Apply now to be an Agent of Change  

two people holding a globe

The Agents of Change Program is accepting project proposal applications until Sunday, July 3 at 11:59 p.m. It offers students the opportunity to gain beneficial entrepreneurial experience and make impactful changes in their local communities.  

The program aims to support innovative student-led community initiatives that uniquely address the social determinants of health (SDH) and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). It offers students start-up funding, one-on-one coaching, mentorship, training and networking opportunities. 

The Agents of Change Program was established by an alumni donor in 2013, driven by the goal to promote applied learning opportunities and develop students’ transferable skills. A project-based learning approach is adapted by the program to foster student engagement to real-world problems through their personal, community-oriented and health-related initiatives. 

Successful applicants will have the opportunity to run their projects in a year-long timeline that begins in August 2022 and ends in May 2023. Calumet and Stong Colleges will be reviewing the project proposals.  

Eligibility to apply for Agents of Change:  

  • A York University undergraduate/graduate student returning for the academic year of 2022-23; 
  • Good academic standing with York University; and  
  • If applying as a group:  
    – maximum number of group members is five.  
    – majority of the team (over 50 per cent) must be from the Faculty of Health. 

The proposed Agents of Change Initiative ideas must address the following:  

  • Project vision: Your vision should be specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and timely (S.M.A.R.T.); 
  • Goals, deliverables, and timeframe: How will you implement your vision in the months to follow? What projects do you aim to complete during your timeframe?;  
  • Target population of the project: Who is the intended demographic for your project? Please justify the need for your initiative with research;  
  • Uniqueness: What makes your project innovative and unique? Ensure your project does not replicate services on campus. If services are duplicated, does your project complement or expand already existing initiatives?;  
  • Adaptability: Does your project demonstrate the flexibility required during this time of COVID-19? How will you work around these limitations (delivering services online)?; and 
  • Existing resources and required budget. 

A detailed proposal guideline is available for reference.  

For the past nine years, the program has achieved noteworthy outcomes and impact through more than 25 student-led initiatives focused on meeting the health-related needs of vulnerable or marginalized community members. 

Past Agents of Change initiatives have covered a broad range of categories, including supporting physical and mental health, gender inequity in health leadership and homelessness. The current Agents of Change projects are innovative in addressing SDH and are actively participating in achieving the UN SDGs. Learn about past projects on the Calumet College webpage.  

Ontario’s iconic Bruce Peninsula beckons as a living laboratory for EUC students

EUC_TheGrotto FEATURED image by Fabiola Torrejon Peredo

Designated as an UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, the Bruce Peninsula offers an unprecedented experience in biodiversity for students in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change (EUC).

By Elaine Smith

It is two thumbs up for Learning the Bruce [Peninsula], according to students who took the inaugural field course run by the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change (EUC).

“It was just amazing,” said Rachel Pellegrino, who is working toward a BA in geography and a concurrent BEd. “I took it for the experience of being in a field course and it’s the best thing I’ve done at York.”

EUC student Rachel Pellegrino uses a clinometer, Image by Haley Klassen
EUC student Rachel Pellegrino uses a clinometer (image by Haley Klassen)

Jacky Duong, a fourth-year student in human geography, called his first field course since the start of the pandemic “an exceptional experience.”

“I’ve lived in Toronto my whole life and rarely leave the 905 [Greater Toronto] area, so experiencing small town Ontario pierced my Toronto-centric bubble and I’m tempted to explore more.”

It’s just the kind of response that Richard Bello, a climatologist, and W. Steven Tufts, a human geographer, both associate professors at EUC, are delighted to hear, because they hoped that the six-day, intensive summer course – partially funded by York’s Academic Innovation Fund and the EUC alumni association – would be both an excellent learning experience and an antidote to the pandemic.

“The course was meant to be a capstone experience that allowed students to apply theory in the field, offering both experiential learning and community engagement,” said Tufts. “We wanted to make it a field experience that didn’t cost students a lot of money, and, for us, it was also an unintended lesson on how to pull off a field course during a pandemic, putting protocols in place to make everyone feel safer.”

