Research study by chemistry professor wins prestigious award

a man holding a trophy

A research study led by chemistry Professor Christine Le, titled “Synthesis of Carbamoyl Fluorides Using a Difluorophosgene Surrogate Derived from Difluorocarbene and Pyridine N-Oxides,” was honoured with the 2023 Outstanding Publication of the Year Award from The Journal of Organic Chemistry.

Christine Le
Christine Le

The award recognizes a paper from the previous year that demonstrates creativity and impact in the field of organic chemistry, with a focus on early-career researchers. “This publication was my first independent paper, so it feels incredibly rewarding to have our chemistry already recognized for its impact on the community,” said Le, who co-authored the study with York doctoral student Dusty Cadwallader, master of science alumni Tristan R. Tiburcio, and undergraduate student George A. Cieszynski. The paper was also among the top six most read articles in the journal in 2022.

Le’s research study presents an innovative approach to making molecules called carbamoyl fluorides in an efficient way that avoids the use of light-, moisture-, temperature-, and shock-sensitive reagents. Her findings expand the toolbox for chemists interested in making and using carbamoyl fluorides for research and drug development, including employing them in reactions to add fluorine to medicinal compounds, as demonstrated in a recently published study by Le and colleagues in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

“Adding fluorine to a drug molecule can drastically improve its medicinal properties, by making it more potent and stable for instance,” said Le. “In fact some of the most widely prescribed medicines contain fluorine, and developing new ones is an area of pursuit for researchers in the pharmaceutical industry.”

By following the reactions outlined in Le’s paper, chemists can now easily create carbamoyl fluorides in a laboratory setting, which will allow researchers to further study their applications in organic synthesis, medicinal chemistry, and drug development.

The research team will be honoured in August during a symposium at the American Chemical Society National Meeting in San Francisco, California.

Read the journal’s award announcement here.

Professors create VR summer program for high school students

child using virtual reality goggles

York University Faculty of Science Associate Professor Derek Jackson, and Kyle Belozerov, a sessional assistant professor, have partnered with Science Engagement Programs to develop a new Spark Lab virtual reality (VR) research course that will introduce high school students to pharmaceutical chemistry.

Derek Jackson
Derek Jackson
Kyle Belozerov

Spark Lab courses are week-long sessions designed for students in grades 9 to 12 who are interested in gaining hands-on experience in the science labs. The Faculty of Science offers courses in the experimental and research categories.

Experimental courses are developed and taught by York undergraduate and graduate students, teacher candidates, or Ontario-certified teachers, while research courses are developed and led by graduate students and/or professors and are based on the research they are conducting at York.

Students enrolled in the new Pharmaceutical Chemistry research course – which runs from July 17 to 21, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Keele Campus – will explore modern pharmaceutical chemistry through hands-on laboratory drug synthesis experiments and by using virtual reality (VR) to examine their structure and how they interact with their targets. By the end of the week, students will have a deeper understanding of biological molecules and the foundations of drug action in the human body.

As a postdoctoral researcher at the Emory University Medical School, Belozerov worked on pre-clinical development and testing of drug candidates targeting an aggressive form of brain tumor called glioblastoma. He also has taught pharmacology to students in the nursing program at York.

Jackson’s expertise is in organic chemistry, a field of study that is used to synthesize the molecules found in a large number of medications, ranging from everyday medicines, like Tylenol, to complex and life-saving cancer medications. The professors have combined their respective areas of expertise to develop an engaging and dynamic summer lab course for curious Toronto high schoolers.

For more information about Belozerov and Jackson and their pharmaceutical chemistry course, visit the Science Engagement Programs website.

To register for this course, visit the online ActiveWorks registration system.

York University announces 15 new York Research Chairs

man using tablet with graphic image of lightbulb

Fifteen York University researchers have been named new York Research Chairs (YRC), an internal program that mirrors the national Canada Research Chairs (CRC) program which recognizes world-leading researchers in a variety of fields.

“The York Research Chair program is an important complement to the Canada Research Chair program to advance our efforts to strengthen research and related creative activities across the University and enhance the well-being of the communities we serve,” says President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton. “My warm congratulations to the newest recipients on this achievement.”

This year’s YRCs are the 10th cohort to be appointed as of July 1 since the program was first launched by the Office of the Vice President Research and Innovation in 2015.

“These new chair appointments are the latest example of research intensification at York University, a major priority of our new Strategic Research Plan,” said Amir Asif, vice-president research and innovation. “York Research Chairs receive institutional support that is on par with what their counterparts are provided by the national program. This internal program advances research excellence at York and enhances the research capabilities of our faculty to create positive change.”  

The new YRCs will conduct research in a variety of fields that range from human and computer vision to children’s musical cultures to the impacts of climate change on lakes.

