Mpox outbreak leads to stigmas, blame toward 2SLGBTQIAP+ community

Colorized transmission electron micrograph of monkeypox particles (teal) found within an infected cell (brown), cultured in the laboratory. Image captured and color-enhanced at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. Credit: NIAID

York University researchers have furthered their study of the global mpox virus by publishing a new paper on the dangerous stigmas the 2SLGBTQIAP+ community face as the outbreak continues.

Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared mpox an international public health emergency on July 23, 2022, over 100 countries have been affected by cases. A month earlier, York Postdoctoral Fellow Nicola Bragazzi, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mathematics Jude Kong and Distinguished Research Professor Jianhong Wu contributed to that decision by leading critical research identifying symptoms in a paper called “Epidemiological trends and clinical features of the ongoing monkeypox epidemic.”

Since the outbreak of mpox, and the paper, research has found that the Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual and pansexual (2SLGBTQIAP+) community, has been heavily and disproportionately impacted. Concerned with the risk the community faces in being stigmatized and blamed for transmitting the virus, Bragazzi, Kong and Wu turned from studying the clinical impact of mpox, to studying its social impact. They wanted to learn just how significant the stigma for the 2SLGBTQIAP+ community had become, because marginalized and minority populations being blamed for spreading a disease, can increase hesitancy to seek help when symptoms emerge or impact mental health conditions.

The result is a new study, co-authored with York’s Zahra Movahedi Nia (postdoctoral researcher) and Professors Ali Asgary and Dr. James Orbinski, which used two forms of artificial intelligence-driven natural language processing – topic modelling and sentiment analysis – to assess relevant popular discussions on Twitter and Facebook, identifying stigmatization sources, their hot spots and their sentiments.

“The 2SLGBTQIAP+ is a hard-to-reach community and social networks can be a useful venue to sample from this community and collect relevant data,” says Bragazzi.

The researchers discovered that online mpox has become tightly linked to the 2SLGBTQIAP+ community, with the majority of sentiments negative. Out of the 10 topics related to mpox and 2SLGBTQIAP+, eight were directly focused on blaming the community for spreading mpox.

“This study shows that the 2SLGBTQIAP+ community is being widely stigmatized for spreading the mpox virus, which turns the community into a highly vulnerable population. As a result, people are discouraged from seeking help upon observing the symptoms and the prevalence of the virus increases. Such stigmatization broadens disparities, brings social isolation and increases mental health disorders,” says Kong. 

The academic quantification and proof of ongoing social stigmatization is meant to aid public health officials in determining the direction of policies, informing them with data-driven outcomes that can help counter stigma which, if it increases, can lead to lack of treatment, thereby making it more difficult to contain and control the mpox outbreak.

“Our work will enable health officials to identify hotspots, control fear and stop discrimination among the population,” says Wu.

Schulich ExecEd ranks in Financial Times’ top 30 worldwide

Business people in suits, smiling at camera, stock photo

The Financial Times of London, the historic daily business newspaper and premier rankings publisher for executive education programs worldwide, has named Schulich ExecEd the 30th best program of its kind in the world.

This year’s Financial Times ranking serves as a new highwater mark for Schulich ExecEd, which has steadily climbed Financial Times’ rankings for the last few years, reaching rank 32 in 2022. Not only did Schulich ExecEd climb two ranks higher this year, it also defended its prior-attained status as the second-best executive education program throughout Canada.

Schulich Financial Times 2023 #30 ranking graphic

The newspaper assesses institutions on two criteria. The first criterion is the school’s competitiveness in open enrolment programs and the second is the school’s competitiveness in custom enrolment programs. Each school receives a grade in each of these criteria, and the combined, weighted average of these grades informs the overall ranking. Schulich ExecEd’s ranking this year stems from the 33 and 43 grades that it received for its open- and custom-enrolment programs respectively.

