fellow creators are York colleagues Carl James and Angelique Gordon; Kathryn Underwood and Nicole Ineese-Nash from Toronto Metropolitan University; Luke Reid from the University of Toronto; and David Cameron, Alison Gaymes San Vicente, Karen Murray and Jason To from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB).

Alison Gaymes San Vicente
Alison Gaymes San Vicente
Karen Murray
Karen Murray

“The data show systemic issues, not only in terms of which students are overrepresented in special education identifications and placements, but also in regards to students’ future trajectories through school,” said Parekh. “When you’re in a position of power, you need to think carefully and critically about how and why you make certain decisions and how those decisions influence students’ opportunities. Are there alternatives to explore? We’ve laid out a great case for why critical reflective practice is important.” 

Gaymes-San Vicente, a superintendent with TDSB, said, “We are all aligned in the belief that some aspects of the education system need to change to give everyone a fair chance. There are systemic structures and ableist beliefs we need to challenge in order to create a space where everyone can achieve.” 

Murray, a TDSB system superintendent for equity, anti-racism and anti-oppression, added, “Research has shone the light on issues tied to ability that have become normalized and we need to start thinking about how and why we act in specific ways. We need to shine the light on these serious issues.” 

The guide, which is available in both English and French, has chapters devoted to context, such as discussions of ableism and disability as an intersectional experience and a look at human rights in special education. It then moves on to address critically reflective practice; culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy; and racism and bias in education. It closes with ideas about what school districts can do to make improvements.  

Since its release in 2022, the authors continue to disseminate it to audiences who could benefit.  

“It is reflective of educational policy and practice in Ontario, but the broader themes can be applied nationwide,” Parekh said. “There are broader institutional pieces that can be used in any institutional context.” 

The team has presented the document at various events and conferences. The individual members are all involved in consulting, advocacy and/or professional development and they continue to promote it to a variety of audiences. 

“The timing is right,” Parekh said. “Across the province, school boards are heavily engaged in equity work and this is another complementary toolkit they can use.” 

Murray noted, “I use this guide as a framework for conversations around bias. The guiding questions it poses can be used a framework for moving forward. As a tool, it allows you to see how to extend learning and understanding. There are foundational pieces here that can be used as anchors when you’re thinking about planning for your school, and it’s comprehensive in suggesting next steps for various stakeholders. There’s something there for all of us.” 

Just as important, said Gaymes-San Vicente, “It’s user-friendly, can be powerful when the strategies and critical thinking are applied and shares complex ideas in a way that’s digestible. It has the potential to shift some of the existing dominant narratives, which must shift if we really honour education for all children. Finally, of significance, it asks educators to position themselves as learners in service of their students, rather than being content driven and teacher-centred.” 

Collaboration continues to be modus operandi for inaugural Jean Augustine Chair

feet dangling over a ledge with graffiti

By Elaine Smith

“My definition of leadership is not one where people blindly follow you,” says Nombuso Dlamini, associate professor in the Faculty of Education and York University’s inaugural Jean Augustine Chair in Education in the New Urban Environment. “Leaders have responsibility. I see leadership as a cooperative, community-based position.”

Nombuso Dlamini
Nombuso Dlamini

Dlamini, whose research explores youth negotiations of identity in new urban environments, joined York from the University of Windsor in 2010 to assume the newly created position, which has since been renamed the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora. Although it was an academic appointment, there was a public engagement component and Dlamini wanted to create a yearly template for engagement activities during her five-year term (2010-15). Characteristically, she sought to collaborate with others, reaching out to Faculty of Education colleagues who were engaged in research about the urban environment, as well as other peers with similar interests.  

The result? An informal think tank that included Professors Uzo Anucha, Sarah Barrett, Laura Wiseman and Mario Di Paolantonio of York University; Professor Njoki Wane of OISE/University of Toronto; and then-superintendent of schools and York alum Opiyo Oloya, who is currently an associate vice-president at Western University.  

“I wanted colleagues who had an interest in looking at the experiences of people in the city: how they affirm, create, curate, co-curate and resist urban life,” Dlamini says. “I wanted to work with scholars who could help me define what this environment looks like and how to talk about it in an understandable, scholarly fashion.” 

With their input, Dlamini created the Jean Augustine Chair Forum to honour the work of Augustine, a former member of parliament, a past York University board member and a strong champion of women’s rights, as well as Black identity.  

Similar to the political life of Augustine, Dlamini says, “I wanted to ensure that women were respected, valued and revered in their community.”  

The forum was held annually during the week of March 8, International Women’s Day, and it featured a keynote speaker and a week of student and faculty activities centred around issues of global gender parity.  

“Since the Chair wasn’t fully funded then, my ‘think tank’ suggested that I apply for a grant to fund these activities and helped me brainstorm project topics in a tactical way,” says Dlamini. “They also suggested various community partners who were doing work promoting gender parity.” This resulted in the first Jean Augustine Chair-associated grant funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Engaging Girls Changing Communities. Augustine, herself, was the keynote speaker for the project’s launch. 

