How do we know where things are? New study examines visual stabilization

VISTA will propel Canada as a global leader in the vision sciences
VISTA will propel Canada as a global leader in the vision sciences

Our eyes move three times per second. Every time we move our eyes, the world in front of us flies across the retina at the back of our eyes, dramatically shifting the image the eyes send to the brain; yet, as far as we can tell, nothing appears to move.

A new study out of York University and Dartmouth College provides new insight into this process known as “visual stabilization.” The results are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Patrick Cavanaugh
Patrick Cavanagh

“Our results show that a framing strategy is at work behind the scenes all the time, which helps stabilize our visual experience,” says senior author Patrick Cavanagh, a senior research fellow in psychology at both Glendon Campus and the Centre for Vision Research at York University and a research professor in psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth College. “The brain has its own type of steadycam, which uses all sorts of cues to stabilize what we see relative to available frames, so that we don’t see a shaky image like we do in handheld movies taken with a smartphone. The visual world around us is the ultimate stable frame but our research shows that even small frames work: the locations of a test within the frame will be perceived relative to the frame as if it were stationary. The frame acts to stabilize your perception.”

One such example is when someone waves goodbye to you from the window of a moving bus. Their hand will appear as if it’s moving up and down relative to the window rather following the snake-like path that it actually traces out from the moving bus. The bus window acts like a frame through which the motion of the hand waving good-bye is seen relative to that frame.

The study consisted of two experiments that tested how a small square frame moving on a computer monitor affected participants’ judgments of location. The experiments were conducted in-person with eight individuals including two of the authors; and also online due to the COVID-19 pandemic with 274 participants recruited from York University of which 141 had complete data. The data were very similar for both types of participants.

In Experiment 1, a white, square frame moves left and right, back and forth, across a grey screen and the left and right edges of the square flash when the square reaches the end of its path: the right edge flashes blue at one end of the travel and the left edge flashes red at the other (see Movie 1), as shown in the figure below. Participants were asked to adjust a pair of markers at the top of the screen to indicate the distance they saw between the flashed edges.

In Experiment 1, the frame moves left and right but instead of seeing the locations of the blue and red edges where they are when they flash, they always appear with the blue flash on the left and separated by the width of the frame, as if the frame were not moving. When the frame moves more than its width as shown here, the red edge is physically to the left of the blue when they flash at the end of the frame’s motion, and yet the blue still appears to the left of red, separated again by almost the width of the frame

Experiment 1 had two conditions: The first condition evaluated how far apart the outer left and right edges of the square frame appeared; the second condition assessed the travel of the frame’s physical edge.

The data from both conditions of Experiment 1 demonstrated that participants perceived the flashed edges of the frame as if it were stable even though it was clearly moving, illustrating what the researchers call the “paradoxical stabilization” produced by a moving frame.

Experiment 2 again demonstrated the stabilizing power of a moving frame by flashing a red disc and a blue disc at the same location within a moving frame (see Movie 2). The square frame moves back and forth from left to right while the disc flashes red and blue in alternation. As in Experiment 1, participants were asked to indicate the perceived separation between the red and blue discs. Even though there is no physical separation between the discs, the moving frame creates the appearance that the two discs are located to the left and right of their true locations, relative to the frame where they flashed. In other words, participants perceived the location of the discs relative to the frame, as if it were stationary and this was true across a wide range of frame speeds, sizes, and path lengths.

“By using flashes inside a moving frame, our experiments triggered a paradoxical form of visual stabilization, which made the flashes appear in positions where they were never presented,” says Cavanagh. “Our results demonstrate a 100 per cent stabilization effect triggered by the moving frames – the motion of the frame has been fully discounted.”

These data, he says, are the first to show a frame effect that matches our everyday experience where, each time our eyes move, the motion of the scene across our retinas has been fully discounted making the world appear stable.

“In the real-world, the scene in front of us acts as the anchor to stabilize our surroundings,” Cavanagh says. Discounting the motion of the world as our eye move makes a lot of sense, as most scenes (i.e. house, workplace, school, outdoor environment) are not moving, unless an earthquake is occurring.

“Every time our eyes move, there’s a process that blanks out the massive blur caused by the eye movement. Our brain stitches this gap together so that we don’t notice the blank, but it also uses the motion to stabilize the scene. The motion is both suppressed and discounted so that we can keep track of the location of objects in the world,” says Cavanagh.

Based on the study’s results, the research team plans to explore visual stabilization further using brain imaging at York Dartmouth.

Mert Özkan, a graduate student in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth; Stuart Anstis, professor emeritus in psychology at the University of California San Diego; Bernard M. ’t Hart, a postdoc at the Centre for Vision Research at York University; and Mark Wexler, Chargé de Recherche at the Integrative Neuroscience and Cognition Center at the Université de Paris, also served as co-authors of the study.

York professor expands global understanding of Karl Marx and Marxism with seven books in three years

Karl Marx
Karl Marx
Marcello Musto
Marcello Musto

Marcello Musto, professor of sociology at York University is recognized as a leading global authority on the work of the German philosopher Karl Marx and on Marxism. An accomplished scholar, Musto has devoted his academic career to reviving the understanding of Marx’s ideas and their applications to the contemporary world.