Rami Mayer close-up photo
Rami Mayer

“We’re very proud of this achievement,” said Rami Mayer, executive director of Schulich ExecEd. “I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to the incredibly talented team at Schulich ExecEd and to our wonderful instructors, as well as our amazing clients and participants for their strong vote of confidence in the quality of our programs.”

Last year, the release of the Financial Times rankings followed shortly after the overhaul of the Schulich Executive Education Centre into what is now Schulich ExecEd. The continued ascension of Schulich ExecEd through the Financial Times rankings demonstrates the school underwent more than a name change. This year’s Financial Times rankings similarly arrive on the heels of the announcement of Schulich ExecEd’s new strategic partnership with 5D Corporate Teaching and Learning Centre (5D) based in Halifax, which will expand access to the world-class business program to Canadians across the Atlantic coastal region.

To explore all of the programs that Schulich ExecEd has to offer, click here.

York mathematician receives funding to advance mpox research

mpox virus

A York University mathematician has received nearly half a million dollars from the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) to better predict and assess future outbreaks of mpox and other zoonotic threats (infectious diseases that jump from animals to humans).

Woldegebriel Assefa Woldegerima
Woldegebriel Assefa Woldegerima

Woldegebriel Assefa Woldegerima, an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics in the Faculty of Science, will use epidemiological and geospatial models including mathematical and artificial intelligence-based models to study epidemiology, transmission dynamics and immunology and intervention strategies to forecast the effectiveness of prevention and control strategies for mpox and other zoonotic diseases in Canada and around the world.

“We are not safe from emerging or re-emerging diseases including animal-to-human spillovers,” said Woldegerima. “Our research will provide valuable insights for preventive public health strategies and help governments be better prepared to manage and respond to an epidemic or pandemic threat in the future.”

Mpox, more commonly known as monkeypox, is a virus spread through close contact including sexual interactions and is typically found in parts of central and western Africa. The 2022 outbreak was reported in early May that year. A total of 87,479 cases, including 140 deaths, have been confirmed in 111 countries as of May 2023, according to the World Health Organization. 

Woldegerima and his research team will conduct risk-map assessments, geospatial analysis and machine learning to identify hotspots for potential outbreaks around the world. In addition, their research will use biobehavioural data and results of a survey by the Centre for Disease Control that involved men who have sex with men – a population considered at higher risk for infection – to examine control measures, risk factors and the impact mpox has had on sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections.

These various data sources will allow the researchers to extend their mathematical models for the first time to account for how the virus has disproportionately affected people living with HIV, who make up almost half of the global cases, and to better understand how HIV stigma and discrimination may impede public health interventions.  

The work will provide new training opportunities for postdoctoral researchers and undergraduate students in the Faculty of Science and builds on York University’s expertise in the mathematical modelling of infectious diseases. York is among the top institutions in Canada for publications on COVID-19 modelling.  

Woldegerima’s team for the CIHR research project includes Professors Jianhong Wu, James Orbinski, Sarah Flicker, Ali Asgary, Jude Kong, Nicola L. Bragazzi and Nickolas Ogden. The project is supported by two Organized Research Units at York, Y-EMERGE and Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research, which will provide in-kind support in the form of office space and administrative support.

Woldegerima’s project, “Modelling, predicting and risk assessment of mpox and other (re)emerging zoonotic threats to inform decision-making and public health actions,” received $480,000.

York collaborates on international post-pandemic recovery research

A young woman dons a mask to protect against the novel coronavirus FEATURED image for York library story
A young woman dons a mask to protect against the novel coronavirus FEATURED image for York library story

York University Associate Professor Claudia Chaufan will collaborate with a group of interdisciplinary researchers to investigate post-pandemic recovery and best practices for future global emergencies with a grant from the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF).

Claudia Chaufan
Claudia Chaufan

The $500,000 award was announced as part of the Government of Canada’s NFRF’s 2022 Special Calls stream, which aims to support emerging research as needed.