The YRC program consists of two tiers. Tier 1 is open to established research leaders at the rank of full professor. Tier 2 is aimed at emerging research leaders within 15 years of their first academic appointment. The Chairs have five-year terms.

Tier 1 York Research Chairs
Rob Allison
Rob Allison

Robert Allison, Lassonde School of Engineering
York Research Chair in Stereoscopic Vision and Depth Perception
Allison’s work as a YRC will study human aspects of virtual and augmented reality. His research program asks: how do we share a common space that is partially or completely virtual? The research results will allow designers to determine whether collaborative experiences and applications are likely to be coherent, consistent and ultimately successful for users. This YRC is administered by York University’s VISTA (Vision: Science to Applications) program, first funded by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (2016-23).

James Elder
James Elder

James Elder, Faculty of Health and Lassonde School of Engineering
York Research Chair in Human and Computer Vision
Elder’s YRC research program is deeply interdisciplinary, integrating studies of biological perception using behavioural and neuroscience methods, computational modelling of brain processes, statistical modelling of the visual environment, and computer vision algorithm and system design. While advancing fundamental knowledge in perception science and AI, this research has application to safer and more accessible urban mobility, social robotics and sports analytics. This YRC is administered by York University’s VISTA (Vision: Science to Applications) program.

Jimmy Huang
Jimmy Huang

Jimmy Huang, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies
York Research Chair in Big Data Analytics
Huang’s research as a YRC will aim to overcome the limitations of the existing information retrieval (IR) methods for web search and develop a new retrieval paradigm called task-aware and context-sensitive information search for big data. This approach, similar to ChatGPT or GoogleBard, will leverage IR techniques to offer an interactive and dynamic search experience. The program’s research results are expected to provide a deeper understanding of user information needs and generate novel techniques and tools.

Lauren Sergio
Lauren Sergio

Lauren Sergio, Faculty of Health
York Research Chair in Brain Health and Gender in Action
Sergio’s research as YRC investigates the impact of gender on brain health, for which there is little study. The research program will aim to characterize the gender-related differences in an individual’s behavioural response to impaired brain health and design appropriately tailored interventions to optimize their return to work, duty or sport. The research results will provide medically relevant and fundamental knowledge necessary to develop targeted brain health assessments and interventions that account for gender. This YRC is administered by York University’s VISTA (Vision: Science to Applications) program, first funded by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (2016-23).

Marie Christine Pioffet
Marie-Christine Pioffet

Marie-Christine Pioffet, Glendon College
York Research Chair in Franco-Indigenous Relations in the Americas
This YRC is dedicated to the study of texts from the French colonization in America with research focused on Indigenous history and cultural renaissance, European scriptural practices and Indigenous oral traditions, Franco Indigenous intercultural dialogues, and the Great Lakes region, missionary laboratory, and intercultural junction. Pioffet’s research as Chair will rethink Francophone and Indigenous identities and the cultural blending that inspired the writings of the period, while promoting a resurgence of First Nations culture and languages.

Poonam Puri
Poonam Puri

Poonam Puri, Osgoode Hall Law School
York Research Chair in Corporate Governance, Investor Protection and Financial Markets
Puri’s YRC explores the role of the corporation in society and the impact of legal rules, as well as market mechanisms and incentives on corporate behaviour in several key areas of environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG). These include racial justice, reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and climate change, as well as the role of the corporation and financial markets in times of disruptive technological change. Puri’s cutting-edge, empirical, and interdisciplinary research program charts a new course for the modern corporation, casting it not solely as a profit-maximizer for its shareholders, but as a responsible corporate citizen that genuinely considers the interests of a wider range of stakeholders and is accountable to society.

Tier 2 York Research Chairs
Jacob Beck close-up portrait
Jacob Beck

Jacob Beck, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies
York Research Chair in Philosophy of Visual Perception
Beck’s work as YRC seeks to combine philosophy and vision science, suggesting new avenues for research in both disciplines. His research explores how longstanding philosophical puzzles about perception can be resolved or recast with the help of vision science. Beck also examines how scientific discussions can be illuminated by philosophy – for example, how numerical perception can be informed by philosophical theories about what numbers are. This YRC is administered by York University’s VISTA (Vision: Science to Applications) program, first funded by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (2016-23).

Gene Cheung
Gene Cheung

Gene Cheung, Lassonde School of Engineering
York Research Chair in Graph Signal Processing
Cheung’s research as a YRC focuses on signal processing and machine learning. Cheung looks at the frequency analysis and processing of big data residing on irregular kernels described by graphs, in an emerging and fast-growing field called graph signal processing (GSP). His research program involves collaboration with both academic and industry partners to apply GSP theory to a wide range of applications including image/3D point cloud compression, denoising, super-resolution, video summarization, movie recommendation, and crop yield prediction. This YRC is administered by York University’s VISTA (Vision: Science to Applications) program, first funded by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (2016-23).

andrea emberly
Andrea Emberly

Andrea Emberly, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies
York Research Chair in Children’s Musical Cultures
As a YRC, Emberly will take a community-led approach to the study of children’s musical cultures that explores issues around sustaining endangered musical traditions by emphasizing the connection between music and wellbeing. The research program will focus on child-led and intergenerational collaborations that amplify the voices of equity-seeking children and young people who tell their own stories, in their own voices. The work will explore how children and young people are active social agents who locate and activate unique and meaningful pathways to sustain, change and transform musical traditions.