Driven and passionate about the significance of Marx’s contributions in politics, sociology, the critique of political economy and philosophy, Musto has delivered seven books within the last three years. Each book focuses on a different aspect of Marx’s work and highlights his relevance for finding alternative solutions to the most pressing current issues of capitalism.

A Rethinking Alternatives with Marx final cover
Rethinking Alternatives with Marx

Musto’s newest book, titled Rethinking Alternatives with Marx: Economy, Ecology and Migration (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021), presents a Marx that is in many ways different from the one popularized by the dominant currents of 20th-century socialism. This volume aims to generate a new critical discussion of some of the classical themes of Marx’s thought and to develop a deeper analysis of certain questions to which relatively little attention has been paid until recently. Among them there are Marx’s points of view about ecology, migration, gender, labour movement, globalization, social relations and the contours of a possible alternative to liberalism. The chapters assembled in this book suggest that today Marx’s analyses are arguably resonating even more strongly than they did in his own time.

Karl Marx's Writings on Alienation
Karl Marx’s Writings on Alienation

The anthology Karl Marx’s Writings on Alienation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021) offers an innovative reading of the theory of alienation, which occupied a significant place in the work of Marx and has long been considered one of his main contributions to the critique of capitalist mode of production. In this volume, Musto has concentrated his selection on Marx’s later economic works, where his thoughts on alienation were far more extensive and detailed than those of his earlier philosophical writings. Additionally, the materials contained in this new book offer valuable insights about Marx’s conception of communist society and the fundamental role of individual freedom. The anthology includes an extensive introduction written by Musto dedicated to the birth and the development of the concepts of alienation, commodity fetishism and reification.

Cover of The Last Years of Karl Marx
The Last Years of Karl Marx

Musto’s most recent monograph, The Last Years of Karl Marx: An Intellectual Biography (Stanford University Press, 2020), investigates Marx’s theoretical insights from the final, mostly unexplored years of his life. In what many describe as a definitive work on the last phase of Marx’s intellectual development, there are clear indications that not only he had not ceased to write, as it has been wrongly assumed for a long time, but, on the contrary, that he extended the range of his research into new disciplines and directions. Based on unfinished manuscripts that remain unavailable in English, on excerpts from his readings, and on letters of the period 1881-83, Musto lays rest the myth that Marx was a Eurocentric and an economic thinker fixated on class conflict alone. In his final years, the revolutionary who lived most of his life exiled in London, dedicated his attention on anthropological discoveries, analyzed communal forms of ownership in pre-capitalist societies, strongly opposed to colonial oppression in India, Algeria and Egypt, and considered the possibility of revolution in non-capitalist countries. Musto argues that all this allows an interesting reassessment of some of Marx’s key concepts. Originally published in Italian, in 2016, this book has already been translated into 14 languages.

Cover of The Marx Revival
The Marx Revival

For those interested in gaining new insight into Marx’s renaissance around the world, The Marx Revival: Key Concepts and New Interpretations (Cambridge University Press, 2020) is a collection of 22 essays penned by international experts on Marx that have been compiled and edited by Musto. The book offers a comprehensive guide to the importance of the author of the Communist Manifesto in understanding the major economic and political issues of our times. The contributors argue that Marx, freed from the association with Soviet Union and updated considering the changes since the late 19th century, has still a lot to teach us. Written in a clear form and accessible to a wider public, this volume brings together the liveliest and most thought-provoking contemporary interpretations of Marx and explains the reasons why his work is so relevant in today’s world.

Cover of Marx's Capital After 150 Years
Marx’s Capital After 150 Years

The collective volume Marx’s Capital after 150 Years: Critique and Alternative to Capitalism (Routledge, 2019) arises from the largest international conference held in the world to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Capital’s publication in 1867. The book is divided into three parts: I) “Capitalism, Past and Present”; II) “Extending the Critique of Capital“; III) “The Politics of Capital” and contains the contributions of globally renowned scholars who offer diverse perspectives and critical insights into the interpretation of such a seminal text and of the principal contradictions of capitalism. While pointing to alternative economic and social models, the authors of this volume reconsider the most influential debates on Capital and provide new interpretations of Marx’s magnum opus considering themes rarely associated with it, such as gender, ecology, and non-European societies.

Karl Marx’s Life Ideas and Influences

The edited book Karl Marx’s Life, Ideas, Influences: A Critical Examination on the Bicentenary (Palgrave MacMillan, 2019) is a collection which showcases a lot of the latest global scholarship on Marx and his legacy.  It contains 16 chapters from multiple academic disciplines and is divided into two parts: I) “On the Critique of Politics”; II) “On the Critique of Political Economy.” The volume represents a source of great appeal for both expert scholars of Marx as well as students and general readers who are approaching his theories for the first time.