Chaufan, from the Faculty of Health, is a co-principal investigator on an interdisciplinary team of six researchers from across Canada, along with: Claus Rinner, Toronto Metropolitan University (principal investigator); and co-investigators Candice Chow, McMasters University; J. Christian Rangel, University of Ottawa; Elaine Wiersma, Lakehead University; and Wang, Yiwen, University of Toronto. The project is led by Toronto Metropolitan University.

The project’s team consists of researchers from across the globe, including co-applicant Andrea Valente of York’s Faculty of Education, as well as Canadian experts in governance, healthcare, law, media and communications, and international collaborators from Jamaica, Western Europe, Israel, Kenya and Uganda who specialize in behavioural sciences, economics, epidemiology and philosophy.

The research aims to examine the social and economic inequities amplified by COVID-19 on an international scale. Together, the researchers will look at how social cohesion and inclusivity can be strengthened through community engagement in decision-making with respect to future emergencies. They will also explore how governments can improve communication and build trust with communities.

According to the research team, this research contributes to achieving four United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs): UN SDG 3 Good Health and Wellbeing, by assessing to what extent a holistic view of public health informed the pandemic response; UN SDG 10 Reduced Inequalities, by assessing the impact of pandemic responses on social and health equity; UN SDG 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities, by identifying vulnerable communities, even in high-income countries; and UN SDG 16 Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, by examining to what extent the policy development process was transparent and able to ensure inclusivity and accountability.

The team’s research methods will include case studies, critical document analysis, discourse analysis and visualization, as well as oral histories and creative work to investigate operational consideration of the social determinants of health and value-based governance.

The project’s findings will help inform future policy on disaster management.

For more, visit

York students earn prestigious titles at debut pan-Canadian Model European Union

York University Department of Politics students at the first official pan-Canadian model EU.

Seven York University students were among the nearly 100 participants from 13 universities across Canada to compete at the first-ever officially sanctioned model European Union (EU) in Ottawa from May 5 to 7.

The two-day policy negotiation simulation invited undergraduate students from across the country with an interest in international and translatlantic relations.

Department of Politics Associate Professor Heather MacRae nominated students from both the Keele and Glendon campuses for the simulation. Travelling with MacRae to Carlton University, which hosted the event, were Karmen Galamb, Lily Tureski, Colin Maitland, Phoung Tran-Vo, David Miranda, Anna Huusko and Juliette Castillo Martinez – many of whom recently completed the Debates in Contemporary European Union Politics (AP/GLBL 4517) senior undergraduate course, or other similar politics courses.

Throughout the simulation, students were tasked with emulating the proceedings of a meeting of the European Council – which convenes four times per year in Belgium with its 27 member states – as it discussed the terms of a proposed EU arctic policy. That arctic policy would outline the approach that the EU would take to matters of economics, defence and international cooperation in the arctic throughout the next decade and onward.

The Debates in Contemporary European Union Politics course is similarly structured to familiarize students with the various proceedings of EU institutions through smaller classroom simulations. This semester, the course challenged students to deliberate the merits of a hypothetical European army. For MacRae and her students, the model EU in Ottawa served as the perfect experiential learning opportunity, providing a testing ground to demonstrate the skills that had been honed through their coursework at York.

“[Contemporary European Union Politics] is designed to help students to better understand the way supranational organizations work and the need for compromise in negotiations,” MacRae says. “Students develop a variety of professional skills – often without really realizing it – such as public speaking, collaboration, networking, consensus building and active listening, while also building research skills and knowledge about the European Union, its institutions and some of the major issues facing the EU and Europe more broadly.”

Speaking to the efficacy of the Department of Politics’ curricula, each of the seven York students performed throughout the event, with Huusko and Galamb – who comprised Team Finland – earning the title of “most likely to work in the EU,” one of only six titles bestowed to competitors throughout the simulation.

Students, professors and EU delegates mix and mingle at the pan-Canadian model EU reception.
Students, professors and EU delegates mix and mingle at the pan-Canadian model EU reception.