Sapna Sharma
Sapna Sharma

Sapna Sharma, Faculty of Science
York Research Chair in Global Change Biology
Sharma’s research as YRC will seek to gain a deeper understanding of the ecological impacts of climate change on freshwater availability and quality. Sharma’s research will capitalize on long-term climatic and ecological time series collected from thousands of lakes and apply cutting-edge statistical and machine learning analyses to forecast the impacts of global environmental change on freshwater security and help to explain macroecological patterns, drivers and impacts of worldwide lake responses to climate change. The research program will collaborate with researchers across disciplines to develop technological, natural, health and social solutions to water security.

Sue Winton 2022
Sue Winton

Sue Winton, Faculty of Education
York Research Chair in Policy Analysis for Democracy
Winton’s YRC research program will collaborate with multiple public sector organizations to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education privatization in Canada. Winton’s research will compare policy development, enactment, and effects during and after the pandemic across multiple scales. The research results will create knowledge about local, regional, national and international influences on education privatization and how this process impacts socially disadvantaged groups, teachers’ work and democracy. At York, Winton will establish and lead a cross-disciplinary Community of Practice for new and established researchers with an interest in critical policy research.

Hina Tabassum
Hina Tabassum

Hina Tabassum, Lassonde School of Engineering
York Research Chair in 5G/6G-enabled Wireless Mobility and Sensing Applications
Leveraging tools from statistics, optimization, game theory and machine learning, this YRC focuses on developing novel network deployment planning, radio access design and dimensioning, radio resource allocation and mobility management solutions to address challenges of higher frequencies like millimeter-wave in 5G and THz in 6G. Tabassum’s research will explore the feasibility of novel multi-band network architectures where THz and optical transmissions can complement the RF transmissions optimally. The research results could form a core for Canadian research on multi-band networks with the potential to connect the unconnected in a seamless, safe and resource efficient manner.

Taien Ng-Chan
Taien Ng-Chan

Taien Ng-Chan, School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design
York Research Chair in Marginal & Emergent Media
Ng-Chan’s research explores questions of how emergent media (new technologies such as VR/AR) can aid in the development of original digital and immersive storytelling techniques, foster solidarity and community amongst marginalized groups, particularly from the Asian diaspora, and lead to better representation and inclusion of these groups in culture and society. The YRC program will allow for future long-term collaborations and creative activities that will contribute to more diversity and inclusion in the emergent media industries, a greater sense of community for marginalized groups and better cultural representation in storytelling.

Denielle Elliott

Denielle Elliott, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies
York Research Chair in Injured Minds
Elliott’s work as YRC will explore how ethnographic experiments and transdisciplinary collaborations between arts, neuroscience and medical anthropology can contribute to a fuller understanding of conceptions of self, brain trauma and mental health. Her research program involves a multidisciplinary team that will explore the embodied experiences of people living with brain trauma and brain trauma knowledge-making practices in the clinic and laboratory, as well as their convergences. The research results will increase understandings of the effects of brain trauma, facilitate transdisciplinary collaborations between the arts, science and humanities and highlight how uniquely valuable ethnographic methods are to understanding urgent health priorities.

Cary Wu, professor of sociology at York University
Cary Wu

Cary Wu, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies
York Research Chair in Political Sociology of Health
Wu’s YRC program will work to establish a transdisciplinary political sociology of health approach to investigate health inequalities and provide greater understanding of what forces maintain, increase and reduce health inequalities. The research includes theoretical and empirical illustrations that will focus on trust – the belief in the reliability of others and institutions. The program will seek to energize the field of political sociology by introducing a much-needed new research direction that focuses on trust and will advance a unifying theory of trust to explain health inequalities.

Faculty receive support to develop EDI-focused work

Two women chatting over coffee

The Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Service Course Load Reduction Program is an annual fund in the amount of $100,000 for the purpose of providing a course load reduction to support service relating to EDI initiatives by faculty members who self-identify as Indigenous and/or members of racialized groups.

Course load reductions through this fund will provide recipients with additional time within normal workload to advance or implement aspects of York University’s Decolonizing, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy (DEDI) Strategy, the Indigenous Framework and the Addressing Anti-Black Racism: A Framework on Black Inclusion as well as other EDI initiatives that are specific to Faculties, Schools and/or departments.