The Bruce Peninsula made an excellent laboratory: it is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve containing the largest continuous forest in southern Ontario, as well as beaches, Indigenous communities and small towns. The course, which had 16 students in 2021, featured two streams that took advantage of all these characteristics. The physical geography stream offered hands-on experience working in the forest, determining if climate change is affecting its ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

EUC student Haley Klassen conducts an assessment using a caliper. Image by Rachel Pellegrino
EUC student Haley Klassen conducts an assessment using a caliper (image by Rachel Pellegrino)

“I introduced the students to different tools, methods and sensors to measure how much carbon there is in the trees, vegetation and soils and whether this eco-system is healthy,” said Bello. “It provided a snapshot of a 115-year-old ecosystem, because the entire area, except for Tobermory, burned to the ground in 1908. Can we forecast what will happen in the future, given the current stresses?”

The students employed a variety of research techniques, some new and some that they had only used in a lab, such as taking tree core samples, correctly gathering soil samples and learning to calculate the deadwood in a specific area. They used their data to evaluate the health of the forest.

“I loved being in the forest and learning the techniques and tools to use there,” Pellegrino said. “I wanted the opportunity to analyze information and see how geography would work in the field.”

The human geography option explored the impact of COVID-19 on the businesses within the community, designing and distributing a survey among stores and restaurants in Sauble Beach, one of the small centres on the Peninsula. They had guest speakers who addressed topics such as the rural issues facing the inhabitants of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, considering topics such as land claims and agriculture. Each then chose an issue facing the county for an independent paper.

“I learned proper survey techniques and what goes into crafting a good questionnaire,” Duong said. “I also improved my communications skills.”

The students and their professors were based at the Bluewater Outdoor Education Centre in Wiarton for the week, living in the dormitory there and eating in the cafeteria. They were busy with lectures and research during the day, but in the evenings, there were campfires where everyone gathered to discuss the day informally and look at the stars – a rarity for some of the students from urban settings. The gatherings built a real sense of community.

“It was wonderful to see in the professors in a different environment and getting to know more people after two years of classes online,” said Pellegrino. “Every night around the fire, I’d get to talk to people from different walks of life and it was awesome.”

Duong agreed, noting, “Six days in a close-knit environment built great ties with people I may have only seen in classes before. Those on the human geography and physical geography sides exchanged experiences every day and got to share our perspectives.”

The immersive aspect of the experience is something Bello finds invaluable.

“In field courses, we can learn together,” he said. “I’m guiding the students, but a number of times, they’ll ask questions that twig new lines of research. When you’re immersed, things occur to you that wouldn’t strike you on a TV screen.

“I was comfortable not trying to structure every moment so the students could do their own learning.”

Students enjoy the famed Grotto. Image by Fabiola Torrejon Peredo
Students enjoy the famed Grotto (image by Fabiola Torrejon Peredo)

The final day of the course focused on enjoying the unique features of the Bruce: the beach, a rehabilitated quarry and two major tourist spots – a grotto and Bruce National Park. The students created photo journals that included their fieldwork and their fieldtrips, evidence of their fascination with the entire experience.

Tufts says that a field course should be social as well as educational. “They are supposed to be bonding as well as learning,” he said. “We want to build alumni who remember York fondly.”

Bello and Tufts hope to offer the course again soon. It is an experience that Duong and Pellegrino wholeheartedly recommend to their peers.

Kristin Andrews

Kristin Andrews
Kristin Andrews

York Professor of philosophy Kristin Andrews is featured in the new CBC show Frick, I Love Nature in the episode “Can Animals be Deceptive?” All episodes of the show will be available on CBC Gem on March 25

Call for applications to the Provostial Fellows Program

Vari Hall New Featured image

La version française suit la version anglaise.

Dear colleagues,

The Office of the Provost and Vice-President Academic is issuing a call for applications to the Provostial Fellows Program between now and May 4. The call is open to all tenured faculty members who are interested in working directly with the provost and relevant senior leadership on a project or initiative geared towards advancing the University Academic Plan, including York’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Challenge.