“I’m very pleased with my decision to attend the conference and if another opportunity arose I would gladly attend again,” says Huusko. “The whole weekend was well organized and everything went according to plan. The opening ceremony was so inspiring and, throughout the event in general, the opportunities for networking were invaluable.”

“My favourite part of the conference was definitely the networking aspect. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people, both students and professionals, who I’ve learned a lot from,” Galamb adds.

Serving as breaks in the simulated negotiations, several receptions and communal meals gave participants the chance to mingle with their peers, as well as meet with their real-world EU delegate counterparts and other European ambassadors in attendance. Opening remarks were delivered by Ambassador of the European Union in Canada Melita Gabric, while representatives from the German, Greek and Slovenian embassies offered encouragement and guidance to the students and professors.

“It was fantastic to see so many like-minded students working together to solve intricate policy challenges,” says Maitland. “The levels of professionalism on display were profound and the experience was something I’ll never forget. I would definitely participate in this challenge all over again if the chance arises.“

“For me, it was a fabulous experience to see our students putting their skills to use outside the classroom setting. Seeing students confidently engaging in in-depth conversations with diplomats about the country’s position on various current events is extremely rewarding for me as an educator,” MacRae adds.

The broad success of the event is also an achievement for MacRae on a personal level, considering that in years prior she had taken her students to EU-sponsored events in the U.S., and was instrumental in rallying support a similar, official event to come to Canada.

“In the past I have taken students to model EUs in the U.S., but this year we were able to arrange a Canada-specific event,” she says. “It will hopefully be the first of many.”

Professor Patricia Keeney celebrates bilingual volume of poetry

writing in notebook

Patricia Keeney, a long-time professor of creative writing at York University, has had her fourth bilingual volume of poetry published in France. The author of 10 books of poetry in English, this is Keeney’s eighth volume in another language. Keeney has also taught English and humanities at York for some 40 years.

Approche de la Déesse book cover

Selected and translated by Michelle DuClos and Magdelaine Gibson, the new volume is called Approche de la Déesse, a title taken from Keeney’s poem “A Touch of the Goddess” and contains poems “inspired largely by my love of Greece and partly by the throb of mythology,” says Kenney. The volume was published by Alidades in Bergerac.

“As a writer, poetry has always been my first love,” says Keeney, “so I am especially delighted when my poems find a life in other languages. The translation of this new volume is tremendously sensitive to both the original English and to the French. These are two fine translators whom I first met while teaching at the University of Bordeaux some years ago.”

Three other volumes of Keeney’s work have been previously translated by DuClos and published by Les Amis de la Poésie in Bergerac. All four of the French editions are bilingual –with the original English on one page and the French facing it – making the volume especially useful for language and translation classes.

Other translated editions of her poetry include volumes in Hindi (published in Jaipur, India), Bulgarian (published in Sofia, Bulgaria), Spanish (published by Toronto’s Antares Press) and Chinese (published in Xi’an, China). 

In addition to her poetry, Keeney has published two novels: The Incredible Shrinking Wife, and One Man Dancing, the latter based on the true story of a small experimental theatre company in Uganda trying to survive during the murderous reign of dictator Idi Amin. The book, which follows the life of one of the company’s leading performers (an actor-dancer who now lives in Toronto), has generated positive international reviews and has been adapted for film by award-winning New York screenwriter Hank Whittemore. The script is now making the rounds of producers in both North America and Europe.

Her current project – in the final stages of editing – is a novel called Emptiness and Angels. “It’s a time-travelling mystery based on the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus,” says Keeney. “Its leading character is a contemporary feminist professor of Mariology who comes across a manuscript reputed to be the true life of Mary showing her as both a young woman in Nazareth and as an older woman living out her final days in Ephesus after her son’s crucifixion.

“Part of it is set in Canada at a university not so different from York, in Germany where we meet a stigmatic nun obsessed with the Virgin, and in the Holy Land. We also move through ancient and modern Ephesus as well as into the south of France where churches abound devoted to their own version of Mary. The French call their main cathedral Notre Dame for a reason.”