The recipients’ proposed activities are expected to further develop critical EDI-focused work and to have broader impacts across the University.

The recipients and their service initiatives are:

Rachel da Silveira Gorman
School of Health Policy & Management: Health

Rachel Da Silveira Gorman
Rachel Da Silveira Gorman

Gorman is the lead faculty and creator of a newly proposed undergraduate program in Racialized Health and Disability Justice (RHDJ) and the founder of the Black, Transnational, and Indigenous Narratives of Disability (BTIND) Working Group. With their course load reduction, they will develop several critical EDI-focused aspects of the RHDJ program, including anti-oppressive pedagogies in assessment and delivery and land-based summer intensive courses, as well as provide weekly support meetings for the BTIND.

Monique Herbert
Department of Psychology: Health

Monique Herbert
Monique Herbert

Herbert will be offering oversight and guidance on the academic-related components of two experiential education initiatives for undergraduate BIPOC students in the Faculty of Health starting in July. The Work Integrated Learning for Black Students in Health will connect students with field placements in their area of interest and the York-MAP Health Equity Research Scholar Initiative for BIPOC students in psychology is expected to run for three years and provide health-related experiences where research, policy and decisions affect their communities.

Yuka Nakamura
School of Kinesiology: Health

Yuka Nakamura
Yuka Nakamura

Through an decolonization, equity, diversity and inclusion (DEDI) lens, Nakamura will be conducting a review of the School of Kinesiology’s tenure and promotion documents, policies, and procedures, as well as affirmative action plans. In consultation with relevant committees in the School, she will draft revised tenure and promotion documents and an affirmative action plan that will align with the Faculty of Health’s Final Report from the Working Group on Individual and Systemic Racism.

Rose Ndengue
Department of History: Glendon

Rose Ndengue
Rose Ndengue

With her course load reduction, Ndengue will be undertaking to enhance the bilingual program in African studies, Black Feminisms and Decolonial studies at Glendon College, a program which she founded by organizing a series of public lectures throughout the year featuring experts on anti-racist, decolonial and feminist issues. As an active member of Glendon’s race-equity caucus, Ndengue will also strengthen the work being done to bring institutional change, notably by enhancing the visibility and expertise of Black, Indigenous and racialized individuals on EDI issues.

Molade Osibodu

Molade Osibodu
Molade Osibodu

Osibodu will be using her course load reduction to revive the Baobab Diasporic Collective (BDC), a service activity that she piloted in the 2022-23 year. Recognizing the absence of opportunities to explore Black studies in the Faculty of Education with graduate scholars, the BDC centres Black scholarship and Black thought through the form of a reading group. In collaboration with the BDC participants, Osibodu will develop a course proposal that centers Black studies in education.

Tameka Samuels-Jones
School of Administrative Studies: Liberal Arts & Professional Studies

Tameka Samuels-Jones
Tameka Samuels-Jones

As associate director of the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLAC), Samuels-Jones will be promoting the mandate of an Equity Working Group, which aims to increase the membership of Black and Indigenous members of CERLAC with a view to increasing diversity within the centre. As head of the Equity Working Group, she will continue her work implementing the policy recommendations from the CERLAC Equity Action Plan.

Sapna Sharma
Department of Biology: Science

Sapna Sharma
Sapna Sharma

Sharma will build on the work she presented at the United Nations Water Conference in March 2023. Her transdisciplinary project aims to understand which Canadian communities are most vulnerable to inequitable access to clean drinking water, identifying strategies and policies to mitigate and protect those communities. With the course load reduction, she will continue to showcase the university’s commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and EDI on a global stage.

Wendy Wong
Department of Design: Arts, Media, Performance & Design

Wendy Wong
Wendy Wong

Wong’s initiative focuses on decolonizing and supplementing the School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design’s Euro-American centric curriculum through the theme of Transnational Asian Art (TAA). Wong aims to incorporate Asian-centric materials into existing courses, including through a guest lecture series in undergraduate courses, or proposing new courses with specific Asian content. She also hopes to organize an exhibition and symposium to discuss decolonizing strategies through TAA themes.

In pictures: York’s Convocation celebrates Class of 2023

convocation students facing stage

Spring Convocation for York University’s Class of 2023 ran from June 9 to 23, and featured 13 ceremonies at both the Keele and Glendon Campuses.

This year’s Spring Convocation began on June 9 with a ceremony at York’s Glendon Campus, and continued with a dozen more in the following weeks at the Keele Campus. 6,140 graduands received their degrees during ceremonies overseen by the newly inaugurated 14th chancellor of York University, Kathleen Taylor.

View photos from the Class of 2023 ceremonies below:


Nancy Archibald tells grads: ‘The work is waiting’

Nancy Archibald

During the June 22 convocation for York University’s Faculty of Science, longtime CBC filmmaker and producer Nancy Archibald urged graduands to lend their newly gained knowledge and fresh perspectives to righting the future.