Another Marx Cover NEW
Another Marx: Early Manuscripts to the International

Finally, the monograph Another Marx: Early Manuscripts to the International (Bloomsbury Academic, 2018) reconstructs the intellectual trajectory behind Marx’s main sociological and political ideas from his youth to the militancy in the International working Men’s Association. Built on the most recent textual acquisitions of the MEGA² – the historical-critical edition of the complete works of Marx and Friedrich Engels that has resumed publication in 1998 – this book offers an innovative examination of Marx’s ideas on post-Hegelian philosophy, alienated labour, the materialist conception of history, research methods, the theory of surplus-value, working-class self-emancipation and class political organization. From this emerges “another Marx,” a thinker very different from the one depicted by so many of his critics and ostensible disciples.

More about Marcello Musto

In addition to his focus and extensive writings on Marx and Marxism, Musto’s research explores alternative socio-economic ideas, socialist thought, the history of the labour movement, and contemporary European politics. His writings – available at – have been published worldwide in 25 languages. Musto’s forthcoming books include Travels with Marx: Destinations, Encounters, and Reflections (Europa Editions) and The Routledge Handbook of Marx’s ‘Capital’: A Global History of Translation, Dissemination and Reception (Ed. with Babak Amini, Routledge), both scheduled for 2022. Stay tuned. Follow Musto on Twitter @MarMusto.

All book covers reproduced with permission of the author and publishers.

PhD candidate’s original composition to premiere with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra

Luis Ramirez featured
Luis Ramirez
Luis Ramirez

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra has announced that Luis Ramirez, a York University PhD candidate in music, School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design, has received a commission for an original composition in their 2022 season. His “Celebration Prelude” will be making its world premiere, and will be conducted by Gustavo Gimeno, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s music director, as part of their Gimeno + Dvořák’s “New World” concert, running April 27 to 30, 2022.

This opportunity is a testament to Ramirez’s accomplishments as a music scholar, as he was previously named the inaugural recipient of York University’s Jacques Israelievitch Scholarship in Interdisciplinary Arts. He earned the award as an advocate for music and as a dedicated educator, qualities that also animated Israelievitch’s life.

“It is fitting that Luis Ramirez has been asked to compose a new work for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra,” says Assistant Professor Randolph Peters, Ramirez’s PhD supervisor. “Among his many artistic achievements, Mr. Israelievitch was Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s longest tenured concertmaster (1988-2008).”

The Jacques Israelievitch Scholarship in Interdisciplinary Arts is granted to full-time graduate students enrolled in the School of Arts, Media, Performance & Design. Recipients of the award demonstrate outstanding academic merit, artistic excellence, and artistic practice of interdisciplinary and cross-departmental nature. The award was designed to recognize students who are gifted musicians or have a musical component to their interdisciplinary artistic vision.

For more information about Gimeno + Dvořák’s “New World” concert, visit the Toronto Symphony Orchestra website.

Pop-up Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine Clinic planned for July 8 on Keele Campus

A photo with a black backgroud that features two vials of COVID-19 vaccine and a syringe

On Thursday, July 8, York University is hosting a pop-up COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Keele Campus. The clinic is being held in partnership with Humber River Hospital. Vaccines play an important role in protecting ourselves as well as those around us and all members of the community who are eligible, will be welcome. As well, York branded water bottles will be offered to the first 200 people who come down to receive first doses. Here are the details:

Dates: Thursday, July 8
Hours: 12 to 6 p.m.

  • First doses for: anyone 12 years of age and older at the time of vaccination, in any M postal code.
  • Second doses for: anyone 12 years of age and older at the time of vaccination who lives/work/attends school at Keele and Glendon Campuses or in a listed hotspot below and:
      • received Pfizer at least 21 days ago and wants Pfizer;
      • received Moderna at least 28 days ago and wants Pfizer;
      • received AstraZeneca at least 56 days ago and wants Pfizer.

Eligibility: Second doses are available for anyone living/working/attending school in a hot spot listed below:


Location: York Boulevard parking lot (near the Northeast corner of York Blvd. and Ian MacDonald Blvd.) Adjacent the York University subway station. Parking is free on York’s Keele Campus.

Bring: ID that shows where you live, work, or attend school.

  • York University ID/YU cards
  • Driver’s licence
  • Passport
  • Birth certificate (for proof of age)
  • Health card (optional)
  • Report card

York University does not deliver the vaccines, nor does it determine eligibility for vaccinations. For all of the latest updates and information on York’s safe return to campus, continue to visit the Better Together website

York University announces 14 York Research Chair appointments

Vari Hall

Fourteen researchers across the University will join the York Research Chairs (YRC) program, York University’s internal counterpart to the national Canada Research Chairs (CRC) program, which recognizes outstanding researchers. Four of these appointments are renewals.

These YRCs belong to the eighth cohort of researchers to be appointed since the establishment of the program in 2015. These YRCs’ terms start July 1 and run through to June 30, 2026.

Rhonda L. Lenton
Rhonda L. Lenton

“The York Research Chairs program is an important component of institutional supports for research, both basic and applied, reflecting our commitment to address complex global issues and drive positive change in our local and global communities,” said President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton. “This year’s YRCs have made remarkable contributions in their respective fields and furthered our understanding of subjects ranging from visuomotor neuroscience, to racial justice, to reproductive health. I want to congratulate all of our new and renewed YRCs and thank them for their continued dedication to research excellence.”