Not only did the group meet to assist Dlamini in forging this JA Chair yearly agenda; they met regularly to exchange ideas about research and urban issues, including an annual retreat to write and critique each other’s work. 

This collaboration had an unanticipated result: a published collection of the group’s individual essays co-edited by Dlamini and Swiss researcher Angela Stienen, Spatialized Injustice in the Contemporary City: Protesting as Public Pedagogy (Routledge 2022).  

“When we met to set up actionable activities, we also talked about how our work could help curate urban lives and help educators better understand the experiences of their colleagues,” Dlamini says. “We invited our March 8 speaker to our annual retreats. The book contains essays about living in the city and about how the city is experienced, remembered, created and resisted.  

“It’s about each author’s way of understanding the city and what about the city is enabling or becomes a barrier,” she says. “People produce and consume the city, but they also resist certain kinds of authority and ways of being.” 

As it turns out, the book works as a text in her education research course because it illustrates numerous approaches to research. 

Towards publication, in addition to the obvious focus on the descriptions of the urban environment, “I looked at the book’s other common threads, such as understanding urban life and the experiences of youth, and because I teach research, I began to see a pattern,” Dlamini says. “Each essay is framed more as a research paper, and it provides a template of different possibilities for educational research. 

“Looking back now, I feel really honoured that my colleagues trusted me with their time, ideas and emotions and wanted to engage.” 

Welcome to the April 2023 issue of ‘Innovatus’

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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

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

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.” 

EUC champions hands-on learning, immersive outdoor classrooms

For the birds project

By Angela Ward  

In the Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC), students gain hands-on education through a variety of experiences, dismantling the traditional four walls of a classroom.

Lisa Myers
Lisa Myers
Phyllis Novak
Phyllis Novak

In the Community Arts for Social Change course, taught by Professor Lisa Myers, EUC students collaborated to create the “For the Birds” window mural. Designed out of the student-run Sky Studio Collective and headed by graduate student Phyllis Novak, it now sits outside the first floor of the Health, Nursing and Environmental Studies (HNES) Building. It serves as a reminder to care for the songbirds in the design of built spaces, after the estimated 1,000 deaths each year from window glass. 

“The project came out of research in which we considered our relationships with the sky world, and the life cycle of the songbird,” Novak says. “It was great to co-design with 30 students in the class. And to make sure our designs connected with the outdoor space at HNES/EUC including the Native Plant Garden – a great draw and habitat for the more-than-human species around us. I then worked with four EUC students, as a collaborator, to produce the final mural application.”  

As director of Maloca Living Labs – Community and Native Plant Gardens, Novak also sees the arts playing key roles in environmental education. “There’s so much opportunity and so much we can do,” Novak explains. “Both the arts and environmentalism serve each other, but the arts are accessible, make way for subjectivity, and offer a more-than-words-alone way to struggle through and communicate about urgent issues such as land, food and racial justice. 

“The arts are a great way to archive and map stories that have preceded us in these Anishinaabeg territories, and a modality from which to (re)learn relationships with the natural world that can help us all move forward. Interacting withplace’ through the arts broadens ecological consciousness. My aim is to integrate the arts in urban agriculture, community gardening and environmental learning and activations in EUC’s Maloca and Native Plant Gardens.”

Patrick Mojdehi
Patrick Mojdehi

Living labs are a huge part of EUC’s makeup. “The ability to gather your own data, rather than reviewing someone else’s data and getting outside the four walls of a classroom is a neat experience; not a lot of courses have this component to it,” says Patrick Mojdehi, laboratory technician/field course support, EUC. “Some challenges include not always having a roof over your head and calm conditions, but you must prepare for these elements by having the right clothing, right mindset and right protection. Being adaptable and resilient is an important life lesson. 

“I recall an experience where I was very cold, my hands were in the freezing cold water, but we still took the samples and got the work done. We felt better for it and since we were there with colleagues, we made those types of friendships where you collaboratively experience those hardships together.”  

Mojdehi has over a decade of technical experience in environmental geoscience; and is capable of conducting various research experiments, report writing and sampling methods and design. 

Mojdehi believes that experiential education (EE) is fundamental to a student’s education. “I think that students should really get to it, do it and experience it. Once you go through some type of EE experience, you fall in love with it. It’s very rewarding.”  

As for the career readiness and employment EUC provides, EE offers a challenging yet meaningful experience. “There is a huge paradigm shift these days towards experience and hands-on learning. Having this experience on your resume is beneficial because in terms of physical geography and environmental sciences, companies are doing the same on a larger, more repetitive scale,” Mojdehi explains.

Field trip
One of the experiential education opportunities for EUC students

With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and how that changed science practices, Mojdehi sees a need for science students in EUC complementing their online research with online resources. He says, “Since things are always changing and adapting, I do see it going this way. We’ve used census data and satellite imagery data in the past; which are a type of old open educational resources (OER), where we make digital maps.”  