At the end of her address to graduands and proceeding the introduction of Archibald, Alice Pitt, interim vice-president of equity, people and culture at York, issued a challenge. “I want to end my remarks by encouraging each of you to think about what matters to you and what contribution do you want to make the world.”

Alice Pitt, Nancy Archibald, Kathleen Taylor
Interim Vice-President Equity, People and Culture Alice Pitt, Nancy Archibald and Chancellor Kathleen Taylor

Those words anticipated the speech delivered by Archibald, the recipient of an honorary doctor of laws degree, who has made significant contributions to the world’s understanding of the world and, especially, the threats it faces. Over a 35-year career as a filmmaker with the CBC, notably the long-running series The Nature of Things, she has made over 40 science and nature documentaries, as well as produced more than 60 films, many with the goal of raising awareness of environmental issues before others in the media did.

During her speech, Archibald recounted her journey and how it began at 21, when an aunt passed and left her $500 in her will. Archibald decided to leave for Europe to see more the world. Six years later she came home, her life changed by travel, and began looking for work.

“I’d always wanted a job I could look forward to and I thought was worth doing. That was important,” she said. She got one at the CBC, soon making programs meant to educate the public about a variety of scientific subjects, including chaos theory, human development from birth to death, aspects of evolution and astronomy. Along the way, she found herself nurturing a budding interest: “I was finding my way to what I passionately cared about: nature and the issues surrounding it,” she said.

Among one of her most formative experiences, was when she and her crew traveled to the Amazon in the 1990s to do a story on the burning of the rainforest. Before her arrival, she had expected – despite the destruction – to see some remnants of the rich ecosystem that rainforests have to offer. She was in for a shock. “We never saw rain forest, although we were where it was meant to be. We saw blackened trees and trees on fire,” she said. They saw too hundreds of local and tribal people who were impacted. One town had attempted to replace their missing rain forest with skinny trees and pots.

The film resulting from the experience of capturing the ecological devastation in the Amazon was called The Road to the End of the Forest and when it aired, thousands of letters came in from viewers shocked, as well as wanting to know more and what they could do. Since then Archibald – in and outside of her work – has raised awareness around the threats to the world’s environments.

As she neared the end of her speech, Archibald encouraged graduands to seek out mentors and collaborators – something she said she benefited greatly from. “Continuing to learn through the lives and experiences of people you admire is enriching. Seeking advice from people you can believe and who give guidelines generously is a good habit,” she said.

A female trailblazer, as the first and only female executive producer at the CBC from 1973 to 1981, Archibald also issued an important call to graduands to protect the rights of not just women, but those afforded by democracy as a whole. “Keep an eye on your freedoms. For women, because they’re recent, but for everyone else, too. We all must take notice and keep watch, because what we’re seeing right now in North America and Europe is a strong movement away from the kind of democracy we’ve taken for granted and that we thought would last forever. And when democracy goes, freedoms can shift,” she says.

Archibald ended with a moment of optimism and well wishes for the graduating class. “The work is waiting. You have new eyes. You’re armed now with critical thinking mind and knowledge. And if you use them well – to speak up, to help forge new ways of living, a more humane and more equitable world – you will be people living meaningful lives. I wish you adventure and fulfillment on this wondrous planet. Its gobsmacking beauty will sustain and inspire you if you let it and make you want to live differently to bring it back, to protect it, and allow it – and you – to thrive.”

President’s University-Wide Teaching Award recipients honoured

3d golden star golden with lighting effect on black background. Template luxury premium award design. Vector illustration

Five York University faculty members will be recognized during the 2023 Spring Convocation ceremonies with a President’s University-Wide Teaching Award for enhancing the quality of learning and demonstrating innovation in teaching.

The President’s University-Wide Teaching Awards are chosen from four categories: full-time faculty with 10 or more years of teaching experience, full-time faculty with less than 10 years of experience, contract and adjunct faculty, and teaching assistants. They are selected by the Senate Committee on Awards. The goal of the awards is to provide significant recognition for excellence in teaching, to encourage its pursuit, to publicize such excellence when achieved across the University and in the wider community, and to promote informed discussion of teaching and its improvement.

This year, the recipients of the awards are: Professor Kathy Bischoping of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS); Professor Steve Gennaro of LA&PS; Professor Andrea Kalmin of LA&PS; Daphene Solis of the Lassonde School of Engineering; and Farwa Sajadi of the Faculty of Science. The recipients were chosen from numerous nominations, and each winner will have their name engraved on the University-Wide Teaching Awards plaques displayed in Vari Hall. They will each be recognized during a convocation ceremony this spring.