The YRC program seeks to build research recognition and capacity, with excellence in research, scholarship and associated creative activity serving as selection criteria.

Amir Asif
Amir Asif

“This program mirrors the federal CRC program to broaden and deepen the impact of research chairs at York in building and intensifying world-renowned research across the institution. These new YRCs are undertaking visionary work that has local, national and international impact,” said Vice-President Research & Innovation Amir Asif.

Tier I YRCs are open to established research leaders at the rank of full professor. Tier II YRCs are aimed at emerging research leaders within 15 years of their first academic appointment.

Tier I York Research Chairs

Nantel Bergeron
York Research Chair in Applied Algebra

Nantel Bergeron, Faculty of Science, had his York Research Chair in Applied Algebra renewed. He is one of the pioneers in the development of the theory of combinatorial Hopf algebras. In this field, researchers can understand and solve complex enumeration problems from other areas of science, such as computer science and mathematics. His research helps to further insights into the super-symmetry of nature.

Doug Crawford
York Research Chair in Visuomotor Neuroscience

Doug Crawford, Faculty of Health, is a Distinguished Research Professor in Neuroscience and the Scientific Director of the Vision: Science to Applications (VISTA) program. For the past 26 years, his groundbreaking work at the York Centre for Vision Research has focused on the control of visual gaze in 3D space, eye-hand coordination and spatial memory during eye movements.

Lorne Foster
York Research Chair in Black Canadian Studies and Human Rights

Lorne Foster, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, is the Director of the Institute for Social Research and the Director of the Diversity & Human Rights Certificate, the first academic-industry human rights training partnership. His trailblazing work on public policy formation and scholarship on the human rights approach to inclusive organizational change ranks among the best in its field. This work has consistently helped to open doors to new scholarly explorations.

Kerry Kawakami
York Research Chair in Equity and Diversity

Kerry Kawakami, Faculty of Health, is Principal Investigator of the Social Cognition Lab, which investigates a variety of social categorization processes using diverse methodologies. Her pioneering work on implicit biases provides insight into how we perceive people from different social groups, how we react to intergroup bias, and strategies to reduce prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination.

Chun Peng
York Research Chair in Women’s Reproductive Health

Chun Peng, Faculty of Science, had her York Research Chair in Women’s Reproductive Health renewed. Peng’s long-term goal for her research program is to understand the regulation of female reproduction and the mechanisms underlying the development of ovarian cancer and preeclampsia. Her research will enhance the overall understanding of female reproductive health and may lead to the development of novel biomarkers for preeclampsia and therapeutics for ovarian cancer.

Jennifer Steeves
York Research Chair in Non-Invasive Visual Brain Stimulation

Jennifer Steeves, Faculty of Health, undertakes research that examines how the brain adapts to changes in sensory input with the loss of one eye or to direct brain damage. She uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to reverse engineer the brain. This is a VISTA York Research Chair, as Steeves is a core member of the Vision: Science to Applications (VISTA) program. 

Tier II York Research Chairs

Lyndsay Hayhurst
York Research Chair in Sport, Gender and Development and Digital Participatory Research

Lyndsay Hayhurst, Faculty of Health, researches sport, gender and development (SGD) – or the use of sport to support gender-related development goals, policies and practice. Her current SSHRC- and CFI-funded research explores how key stakeholders experience SGD initiatives focused on girls and women in Canada, Uganda and Nicaragua using digital participatory research strategies. Her goal is to re-envision new, community-oriented and socially just approaches to SGD initiatives.

Sean Hillier
York Research Chair in Indigenous Health Policy and One Health

Sean Hillier, Faculty of Health, is a Mi’kmaw scholar and a special adviser to the Dean on Indigenous Resurgence. His collaborative research program spans the topics of aging, living with HIV and other infectious diseases, and antimicrobial resistance, all with a concerted focus on policy affecting health care access for Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Hillier has been successful in receiving funding from each of the three federal granting agencies, with more than 10 external grants.

Ozzy Mermut
York Research Chair in Vision Biophotonics

Ozzy Mermut, Faculty of Science, is a biophysicist harnessing the power of light to study human aging. Her group develops diagnostics and therapeutic biophotonics technologies to address age-related degenerative diseases. These techniques translate to accelerated aging studies in the environment of space, to understand long-term health consequences in space. This is a VISTA York Research Chair; Mermut is a core member of the Vision: Science to Applications (VISTA) program.

Carmela Murdocca
York Research Chair in Reparative and Racial Justice

Carmela Murdocca, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, examines racialization, criminalization and social histories of racial and colonial violence. Her work is concerned with the social and legal politics of repair, redress and reparations. She has been a Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Culture at the School of Law and the Center for Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University.

Lisa Myers
York Research Chair in Indigenous Art and Curatorial Practice

Lisa Myers, Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, is a curator and artist with a keen interest in interdisciplinary collaboration. Her research focuses on contemporary Indigenous art considering the varied values and functions of elements, such as medicine plants and language, sound, and knowledge. Through many media and materials, including socially engaged art approaches, her art practice examines place, underrepresented histories/present/futures, and collective forms of knowledge exchange.