Patricia Keeney
Patricia Keeney

Working in a variety of genres feels natural, says Keeney, who is also an award-winning poetry and theatre critic writing reviews regularly in the Canadian poetry journal Arc and in the Paris-based international webjournal Critical Stages.

“I find that I’m drawn to many art forms including film, dance and theatre as well as the critical essay,” she says. “But poetry can encompass them all because it is an inclusive art suited, perhaps to my own restlessness. Certainly the experience of having my poetry translated from one language to another is deeply rewarding. Translation, like poetry itself,  has to navigate image and idea, voice and nuance, music and tone, accuracy and suggestiveness. Over the years, working with translators, has broadened and deepened my understanding of all these elements.”

Most recently, Keeney contributed to an anthology of poems by Canadian writers in support of Ukraine called Poems in Peril and participated in numerous readings to promote the book whose proceeds go to help Ukrainian artists. This volume, along with her other recent books – One Man Dancing, First Woman (poetry, Inanna) and Orpheus in Our World (choreo-poetry, NeoPoiesis) –-is available from Amazon and online book sellers..

Approche de la Déesse can be ordered directly from

York satellites headed to space

Satellite in space

By Alexander Huls, deputy editor, YFile

One CubeSat – a square-shaped satellite the size of a Rubik’s cube – created by York University students, and another with hardware supplied by students, will launch from the Kennedy Space Center and be placed in orbit by International Space Station astronauts.

Zheng Hong (George) Zhu
George Zhu

Funded by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), since 2017 the Canadian CubeSat Project (CCP) has provided the opportunity for students to gain greater access and experiential learning to better prepare for careers in the aerospace industry by designing and building their own satellites.

“In the past, students who wanted to learn the design of space instruments and satellite technology never had the hands-on opportunity to build, launch and operate their own. Everything was on paper. This gives them opportunities,” explains Zheng Hong (George) Zhu, director of the Space Engineering Design Laboratory at York’s Lassonde School of Engineering.

Zhu led the team of students who created an entirely York-made satellite set to enter space this summer. The Educational Space Science and Engineering CubeSat Experiment (ESSENCE) is the first satellite to be designed and built mainly by undergraduate students across engineering programs at Lassonde. A previous York-made satellite was launched in 2020, but was designed, built, integrated and tested by graduate students led by Zhu.

The ESSENCE carries two science payloads expected to contribute to understanding of the effects of climate change, aligning the project with the York University Academic Plan 2020 – 2025, and the School’s dedication to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).

The first payload is a high-resolution 360 degree by 187 degree fisheye camera which will be used to capture images of Canada’s Arctic Region from a height of 400 km to monitor the thawing of permafrost and Arctic ices. The camera can also capture images of stars and space debris. The team will collaborate with scientists at Defense Research and Development Canada to observe and monitor space debris with these images. The second payload is a proton detector, developed by the University of Sydney in Australia, which will collect data on energetic solar protons from solar storms in low Earth orbit, providing insights into the impact of climate change on Earth.

The ESSENCE was a collaborative effort between students, four co-investigators from Lassonde (Franz Newlands, Mike Daly, Andrew Maxwell and Alexsander Czekanski), as well as strategic partnerships with the Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) and the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), which provided novel attitude control algorithms to point the camera in desired directions.

The ESSENCE Satellite team
The ESSENCE CubeSat team saying goodbye to their satellite before it was shipped off for launch preparation

The second CubeSat to be launched into space this summer, thanks to York students, is also a product of an external partnership. However, while the ESSENCE was a York-led satellite relying on hardware from other institutions, a University of Manitoba-led CubeSat project draws on innovative hardware provided by Lassonde students.

Supervised by Regina Lee, professor of space engineering, a team of students was asked by the University of Manitoba CubeSat team – who named their satellite “IRIS” – to create a critical component to help realize the partner school’s CubeSat goal of consistently exposing geological samples to solar radiation in space and study the effects.