This year’s recipients are:

Full-time tenured faculty with 10 or more years full-time teaching experience
Katherine Bischoping
Kathy Bischoping

Professor Kathy Bischoping is the recipient of this award for her impact on student learning in the Department of Sociology as well as the graduate program in sociology. Bischoping is known for her dedication to mentoring and scholarship of teaching and learning, in addition to curriculum and program development. Nominator Professor Lesley Wood, former Chair of the department, credits Bischoping with inspiring passion and relevance in her teaching and the design of her courses, and her critical analysis of pedagogy.

“One such notable project has been her research into how vicarious traumatization affects instructors, specifically in genocide studies. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Professor Bischoping played a leading role in mentoring faculty in her department in the transition to online teaching,” reads the notice from the Senate Committee on Awards.

Bischoping has earned a number of honours and awards, including the Parents’ Association University-Wide Teaching Award and the John O’Neill Award for Teaching Excellence.

Contract and adjunct faculty

This award will recognize two faculty members for 2023: Professor Steve Gennaro, Department of Communication Studies/Humanities (LA&PS) and Professor Andrea Kalmin, Department of Social Science (LA&PS).

Steve Gennaro
Steve Gennaro

Gennaro received two separate nominations for this award in recognition of his contributions to teaching, and for his demonstration of a consistent drive to improve his teaching practice throughout his long-term employment at York. He is noted for regularly speaking and writing about pedagogical innovation, with a specific focus on the areas of online and digital learning. Both nominators – Professor Alison Halsall and Professor Rob Heynen – speak to the “immeasurable and long-lasting impact Professor Gennaro had on the University’s transition to remote teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic,” reads the announcement from the Senate Committee on Awards. Gennaro has been nominated for multiple teaching awards in the past, including the Minister of Colleges and Universities’ Awards of Excellence and the LA&PS Dean’s Excellence in Teaching Award.

Andrea Kalmin
Andrea Kalmin

Kalmin will receive the award for her role as a core member of the C4 (Cross-Campus Capstone Classroom) leadership team, where she was involved in all decision-making processes and led initiatives to support the success of C4. She is a classroom coordinator, and the “primary architect of the structures that undergird C4, including standardizing collective lesson planning processes and syllabi and assignment templates,” reads the announcement from the Senate Committee on Awards. She was nominated by Professor Danielle Robinson, who noted Kalmin’s involvement in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) research team for C4, which sets the research agenda, oversees the interpretation of data and steers publication. Her contributions have been recognized previously with awards including the 2021 LA&PS Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and the John O’Neill Award for Teaching Excellence.

Teaching assistants

Two teaching assistants have been selected to receive this award for 2023: Daphene Solis in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Lassonde School of Engineering and Farwa Sajadi in the Department of Biology, Faculty of Science.

Daphene Solis

Nominated by Professor Aleksander Czekanski, Solis has earned this award for her passion for teaching both in and out of the classroom. She is noted to have a remarkable grasp of technical subjects, as well as being resourceful, and seeks out leadership roles as a TA. “She takes the initiative while being recognized for her empathy and ability to deal with conflict,” reads the announcement from the Senate Committee on Awards. She has participated as a graduate student representation at the Technology-Enhanced, Experiential and Active Learning (TEAL) Committee, and has completed numerous training programs in teaching. In 2022, Solis was the recipient of the Best TA Award from the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Farwa Sajadi
Farwa Sajadi

Sajadi will be recognized for being a TA who fosters an academically enriched environment for learning, advancing student critical thinking and implementing creative approaches to promote student scholarship and engagement. According to her nominator, Professor Jean-Paul Paluzzi, she has excelled in her roles as lab demonstrator, lab coordinator and course director in biology for undergraduate students. “She is also highly innovative and collaborative in her teaching practices, as is demonstrated by her work during the COVID-19 pandemic to plan for labs being delivered in a hybrid format with limited in-person occupancy and students spread across three different rooms,” the Senate Committee on Awards says in the announcement. She is further known to take initiative to help students and is a leader in volunteerism. In 2022, she earned the Richard Jarrell Excellence in Teaching Award.

Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living: Building a better future with Sapna Sharma

Globe and York branded box for the Microlecture Series launch

York University’s free Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living is an innovative, interdisciplinary and open access program that gives participants the opportunity to earn a first-of-its-kind digital badge in sustainable living.

Throughout the Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living, six of York University’s world-renowned experts share research, thoughts and advice on a range of critical topics related to sustainability. Their leadership and expertise, however, extends beyond the six-minute presentations.

Over the next several weeks, YFile will present a six-part series featuring the professors’ work, their expert insights into York’s contributions to sustainability, and how accepting the responsibility of being a sustainable living ambassador can help right the future.

Part five features Associate Professor Sapna Sharma.