Shayna Rosenbaum
York Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory

Shayna Rosenbaum, Faculty of Health and core member of the Vision: Science to Applications (VISTA) program, had her York Research Chair in the Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory renewed. An elected member of the College of the Royal Society of Canada, she has shown how different forms of memory are represented in the brain. She seeks to develop strategies to help healthy older adults and patients overcome memory loss.

Ping Wang
York Research Chair in AI Empowered Next Generation Communication Networks

Ping Wang, Lassonde School of Engineering, researches wireless communications and networking. She has led research in radio resource allocation, network design, performance analysis and optimization for heterogeneous wireless networks. Her scholarly works have been widely disseminated through top-ranked IEEE journals and conferences. She intends to develop innovative techniques for next-generation wireless communications networks in supporting the emerging Internet of Things (IoT) applications.

Amro Zayed
York Research Chair in Genomics

Amro Zayed, Faculty of Science, had his York Research Chair in Genomics renewed. Zayed’s research group sequences the genomes of thousands of bees to identify mutations that influence their economically and ecologically relevant traits. His program aims to improve the health of Canadian honey bees, which will increase the sustainability and security of Canada’s food supply.

Change is a constant for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Teacher Education Program

Deaf and hard of hearing FEATURED
Deaf and hard of hearing FEATURED

When York University took over the province’s Deaf Teacher and Hard of Hearing Teacher Education Program 30 years ago, Professor Connie Mayer had no idea that the field would go through such dramatic changes.

Now, looking back, Mayer, who began her career as a teacher of the deaf, and her colleague, Professor Pam Millett, an audiologist, marvel at the evolution that has taken place.

“The field has gone through a seismic change and the program has responded,” says Mayer.

Ontario has had a program to prepare teachers of the deaf since the 1960s, a time when deaf children were generally educated in congregated classes in school boards or at schools for the deaf. In the late 1980s, the Ministry of Education made the decision to align the program with a university, and the program for certified Ontario teachers began in 1991. The program is the only one of its kind in Ontario and one of only three in Canada, and awards its graduates a post baccalaureate diploma.

Two children using sign language to communicate
The teacher education program has changed and adapted along with the needs of deaf children

In its early years, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Teacher Education Program was a full-time, one-year program that required students to attend classes on the York campus. At that time, most teachers taught in classrooms using spoken language or a combination of spoken and signed language, or at schools for the deaf where American Sign Language (ASL) was the language of instruction.

Over time, major changes occurred in the field of deaf education, primarily as a consequence of universal newborn hearing screening and advancements in hearing technology (including cochlear implants). Historically, deaf children may not have been identified until preschool or even kindergarten age. This meant that some deaf children did not have the opportunity for language development in the early years.

In 2002, the Ontario government introduced hearing screening at birth for all newborns. Hearing loss is now typically diagnosed by three months of age, and early intervention services are put in place at that time. This provides much better opportunities for early language acquisition. Simultaneously, hearing technology was advancing by leaps and bounds, with hearing aids and cochlear implants providing more deaf children the ability to hear and learn to speak from a young age. As more than 95 per cent of deaf children are born to hearing parents, young deaf children are now more often able to acquire the spoken language of the home, whether that is English or another language. Many more deaf children are able to achieve typical language and literacy development.

The teacher education program has changed and adapted along with the needs of deaf children.

A man holding up a child with a cochlear implant
Students need a different set of knowledge and abilities today than they did 30 years ago

“Structurally, it’s similar: the number of courses required and the mandatory practicum,” says Mayer. “What’s changed is the content, which reflects the changes in the field.

“We’ve tried to meet the changing needs of the field and prepare teachers for the current educational environment.”

Adds Millett, “Kids now come to school with so much more language and conceptual knowledge.”

Today, teachers of the deaf generally don’t work as classroom teachers. Instead, they are supports and advocates for their students and work as itinerant teachers. This means that they travel between a number of schools to see a variety of deaf students in the area. They essentially become case managers, as well as teachers, liaising with each student’s classroom teacher and parents, as well as working with the student.

“Our students need a different set of knowledge and abilities today,” Mayer says. “They must serve a wide range of students from kindergarten to Grade 12, providing the level and type of support that is needed for each individual student.”

These include assisting younger students with language acquisition and vocabulary development in spoken and or signed language; supporting literacy development for school aged students; and working with teens to develop their advocacy skills so they can speak up for themselves when they go off to university, college or the workplace.

The first task for a teacher of the deaf is to ensure that the student has access, says Millett. “For example, one dead hearing aid battery can be a real problem.

“Our role is to prepare teachers for the reality of teaching deaf and hard-of-hearing students in 2021. The need is not less, just different. Deaf or hard-of-hearing students still need services and support.”

The program staff consists of Mayer, Millett, Practicum Co-ordinator Melanie Simpson and a program administrator. Candidates for admission to the program must have a minimum of an undergraduate degree, a Bachelor of Education and certification from the Ontario College of Teachers.

In the early 2000s, the program instituted a part-time option, with some courses taught on campus in the evening. In 2008, the part-time program was expanded to include online learning opportunities, a circumstance that increased the pool of potential applicants and left the faculty well-prepared when the pandemic led to remote course delivery for all classes.