Indigenous faculty and those from equity deserving groups are encouraged to apply. The program is intended to give tenured faculty a chance to gain hands-on experience in University leadership. Those who are interested in applying or who have a particular project in mind should consider the following:

  • projects may relate to any of the six UAP priorities, and also seek to enhance and intersect with the University-wide challenge to elevate contributions to the UN Sustainable Development Goals;
  • proposed projects should also seek to provide an opportunity for personal professional growth and learning, as well as the exploration of leadership at the Faculty or institutional level; and
  • projects do not need to target a Fellow’s home Faculty.
UAP Graphic shows the 17 United Sustainable development goals in context within the York University Academic Plan
The University Academic Plan 2020-2025 identifies six academic priorities

Here is a look at what last year’s Provostial Fellows have achieved. Details on the program, how to apply and the relevant timelines can be found here on the Provost & Vice-President Academic site. I encourage all tenured faculty who are interested in advancing academic priorities while working to build a better future and create positive change at York and beyond to apply.


Lisa Philipps
Provost & Vice-President Academic

Appel aux candidatures pour le programme rectoral de bourses

La version française suit la version anglaise.

Chers collègues, chères collègues,

Le Bureau de la rectrice et vice-présidente aux affaires académiques lance un appel aux candidatures pour le programme rectoral de bourses à partir d’aujourd’hui et jusqu’au 4 mai. Cet appel est ouvert à tous les membres permanents du corps professoral qui aimeraient travailler directement avec la rectrice et les hauts dirigeants concernés sur un projet ou une initiative visant à faire progresser le Plan académique de l’Université (PAU), y compris le défi des ODD de York.

Les membres du corps professoral autochtones et issus de groupes dignes d’équité sont encouragés à poser leur candidature. Ce programme vise à donner aux professeurs permanents la chance d’acquérir une expérience pratique de leadership à l’Université. Les personnes intéressées par une candidature ou qui ont un projet particulier en tête devraient prendre en compte les points suivants :

  • Les projets peuvent porter sur l’une des six priorités du PAU et doivent aussi viser à renforcer et à appuyer le pari de l’Université de rehausser ses contributions aux objectifs de développement durable des Nations Unies;
  • Les propositions de projets doivent également être une occasion de croissance, de perfectionnement professionnel et de découverte du leadership facultaire ou universitaire; et
  • Les projets ne doivent pas nécessairement cibler la faculté d’attache du postulant ou de la postulante :
Le Plan académique universitaire 2020-2025 identifie six priorités académiques
Le Plan académique universitaire 2020-2025 identifie six priorités académiques

Voici un aperçu de ce qui a été réalisé l’année dernière dans le cadre de ce programme. Vous trouverez plus de détails au sujet du programme, du processus de candidature et des dates limites sur le site Web de la rectrice et vice-présidente aux affaires académiques. J’encourage tous les membres permanents du corps professoral qui souhaitent faire avancer des priorités académiques tout en contribuant à la construction d’un avenir meilleur et à la création de changements positifs – à York et au-delà – à y postuler.

Sincères salutations,

Lisa Philipps
Rectrice et vice-présidente aux affaires académiques 

York Capstone Day celebrates innovation and creativity  

Cross Campus Capstone Classroom FEATURED image for new YFile

York Capstone Network’s (YCN) annual York Capstone Day event will take place virtually on Friday, April 29 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.  

Funded by the Business in Higher Education Roundtable, the annual showcase welcomes students from any Faculty at York to present their completed capstone projects. Bringing project partners and mentors as well as York community members together, the event celebrates the innovation, creativity, ambition and impact of York students. 

Both pre-capstone and capstone students are welcome to share their research-design projects in thematic panels throughout the day and compete for five campus-wide monetary prize awards, including:  

Sustainable Development Goals Award 
The award will be presented to the team whose project demonstrates an exceptional commitment to advancing the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in keeping with York University’s SDG Challenge as outlined in the current University Academic Plan. Learn more.  