Sapna Sharma
Sapna Sharma

Sapna Sharma is an associate professor in the Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, at York University. Her research highlights how lakes worldwide respond to climate change, including rapid ice loss, warming water temperatures, degrading water quality, and changing fish distributions. Her research has led to an induction into the Royal Society of Canada – College of New Scholars, she has been named one of Canada’s Top 10 Women Water Scientists, she has earned the prestigious Ontario Government Early Researcher Award and York University President’s Emerging Research Leadership Award. She is a dedicated science communicator and is the founder of SEEDS, an outreach program for refugees. For her commitment to science outreach, she was invited to serve as vice-chair for the Royal Canadian Institute for Science and awarded the Canadian Council of University Biology Chairs Science Promotion Prize.

Q: What does it mean to be a “sustainable living ambassador” and how does it foster positive change?
A: The microlecture sustainable series fosters positive change by providing a brief glimpse into the sustainability research conducted at York University through a free, open-access platform accessible to all.

Q: What would make you most proud for viewers to take away from your lecture, and the series as a whole?
A: Climate is changing rapidly in response to human disturbance and activities, with widespread consequences for lakes around the world. This in turn can have dire consequences for water insecurity. Already, over two billion people in the world do not have safe access to clean water. Without further protecting our freshwater ecosystems, there may be even less safe, clean water for humans and wildlife to use.

Q: Equity and equality are a common theme throughout these sustainability lectures. Why is that such a critical component of sustainability?
A: Women, people of colour and marginalized communities are most affected by the environmental, climate and water crises. Sustainability action improves the lives of all, including those affected most by water insecurity.

Q: Are there changes you’ve made in your work at York that other York community members can learn from?
A: Obviously this is a personal decision. I spend my life working towards improving our understanding of the impacts of climate change on lakes, whether it be through my research, teaching or public education efforts. Personally, I have moved to live in a more central location with easy access to public transit to reduce my ecological footprint.

Q: How do you view collective responsibility vs. personal responsibility in creating a more sustainable future?
A: Collective responsibility is required to tackle the climate and water crises. Personally, we can all take steps to live more sustainable lives and demand action from industries and governments to reduce our collective ecological footprint.

Q: How is York leading the way towards a more sustainable future?
A: There is amazing research and fantastic initiatives on sustainability happening across faculties at York University led by students, staff and professors. Providing the support required for students and faculty to shine will contribute to innovative solutions towards a more sustainable future.

Visit the Microlecture Series in Sustainable Living to see Sapna Sharma’s full lecture, as well as those by the other five experts, and earn your Sustainable Living Ambassador badge. Watch for part six of this series in an upcoming issue of YFile. Read more in parts one, two, three and four.

Grad students win thesis, dissertation prizes

a man holding a trophy

Six York University graduands have been awarded thesis and dissertation prizes by the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) for their outstanding scholarly work.

The prizes are bestowed to celebrate exceptional master’s and doctoral research work from the recent academic calendar year. The value of the awards is $2,000 for doctoral dissertations and $1,000 for master’s theses. From creating the world’s largest dataset on honeybee genomics to demystifying the function of consciousness, these talented scholars are breaking new ground with their research.

Master’s Thesis Prizes

Abdul Basit (MASc, civil engineering) for “Impact of Climate Change on Thermal Behaviour of Pavement Structures in Ontario”

Basit’s cutting-edge study was motivated by rapid alterations to the climate, the particular consequences of which can be seen in the performance of road infrastructure systems. Through his research, Basit developed a critical evaluation for anticipated climate change and how this could potentially cause changes to asphalt binder grades and variations in spring load restriction (SLR) periods across Ontario. His innovative work contributes to the discipline of civil engineering through its useful industrial conclusions, as is attested by Basit’s peers.

“The new generation of civil engineers will be increasingly reliant on a sound academic background in climate change to make appropriate and intelligent engineering decisions,” said Rashid Bashir, Basit’s supervisor. “Mr. Abdul Basit’s graduate training, and specifically his thesis, is a step in the right direction.”

Melodie Lao (MSc, chemistry) for “Developing an Automated Nitrous Acid (HONO) Platform to Detect Emerging Pollutants in a Commercial and Domestic Environment”

Lao’s innovative research focused on the development and application of new methods to measure the important atmospheric component, HONO. This chemical can react with other atmospheric component to form highly toxic products. Only in the last few years has HONO’s importance indoors been considered, but it remains difficult to measure accurately. Lao’s work creates substantial impact in the field by advancing the ability to measure HONO indoors.

Cora Young, Chair of the Examining Committee, commended Lao’s study: “It was clear to the committee that Melodie’s contributions to the field of atmospheric chemistry are significant, greatly exceeding those typical for an MSc degree. Her work has and will continue to make an impact on a national and global stage.”

Anna Waisman (MA, psychology) for “Investigating the Role of Autobiographical Memory in Post-surgical Pain Up To One Year after Major Surgery”

Waisman’s thesis investigated autobiographical memory before and after major surgery in 97 adult patients. The purpose of her study was to see if highly specific autobiographical memory could be a predictor for greater post-surgical pain. Her results showed that recalling higher numbers of pain-related autobiographical memories resulted in lower post-surgical pain.