“As a teacher, taking a year off without pay to attend a full-time program can be challenging and it prevented a lot of people from applying,” says Millett. “Now, with the online option, we have teachers from across the province enrolling.”

Each year, the program accepts about 20 students, but there is an ongoing cohort of 55 to 65 students, since many are enrolled part-time for three years.

“Our graduates are in demand,” says Mayer. “With very few exceptions, students graduate and have jobs waiting. Many of our part-time students are hired by their second year.”

Through all of the changes, two things have remained constant for Mayer and Millett: their dedication to ensuring that deaf and hard-of-hearing students across Ontario have the best possible teachers working with them and their own fervour for their work.

Their commitment and passion do York University proud.

Visit the Deaf and Hard of Hearing 30th anniversary celebration website at

By Elaine Smith, special contributor

Next-generation sequencing uncovers what’s stressing bumblebees

Yellow-banded bumblebee (image: Victoria MacPhail, FES, York University)
Yellow-banded bumblebee (image: Victoria MacPhail, FES, York University)

What’s stressing out bumblebees? To find out, York University scientists used next-generation sequencing to look deep inside bumblebees for evidence of pesticide exposure, including neonicotinoids, as well as pathogens, and found both.

Using a conservation genomic approach – an emerging field of study that could radically change the way bee health is assessed – the researchers studied Bombus terricola or the yellow-banded bumblebee, a native to North America, in agricultural and non-agricultural areas. This new technique allows scientists to probe for invisible stressors affecting bees.

Like many pollinators, the yellow-banded bumblebee has experienced major declines in the last couple decades, which threatens food security and the stability of natural ecosystems.

“Next-generation sequencing is a totally new way to think about why bees are declining, which could revolutionize conservation biology. We’re looking directly at bee tissues to try and get clues to the stressors that are affecting this bee. I think this is a gamechanger for sure. With a single study, we are able to implicate a couple of really obvious things we’ve talked about for years – pathogens and pesticides – in the case of Bombus terricola,” says Faculty of Science Professor Amro Zayed, director of the Centre for Bee Ecology Evolution and Conservation (BEEc) at York and corresponding author of the study.

In addition to sequencing the RNA of 30 yellow-banded worker bees, the researchers also used the sequence data to directly search for pathogens infecting the bumblebees. The team found five pathogens in the abdomens of worker bees, three of which are common in managed honey bee and bumblebee colonies. This supports the theory that spill over of pathogens from commercial operations can affect the health of wild bees.

What surprised the researchers, including former York biology grad student Nadia Tsvetkov and Associate Professor Sheila Colla of the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, is how well the technology worked.

“Bumblebee diseases are a key threat and this technology can help us detect new diseases and stressors quickly so we don’t lose species the way we did the rusty-patched bumblebee, where the problem was only detected when it was too late to do anything about it in Canada,” says Colla. “The rusty-patched bumblebee hasn’t been spotted in Canada since 2009.”

Bumblebees are particularly important pollinators, even better than honey bees for some plants, because their ability to “buzz” pollinate (vibrate the plants to release pollen) and tolerate cooler temperatures, which makes them critical pollinators for certain plants and regions.

Expanding the scope of conservation genomic studies will help to better understand how multiple stressors influence the health of other bumblebee populations.

“We think this is the way forward in terms of managing and conserving bumblebees,” says Zayed.

The paper, Conservation genomics reveals pesticide and pathogen exposure in the declining bumble bee Bombus terricola, was published recently in the journal Molecular Ecology.

What the Step 2 reopening means for York University

A photo with a black backgroud that features two vials of COVID-19 vaccine and a syringe

The following is a message to the University community from Provost and Vice-President Academic Lisa Philipps:

The province officially moved into Step 2 of its Roadmap to Reopen on Wednesday, June 30. Last week as well, all Ontarians aged 18 years and up became eligible to receive their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. This was very exciting news for the York community, as it means that all who are able can access first and second doses before a return to campus in September.

We are thrilled to announce that there will be another pop-up vaccine clinic on the Keele Campus this week on Tuesday, July 6 and Thursday, July 8 from 12 to 6 p.m. Our partners at Humber River Hospital will be administering the Pfizer vaccine and more details, including time and eligibility criteria (if applicable), will be shared with the York community.

A preliminary review of the impacts of Ontario’s Step 2 for York suggests that there are no major impacts posed to the University’s operations. The Summer term will continue to be delivered for the most part remotely as planned, with the following in place:

  • While gathering limitations now allow up to 50 people indoors, indoor gathering for in-person instruction will continue to abide by existing gathering limitations (10-person maximum), with a maximum of 50 persons allowed in the School of Nursing.
  • All indoor gatherings must still abide by two-metre physical distancing, masking/face covering requirements and/or the proper use of personal protective equipment.
  • Students filming outdoors or undertaking other activities outdoors must abide by the 25-person outdoor gathering limit.
  • In-person research involving human participants continues to be suspended at this time.
  • If you do need to come to campus, please request access through the Campus Access system or have pre-existing approval to access campus spaces. Completion of daily screening is also part of this process.