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Award 
The award will be presented to the team whose project demonstrates an exceptional commitment to advancing equity, diversity and inclusion in alignment with priorities identified by York University. Learn more.  

High Impact Award 
The award will be presented to the team whose project exhibits the greatest potential to demonstrate a long-term, positive impact for stakeholders and society as a whole. Learn more

BEST Lab Award 
The prize will be presented to the team whose project demonstrates exceptional innovativeness and inventiveness, impact in addressing an important societal issue, and the viability of the project. Learn more.  

Emerging Leaders Award  
The award will be presented to the team whose project touches on at least one of the main award themes of sustainability; equity, diversity, inclusion; high-impact; or technology. Learn more.  

Interdisciplinary student panels with alumni and partners will form the primary events of the day. There will also be a variety of professional development and networking opportunities for students, created in partnership with Career Education and Development, York University Libraries, and Innovation York.  

Most of the projects shared at Capstone Day come from the Project Commons, an interdisciplinary lending library of SDG-linked, real-world projects for any York classroom. Professors who check out projects from the Commons receive one-on-one support from experiential education (EE) experts, who help them customize the project(s) for their classroom and its unique learning goals. Participating students are connected with project partners eager to support student learning. To learn more about the Project Commons and how it can help you infuse the SDGs and EE into your classroom, click here to book an appointment. 

Capstone Day is a free and open event for all York community members. Participation applications are due Friday, April 1. Event registration will open in April. Visit the YCN webpage for more information.  

York presents first Sustainable Development Goals virtual teach-in day

United Nations SDGs

In collaboration with York University’s Teaching Commons and in advance of the 10th annual Teaching in Focus conference, the York University SDGs-in-the-Classroom Community of Practice offers its first United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) virtual teach-in half-day.

The event, Teaching the Sustainable Development Goals: The World’s Challenges Can Be Found in Your Classroom, takes place May 10 from 9:45 a.m. to 2 p.m. online.

The event is open to those beginning to explore how the 17 UN SDGs might intersect with the subjects in their classrooms or those who have deep research and teaching familiarity with these goals. The half-day teach-in will include panel discussions, interactive sessions and experiential learning about teaching the SDGs. Together, organizers and participants will share approaches to working with the SDGs as a learning framework, discover strategies for engaging students with SDG-focused lessons, and share experiences as teachers and learners in the SDG classroom.

Organizers are planning an SDG-tasting, where participants can drop into virtual classrooms and experience 30-minute activities instructors use to infuse the SDGs in their program. Live coaching is also available for those who would like ideas on how to get started on infusing the SDGs into their own classroom.

Co-Chairs of this event are Professors Cheryl van Daalen-Smith, Sandra Peniston and PhD student Nitima Bhatia.

Visit this page for more information, or register for the event here.

York University researchers receive infrastructure funding from CFI

research graphic

The CFI funding was awarded through the John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF), which helps institutions recruit and retain outstanding researchers. The funding, which was announced on Feb. 22, will also support the development global legal epidemiology, an emerging area of research that evaluates the role and impact of international law on global health.

“We are grateful for the continuing support and investment provided by the Government of Canada through CFI,” says Amir Asif, vice-president research and innovation. “The infrastructure funding provided by CFI plays a critical role in supporting important research that will have a positive, transformative impact on society, particularly in areas related to health, sustainability and food security.”

List of CFI JELF awards:

Building infostructure for quasi-experimental analysis in global legal epidemiology – Steven Hoffman (Faculty of Health, Osgoode Hall Law School)
Award amount: $200,000

Global legal epidemiology is an emerging research field that seeks to understand how international laws, policies and norms shape the causes, distribution and prevention of disease and injury. Led by Dahdaleh Distinguished Chair in Global Governance and Legal Epidemiology Steven J. Hoffman – in collaboration with York Research Chair in Global Health Equity Mathieu Poirier, Assistant Professor Tarra Penney, and Associate Professor Adrian Viens – York University’s Global Strategy Lab will develop the world’s first research program built from the ground up to conduct global legal epidemiologic evaluations. With the funding from CFI, the Global Strategy Lab will regularly conduct global policy and outcome surveillance; rigorously evaluate international laws, policies and norms using quasi-experimental methods; improve the equity and effectiveness of international laws and policies; and become a global centre of excellence for training and education in this emerging field.