Regina Lee
Regina Lee

“Our job was to design the subsystem to go into their satellite that would figure out which direction it’s pointing in within space, and make sure it’s pointing to the sun,” explains Ryan Clark, who worked on the project, and is a former member of the Nanosatellite Research Laboratory at York.

“They set a general guideline for the hardware component development, and our contribution was the sun sensor, magnetorquers and then the board that contains the full Attitude Determination and Control System that fits on the CubeSat,” says Peter Keum, who was part of the team.

Lastly: “We were focused on testing, calibrating and – once we were done – shipping it off,” says Gabriel Chianelli, the remaining member of the team, who is part of the Nanosatellite Search Group at York.

The two CubeSats – the ESSENCE and IRIS – are now being readied for their space-bound journey, and both teams are preparing to see them launched this summer. Zhu and 20 of his students are planning to travel to the Kennedy Space Station Center to witness the launch, some of them from within a NASA VIP room that is only five kilometers away from the launch pad. Others, like Lee’s team, will eagerly be watching via YouTube livestreams.

For both professors behind the work on the two satellites, the launch will mark the fruition of a desire to see their students work on something that won’t just make it to space, but impact their futures. “My goal was to make sure that my students have hands-on experience so they can graduate and do well in their career,” Lee says. Zhu shares that sentiment. “I have a passionate love for space engineering, and I like my students to have the same life experience I do,” he says.

Projects like the ESSENCE might be the first satellite to be designed and built mainly by undergraduate students at York, but it’s unlikely to be the last. “When I was an undergrad, starting to 2014, there were no internships or placements for undergrad space students,” Clark says. “Now, there are so many more placements, so many opportunities available, it seems like just the barriers to entry are coming down, and a lot more people are getting into space.”

York professor knighted in Japan

Kyoto, Japan

Students pursuing studies in York University’s Kinesiology & Health Science program may have the opportunity to learn about karate-do from a knight.

Sachil Singh, assistant professor of physical culture and health technologies in datafied societies, recently earned recognition in Japan when he was honoured with a knighthood for his accomplishments in karate-do.

Sachil Singh performing a karate kata (sequence of techniques) called Bassai Dai
Sachil Singh performing a karate kata (sequence of techniques) called Bassai Dai

During an April 30 ceremony in Kyoto, Japan, Singh was knighted by the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai (DNBK), an organization established in 1895 under the authority of the Japanese government, with the endorsement of the Japanese Royal Family, and received the rank of Fourth Dan in karate-do and the “Renshi” or “Polished Warrior” title.

“It was an incredibly moving experience,” says Singh, “not only because it allowed for a moment of pause as I reflected on my martial arts journey spanning 31 years, but also because the sword used for the knighthood belonged to Miyamoto Musashi.”

Musashi, he explains, lived in the 16th and 17th centuries and is one of the most legendary Samurai in Japanese history. “I can still feel the weight of the sword on my shoulder as I lowered myself on my right knee; it offers a reminder of my privilege and calling to preserve martial virtues, and promote values of equity, peace, mutual understanding, mutual prosperity and respect through martial arts training and education.” 

Among his other research and teaching responsibilities at York, Singh will teach a practicum course on karate-do in the Kinesiology program starting in Fall 2023 where his pedagogy will promote principles of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

The course promotes EDI, explains Singh, because its starting point is to show sensitivity to students’ self-reported positionalities. Additionally, by meeting each student where they are in terms of ability (mental strength, mobility, flexibility etc), the course embraces difference and is met with an approach of assessing students against themselves.

“Students are not competing with anyone but themselves since the goal is individual growth and development,” says Singh, who uses this approach as a springboard to promote EDI because it allows for diversity to dictate how each class runs.

Singh’s Japan trip also included an invitation to Meiji University (Tokyo) from the Japan Society for Information and Management (JSIM) where he delivered a research talk on artificial intelligence, datafication and racial discrimination in health care.