We continue to await guidance from the Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU) on what will and will not be permitted for the Fall 2021 term and anticipate that this information will be shared with Ontario’s post-secondary sector in early July. As soon as this information is available, we will be sure to update you on any impacts this may pose for the York community.

In the coming weeks, more information will be shared via weekly Wellness Wednesday Return to Campus Special Issues and on the Better Together website. Please stay tuned for updates on our plans for a safe return to campus this fall.

Lisa Philipps
Provost and Vice-President Academic

York faculty recognized with President’s University-Wide Teaching Awards

Vari Hall new image
Vari Hall new image

This year’s recipients of the 2021 President’s University-Wide Teaching Awards are being honoured for their innovation and commitment, as well as for having significantly enhanced the quality of learning by York students.

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.

Receiving the awards this year are Hossam Ali-Hassan, Gordana Colby, Sofia Noori and Michael Kenny. They were chosen from numerous nominations received by the awards committee. Each award winner will have their names engraved on the University-Wide Teaching Awards plaques displayed in Vari Hall.

Glendon international studies Professor Hossam Ali-Hassan has been named the recipient of the 2021 President’s University-Wide Teaching Award in the full-time tenured faculty with 10 or more years full-time teaching experience category. Ali-Hassan’s nomination highlighted his balanced approach to teaching, with a mix of technology and human abilities, with approachability and generosity that inspires student success and well-being. In addition, his colleagues mention the complementary relationship between his research, teaching and service to the University in administrative roles. More broadly, his continual self-development through perfecting his pedagogical approach and updating courses to incorporate in-demand skills and real-life experience improve the student experience at York University.

Gordana Colby, assistant professor of economics (teaching stream), is the recipient of the 2021 President’s University-Wide Teaching Award in the full-time faculty with less than 10 years teaching experience category. A York alumna, Colby is the Department of Economics’ first full-time faculty member in the teaching stream. In their submission to the awards committee, Colby’s nominators highlighted her passion for teaching and improving the student experience at York University, which they note promotes excellence in teaching and learning. Her nominators spoke of her commitment to enhancing student experience and engagement in academics and curricular activities. They praised the many innovative and transformative ways she has fostered student success while promoting York’s instructional priorities in first-year experience and e-learning.

The 2021 President’s University-Wide Teaching Award in the contract and adjunct faculty category has been awarded to Sofia Noori, a course director in the Faculty of Education. Noori was praised by her nominators for her commitment to creating an academically rigorous learning environment that is also a safe and inclusive space for students to express and hear a wide range of perspectives. Student letters in support of her nomination for the award speak about how Noori’s approach to teaching has inspired them to further their critical and imaginative capacities in ways that cultivate social and political awareness and justice. More broadly, her nominators spoke of her exemplary commitment to curricular development, innovative teaching and inclusive student engagements, all of which promote excellence at York University.

York Teaching Assistant Michael Kenny received the 2021 President’s University-Wide Teaching Award in the teaching assistant category. Kenny is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Education and a research associate with the Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies. In their submission to the awards committee, Kenny’s nominators praised his leadership as a teaching assistant and his ability to empower his students to seek positive change in addressing today’s environmental and social concerns through advocacy, policy change and community service. His nominators expressed their high regard for his support of students by fostering a respectful and inclusive environment in his classrooms, and despite the challenges of the pandemic, promoting excellence among his students.

Like mother, like son: Introducing the first mother-son MFA screenwriting graduates in York history

Morgan Fics and Nicole Alexander featured

As many York University graduates geared up for the final hurrah of their academic careers this month, one soon-to-be grad who won’t don her cap and gown until fall breathed a big sigh of relief, having just defended her four-years-in-the-making master’s thesis. Nicole Alexander has now all but convocated with her master of fine arts (MFA) in screenwriting from York’s Department of Cinema & Media Arts. She follows rather untraditionally in the footsteps of her eldest son, Morgan Fics, who accepted the very same degree five years ago – making them the first mother-son MFA screenwriting graduates in York history. And the story of how they got here – together – is definitely one worth telling.

Morgan Fics and Nicole Alexander
Morgan Fics (left) and Nicole Alexander (right)

The son

Growing up in Winnipeg, Fics wanted to be a writer for as long as he can remember, penning short stories every chance he got and imagining his bright future as a novelist. After high school, he took some time off to travel and write before realizing that he should pursue post-secondary education to help improve his craft. He soon enrolled at the University of Winnipeg, where his interests shifted from English literature to film after a professor pointed out that his work was better suited to scripts than prose. And after completing his first screenwriting course, he knew it was a perfect fit.

Tick Tock film poster
The poster for Morgan Fics’s 2018 short film Tick Tock

Encouragement from a trusted mentor led Fics to then decide to apply for a master’s program next. York’s was the only graduate screenwriting program in the country at the time, so he applied and was thrilled to be accepted.

“I remember the day they called me,” he says. “I was at work and I basically broke down crying in the middle of this tech support call centre I was working at. It was very, very exciting.”