Moe Clark, a Métis multidisciplinary artist who held a guest workshop in ENVS 1100 The Land We’re On: Treaties, Art and Environment, says that her work is grounded in environmental soundscapes, spoken word poetry and experiential learning. Clark explains, “The innate power of video and the visual realm are at the frontlines of social and political movements as they communicate directly to convey story and transmit understanding. 

“One example during the workshop I presented includes Anishinaabe writer, poet and activist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s piece How to Steal a Canoe. In her video, she used her ancestral tongue, Anishinaabemowin, to speak about power, kinship relationships and the process of locating ourselves. The repetition within her spoken text included images of water as earth blood, used to nurture a dried-out birch bark canoe. I invited students to consider the images and coded symbolisms within their writing and demonstrated how Simpson codifies her work through re-matriation (repatriation) practices of Land Back from an Anishinaabe Kwe perspective.”   

Betasamosake Simpson’s poem was complemented with vivid animations by Amanda Strong. “Strong is a Métis animator based in Vancouver. Her visual language offered examples of ways to weave these living metaphors within the cellphim realm to underscore land acknowledgements. Land acknowledgments then become more than a concept; they become a sensory experience of place.” 

In her workshop, Clark encourages her students to consider how relationships are dynamic and living, explaining, “They should be wary of placing any relationship, any understanding of power, of treaty relations or of land claims or land title as a past thing. I want to ensure students are upholding and uplifting their roles as allies, as immigrants, refugees and settlers and they are improving how they build and maintain relationships.”  

EUC aims to create meaningful experience for its students that are different, unique and rewarding, equipping them to become career ready, and become critically and creatively engaged as future changemakers in this time of unprecedented environmental change.  

Welcome to the March 2023 issue of ‘Innovatus’

Header banner for INNOVATUS

Welcome to our March issue of Innovatus. This month, our newsletter shines the spotlight on the Lassonde School of Engineering as it celebrates its 10th anniversary and continues to find innovative ways to fulfil the promise of engineer Pierre Lassonde’s gift to the University.  

“My gifts,” he said at the time, “are about helping the next generation of Canadians to fulfil their dreams and continue to make Canada one of the best places to live in the world.” 

With its experiential, entrepreneurial approach to engineering, Lassonde is making a name for itself in the engineering community, the world of innovators and places where STEM wasn’t previously a byword. The School is well on its way toward fulfilling its vision, as articulated in the Lassonde Strategic Academic Plan, 2021-2026: To be recognized among the world’s best interdisciplinary engineering schools, a home where engineers and scientists collaborate to improve the world for everyone. 

This issue of Innovatus offers you a peek at a number of the innovative approaches, programs and courses the School offers its students and the wider community. Our first story demonstrates Lassonde’s dedication to the availability of clean water, one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). This focus on clean water reflects the University Academic Plan’s commitment to the UN SDGs and is reflected in research and programs undertaken by civil, electrical and mechanical engineering faculty and students.

Lassonde’s innovation is also evident in the tools available to its students, and faculty take an active interest in those tools. Professor Mojgan Jadidi in the Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering has taken it upon herself to upgrade a tool for topographic visualization so her students gain a better understanding of the implications of their work. This open-source VR Sandbox is being used in the classroom by Jadidi and her colleagues. 

Tools, broadly speaking, are something Lassonde provides to youth from kindergarten through their undergraduate years, allowing them to indulge their curiosity about the world around them through STEM and embrace the opportunities STEM careers provide. Our third story introduces the reader to this wide range of support programs that surmount barriers toward equity and inclusion. 

Finally, our fourth story speaks to partnerships, one of the UAP’s priorities for action. At Lassonde, partnerships can bring together academics and students from around the globe or they can connect researchers with community partners seeking practical solutions to current problems, such as cybersecurity, as you’ll see for yourself. 

We hope you enjoy learning more about the journey Lassonde has created to ensure a better future for all of us. 

Will Gage
Associate Vice President, 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.

Lassonde trailblazing new education strategies in pursuit of positive change
Lassonde School of Engineering Dean Jane Goodyer invites community members to learn more about the School’s work to dismantle barriers to education through innovative approaches to 21st century learning.

Lassonde faculty leading innovative solutions for cleaner water, more sustainable world
Microplastics are contaminants of emerging concern, but detecting these microplastics to achieve cleaner water is no easy feat. York University faculty at the Lassonde School of Engineering are up to the challenge.

Using a virtual reality sandbox as a teaching tool
By the time students enter York’s Lassonde School of Engineering, they’re long past the age of playing in sandboxes – or so they believe; however, faculty member Mojgan Jadidi and her colleagues have turned that assumption on its head.

Lassonde’s STEM programs reflect changing world
Lassonde is changing the face of STEM education to ensure it aligns with the world of the future by breaking down systemic barriers and offering opportunities for inclusion.

Lassonde partnerships spell success
York’s academic plan calls “Working in Partnership” one of the University’s six priorities and Lassonde’s partnerships with Scotiabank and other universities speak to that commitment.