“York already enjoys a partnership with Meiji University, so I used this opportunity to build on those relations and foster research dialogue between the respective institutions,” said Singh.

Singh’s main areas of research are medical sociology, critical race studies and algorithmic inequality. As an interdisciplinary scholar, he works in these spaces to bring attention to how life chances are shaped by stereotypes and (mis)information about race and ethnicity. His work demonstrates how these problems can make their way into the medical field as “objective” or “scientific,” thereby raising concerns for patient care.

Singh has published on this research in the peer-reviewed journals Health and Social Science & Medicine, and has a forthcoming chapter in The Routledge International Handbook of Valuation and Society. He is also co-editor of the journal Big Data & Society.

He teaches in areas of socio-cultural history, identity politics, racial discrimination and surveillance. 

New organized research unit focused on water issues rides wave of early success, impact

Water droplets

By Corey Allen, senior manager, research communications

OneWATER, a new organized research unit (ORU) at York University, is in its infancy but is already driving positive change.  

Launched last fall, OneWATER sent delegates to the United Nations in New York within its first few months of operating, where its members headlined a panel at the UN Water Conference. During the conference, OneWater announced its researchers will play a key role in the delivery of the Water Academy – a collaborative education program between York, several other academic institutions and UNITAR (United Nations Institute for Training and Research).

Sylvie Morin
Sylvie Morin

“OneWATER was created to bring together water experts from all over campus as well as partners and communities and go beyond what we can accomplish as lone researchers,” says director Sylvie Morin, professor in the Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science. “We didn’t anticipate this much momentum.”  

OneWATER is an acronym that details the combined expertise of its members – W for water management, A for artificial intelligence, T for technologies, E for education and sustainability and R for resource recovery and reuse.  

Initially proposed as an ORU by Satinder Brar, professor and James and Joanne Love Chair in Environmental Engineering, Department of Civil Engineering, Lassonde School of Engineering, OneWATER brings together York University’s experts on water-related issues in multiple disciplines across several Faculties and units.  

From civil engineering to water governance to environmental justice and more, OneWATER is the central hub at York for leading water-related experts to unite, conduct interdisciplinary research and generate knowledge on pressing issues, like water security, flooding and sanitation. This work has the potential to significantly inform and influence public policy.  

For Morin, OneWATER creates a platform for York researchers to tackle bigger questions that would otherwise be unable to be fully explored within a single department or Faculty.  

“We have something very special here,” she says. “As a collective, OneWATER can conduct higher-level, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research at York, take a significant leading role in Canada and compete for more significant grants. As an ORU, we are also better positioned to work on larger-scale projects with international collaborators.”  

This summer, Morin will begin work on her first project under OneWATER.  

Morin, along with Stephanie Gora, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, and Yeuhyn Kim, a PhD candidate co-supervised by Morin and Gora, will develop new materials for sustainable wastewater treatment focusing on pesticides and pharmaceuticals.  

York explores research partnerships with South Africa

Hand holding light bulb with illustration on blurred background

York University hosted two major institutional conversations with South Africa during the 2022-23 academic year to explore opportunities for future partnerships.

In late April, the University hosted a delegation of South African university vice-chancellors and deputy vice-chancellors for research, the CEO of Universities South Africa and representatives from the country’s National Research Foundation.

South African university vice-chancellors, deputy vice-chancellors and CEOs gathered with members of the country's National Research Foundation at York University.
South African university vice-chancellors, deputy vice-chancellors and CEOs gathered with members of the country’s National Research Foundation at York University.

The delegation was part of a much larger visit by South African research councils and South African universities to Toronto and Ottawa, organized by South Africa’s National Research Foundation (NRF) to deepen research collaborations with Canada’s research funding agencies and universities. York University kicked off the Toronto-leg of the visit when it hosted the delegation at the Keele campus.

This follows a visit in Fall 2022 by South Africa’s Member of Parliament and Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Buti Manamela. The deputy minister’s visit was facilitated by Higher Health South Africa with virtual participation from NRF and South African researchers.