Fics happened to know three people from Winnipeg who were going through York’s small but mighty graduate film program at the same time, in different streams. “And because of that, I had a really strong connection between all three aspects of the department,” he explains, “so I spent a lot of time on set, I got to do a lot of producing and a lot of story editing.”

His many fond memories from York University centre around the mentorship and collaboration among his fellow students, spending a lot of time workshopping and getting to know each other really well. He is still in contact with some of them today.

Since graduating in 2016, Fics has been busy. He has made several short films, the most recent of which, Tick Tock (2018), qualified for both the Canadian Screen Awards and the Academy Awards, and won best drama at the Toronto Shorts International Film Festival and an award of excellence at Canada Shorts. Finding the Restorative Narrative (2015), which he worked on with another York MFA grad, is part of the late York University Professor Amnon Buchbinder’s interactive website Biology of Story. And a new screenplay that he cowrote and hopes to co-direct is currently being shopped around to North American production companies.

Fics has also been exploring his interest in teaching by working as a teaching assistant for the Biology of Story course at York for several years and instructing a screenwriting course in the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies. “I think teaching is one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever gotten to do with my life,” he says, “and I think that’s a lot of influence from my mom, for sure.”

Looking ahead, Fics hopes to have a varied career that includes making independent Canadian feature films and teaching part-time, while doing some script-doctoring and story editing on the side. “I basically want to do a million things at once so I’m always fresh for whatever is going on,” he says with a laugh.

The mother

Alexander, who earned her bachelor of education from the University of Manitoba and graduated from Chicago’s Second City sketch comedy writing program, kept her passion for writing mostly on the back burner as she raised her young family and worked as a teacher. But once her three kids reached their teenage years, she decided to take a crack at her first film script, something she had always dreamt of doing. She submitted that debut screenplay, The Suicide Club, to the WFF Praxis Screenwriters Lab – 21 years ago now – and, to her surprise, it was selected. But with a full-time job and three kids at home, there still wasn’t much time for her to pursue writing in any significant way. However, with her interest piqued, she went on to complete two more feature scripts in her stolen moments, plus a funny book on internet dating called Cyber Love Muse.

When all three of Alexander’s adult children left Winnipeg for graduate programs, she decided to head overseas to teach. She spent two years in Thailand and a year in South Korea, and it was then, when she was really missing her family and not knowing where to settle next, that Fics encouraged her to apply for the MFA in screenwriting at York. She hadn’t previously considered it, but she liked the idea.

“I think I needed a break from teaching and I’ve always wanted to become a better writer. I still do,” she says. “And I was shocked they let me in but they did.”

She lived on campus for two years and loved every minute of it. “Because I had my kids so young, living on campus was just so much fun,” she says. “I was really quiet and I had a cat, so I wasn’t like a usual college student, but I really appreciated the experience. Just having the time to explore the writing was such a privilege.”

The most memorable part of the program for Alexander was the short film she created, as it was her first time experimenting with other aspects of filmmaking outside of writing. “I got to write, direct and shoot, and that was an absolutely amazing experience,” she recalls.

After a difficult final year spent finishing her thesis, returning to teaching and moving back to Winnipeg to take care of her elderly father, who recently passed, Alexander is now beginning to feel like she can start to enjoy the fruits of her labour. “Now I can say that I have my MFA from York in screenwriting,” she says excitedly. “I’m relieved. There’s a real jubilance underneath that is starting to come out.”

She will be moving back to Ontario this summer, and although she’ll still be teaching, Alexander hopes to spend the next year finishing up the two scripts she has on the go and trying to do something with her thesis script, which she has already submitted to some competitions. “My goal is to segue from teaching to writing full-time, if that’s possible,” says Alexander. “I’m aiming for a new career – why not, right?”

Nicole Alexander (left) and Morgan Fics (right)
Nicole Alexander (left) and Morgan Fics (right)

A family affair

Top of mind for both mother and son is to work on a project together now that Alexander is finished her MFA and finally able to dedicate her attention to something other than her thesis. “We’ve still got some time before the school year kicks off and I have a feeling that we’ll probably pound out a script ASAP,” says Fics assuredly.

But this won’t be the first time this mother-son duo collaborates on work. The pair has a long history of working together – while Fics completed his MFA studies, and while Alexander went through hers.

“When I would write a script, I would send it to my mom and she would read it and help with the editing,” explains Fics. “It was back and forth like this, with her stuff too. I actually edited her short film, the one that she shot at York. We’ve been working together for 15 years.”

Their tight-knit bond became especially important as they both navigated through some very heavy and interconnected material for their master’s theses. “We got really lucky to have each other during both of our journeys,” says Fics, “especially because we both did very personal thesis topics that centred around one particular individual from our lives, my father and my mom’s ex,” who passed away during the first year of Alexander’s MFA.

“It was very healing, writing that script,” Fics says. “I honestly don’t think I could have done it without my mom. It was a long process of, I guess I would call it grieving, of trying to move through the story of my relationship with my father and how that ended up playing out within the script. And something I always wished is that he could have read it.”

“It was quite the journey,” Alexander agrees. “I call it my personal therapy.”

By Lindsay MacAdam, communications officer, Communications & Public Affairs, York University