Waisman’s groundbreaking project was the first study in this area, and her results point to immediate and tangible interventions that physicians can implement to reduce post-surgical pain in their patients. Her research was already published in the prestigious journal Pain.

Doctoral Dissertation Prizes

Kathleen Dogantzis (PhD, biology) for “Understanding the Evolutionary Origin and Ancestral Complexity of Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) Populations”

Through her study, Dogantzis – who was also awarded a Governor General’s Gold Medal – advanced knowledge in the field of bee evolution and population genetics and developed new tools to protect the beekeeping industry from the accidental introduction of the highly invasive Africanized bees. Dogantzis created the world largest dataset on honeybee genomics, which involved sequencing over 200 new honeybee genomes from all over the world. Her sophisticated bioinformatic analysis debunked a recent hypothesis that honeybees originated in Africa by providing evidence that honeybees originated in western Asia.

Chair of the Examining Committee Elizabeth Clare praised Dogantzis’ accomplishment. “Her applied tools are expected to have a massive societal and economic benefit, not just for Canada, but across the world.”

Dylan Ludwig (PhD, philosophy) for “The Functional Contributions of Consciousness”

The substance of Ludwig’s dissertation tackled one of the most difficult problems in the philosophy of the mind: the function of consciousness. Many philosophers maintain that consciousness makes no contribution to the causal powers of the mind. Scientists, on the other hand, tend to assume consciousness must have some overarching, unitary function. Ludwig’s main thesis contrasted with both approaches by arguing that phenomenal consciousness makes varying functional contributions to different cognitive and affective processes. This outstanding study has already led to three publications in prominent peer-reviewed academic journals.

Ludwig’s supervisor, Muhammad Ali Khalidi, contended that his work “has the potential to change the terms of the debate.”

Sara Pishdadian (PhD, psychology) for “Subjective and Objective Spatial Memory and Navigation Abilities in Aging and Amnesia”

Pishdadian’s dissertation investigated subjective and objective spatial navigation. She took a novel approach of integrating cognitive theory with clinical neuropsychology, video-game technology and multivariate statistical methods to systematically investigate this skill in normally aging people and in individuals with medial temporal lobe amnesia.

Her innovative work makes significant contributions to cognitive neuroscience theory as well as to clinical practice. Pishdadian has published in the top international journals in her field, including Neuropsychologia, Cortex, and Learning and Memory.

Next steps

FGS additionally nominated Ludwig and Pishdadian for the dissertation prize presented by the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS). The CAGS-ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award recognizes Canadian doctoral dissertations that make significant and original contributions to their academic field. Winners will receive a $1,500 cash prize, a certificate of recognition and an invitation to attend the 61st Annual CAGS Conference, to be held in Victoria, B.C., in November 2023.

Science Explorations Summer Camp offers new sustainability programming

Group of kids looking in microscope

This year, York University’s Science Explorations Summer Camp for Grades 3 to 8 will feature curricula with a greater emphasis on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including a new week-long program called Sustainable Science.

In its 17th year, the Science Explorations Summer Day Camp offers week-long camps exploring science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) through hands-on experiments, connected to the Ontario science curriculum, and led by undergraduate and graduate science or engineering students, teacher candidates, Ontario certified teachers and professors.

For this year’s camp sessions, the program team has continued to evolve the curriculum to reflect York’s ongoing commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Among the new additions is Sustainable Science, a Grade 7 to 8 camp, which runs from July 24 to 28 and Aug. 21 to 25. The new program will explore the science behind climate crises, while also empowering campers to use their STEM knowledge to design solutions for a healthier planet.

Sustainable Science may be dedicated to looking at the SDGs, but other programs will address them as well. “All of our curriculum will touch on some aspect of the SDGs,” says Cora Reist, manager of science engagement programs, of the more than a dozen camps being offered this summer. “Some of our programs are pre-existing programs, but we will have activities that lend themselves towards talking and discussing certain UN SDG goals.”

The camp team aims to do so by providing training to instructors on the SDGs and how to utilize the York toolkits on integrating the SDGs into the classroom, and encouraging Instructors to organically adapt camp programs to address them.

The evolving curriculum is not just reflective of the University’s priorities, but those attending the camp. “We see that a lot of kids are pushing for learning more about conservation, biodiversity and how can they become global citizens even at an early age,” Reist says. The evolving programming is meant to provide that, but also something else: hope. “The youth that I speak to sometimes get very sad about the state of things. By integrating ideas of sustainability and becoming a global citizen into our program, I’m hoping to put a positive spin on how we can take action and how there is hope for the future.”

Science Explorations Summer Camp will run weekly from July 4 to Aug. 25 with each camp one week in length, running from Monday to Friday, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Further information about programming can be found here. Those interested in registering can do so here.