“York University greatly values our partnerships in South Africa, and we were pleased to host the South African delegation last week, and the Honourable Buti Manamela last fall,” says President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton. “Engaging in global research and innovation, and elevating our global partnerships are priority areas outlined in our new Internationalization and Global Engagement Strategy and complement our Academic Plan 2020-2025 priorities. I look forward to seeing the research and innovations that can result from these important conversations, and how we can work together to drive positive change.”  

President Rhonda Lenton meeting with the Honourable Deputy Minister Buti Manamela and his entourage
President Rhonda Lenton meeting with the Honourable Deputy Minister Buti Manamela.

NRF followed up on the deputy minister’s visit to continue exploring the possibility of a joint calls for research with York University. Concurrently, NRF was also working with South African universities and other Canadian universities to develop a South Africa-Canada university research network.

During both visits to York, researchers from social sciences, humanities, engineering, health and sciences participated in the conversations, discussing opportunities for collaboration in space engineering, AI and society, water, decolonization, health equity, refugee studies, disaster management, planetary health and many other fields of mutual interest.

Jude Kong
Jude Kong

“I was happy to see the diversity of topics that are prime for collaboration”, said Professor Amir Asif, vice-president research and innovation who co-hosted the April visit. “York University professor Jude Kong’s timely, successful and collaborative leadership in building pandemic modelling networks with South Africa and other African countries with funding from both governments also made a strong impression on South African leaders.

 “We look forward to strengthening our existing collaborations and building new ones in South Africa.”

During the April visit, York University colleagues also met with NRF leadership, where NRF reinforced their interest in developing a bilateral relationship with York.

“It is not often a G20 and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) member government representing a country with enormous political, economic, cultural and scientific reach on a continent engages an overseas university to develop bilateral research partnerships,” said Kong, who participated in all the meetings and is the executive director of the Africa-Canada Artificial Intelligence and Data Innovation Consortium. “Other global funding agencies, universities and foundations will pay attention to this.”

During consultations for York’s Internationalization and Global Engagement Strategy and conversations with Global South partners, a recurring theme in fostering north-south collaboration was the challenge in mobilizing resources for collaborations.

“York, like other Canadian universities, has benefited significantly from the contributions of our colleagues throughout Africa and from other parts of the Global South,” said Lisa Philipps, provost and vice-president academic, who co-hosted the visit on April 24. “Investing in a relationship with South African institutions resonates with York because we have common interests and strengths in advancing United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including commitments to anti-racism and decolonization frameworks.”

York’s connection to South Africa stretches back to the 1980s during the country’s anti-apartheid struggle. In 1989, York conferred an honorary doctor of laws degree upon Nelson Mandela in absentia “in recognition of his profound contribution to humanity and the creation of a more just society.” York University faculty have also worked to preserve and celebrate Mandela’s legacy on campus.

Amrita Daftary
Amrita Daftary

Members of the York community have also cultivated long-standing research connections of their own. “Professor Amrita Daftary holds an adjunct appointment at University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) and has extensively co-published with her South African counterparts,” said Vinitha Gengatharan, assistant vice-president global engagement and partnerships.

The April visit concluded with the launch of a binational universities research network by the South African universities and the government with support from many Canadian universities. This interest in partnering with Canadian universities is also the result of momentum generated through the efforts of Canada’s High Commission, funding councils and International Development Research Centre. Carleton University’s Professor David Hornsby was the Canadian architect of this network.  

Jude Kong with delegates from South Africa's National Research Foundation.
Jude Kong with delegates from South Africa’s National Research Foundation.

“A well-resourced academic network can be invaluable and can address gaps in sustaining long-term binational academic cooperation,” said Lenton. “We hope that Canada will consider supporting such a network as part of its soon-to-be launched Africa strategy, and I am looking forward to visiting South Africa soon.”

York university colleagues interested in deepening their engagement with South Africa and learning more should contact Skandha Sunderasen at York International.