Multifunctional aerogel innovation platform – Thomas Cooper (Lassonde School of Engineering)
Award amount: $140,000

Society desperately needs new solutions to address climate change, energy security and access to clean drinking water. Assistant Professor Thomas Cooper’s research seeks to accelerate and enable the development of the next generation of multifunctional aerogel materials to help address these societal challenges. Aerogels are highly porous solid foams with interconnected pores ranging in size from the nanoscale to the macroscale. Their unique structure affords them many remarkable properties, making them excellent candidate materials for meeting multifunctional requirements needed in energy, water and sustainability applications.

With support from CFI, the team will develop the critical research infrastructure that can enable high-throughput fabrication and systematic characterization of next-generation aerogels for innovative applications focusing on renewable energy, clean water and sustainability. The research program will generate novel materials for Canada’s rapidly expanding environmental and clean technology industry.

Novel targets of whole-food dairy products for human musculoskeletal and cardiometabolic health – Andrea Josse (Faculty of Health)
Award Amount: $125,000

The incidence of chronic disease, including obesity and diabetes, continues to increase in Canada, contributing to a major health burden on our citizens and an economic burden on our health care system. Assistant Professor Andrea Josse‘s research focuses on creating and testing strategies of lifestyle modification (via nutrition and exercise) and their underlying mechanisms to improve body composition, bone, cardiovascular and metabolic health. She uses innovative, multidimensional and collaborative approaches to explore novel targets and make key discoveries regarding the effects of whole-food dairy products, which contain important nutrients that can promote health, mitigate disease and/or augment the beneficial adaptations associated with exercise.

The funding provided by the CFI will support the acquisition of vital infrastructure for exercise training and testing, body composition assessment, and physiological biomarker quantification to expand the research.

Research apiary to study honeybee behaviour, genetics and health – Amro Zayed (Faculty of Science)
Award Amount: $212,990

York Research Chair and Professor Amro Zayed’s research aims to advance knowledge on the genetics and evolution of the social behaviour of honeybees. Despite nearly a century of inquiry, the evolution and genetics underlying sociality in animals remains a mystery. The social behaviour of these insects has been extremely difficult to study at the genetic level because the typical tools for studying the genetics of behaviour in solitary organisms are not directly applicable to social animals. The funding will support Zayed by enhancing the capacity to experiment on honeybee colonies to support cutting-edge research on the genetics and health of these important pollinators. The research will lead to better understanding of honeybees and their role in supporting food security and sustainability.

Changes to prey distribution due to climate shifts show in polar bear diet

Polar bear on tundra. Pexels image by Dick Hoskins

How are warming temperatures and a loss of sea ice affecting polar bears and their marine mammal prey in the Arctic? A York University-led research team used a novel approach to the question by monitoring what polar bears eat across Nunavut and where they are catching their prey.

They found that polar bears can be used as indicators of environmental shifts and highlight how these changes are disturbing the normal distribution of marine mammal prey populations in the Arctic.

The researchers, including Faculty of Science PhD Candidate Melissa Galicia, who led the research, and Professor Gregory Thiemann of the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, have found polar bears, originally thought to eat mainly ringed and bearded seals, are actually flexible eaters. They will eat what’s readily available and this makes them ideal as a monitoring tool to track environmental changes in the Arctic.

“Polar bears need the sea ice to hunt. When there is a reduction in the sea ice, they’re hunting less or they’re potentially hunting different prey species,” says Galicia. “Prey species, like whales and seals, also need certain habitat conditions and because of environmental changes in the Arctic, some marine mammals, such as prey species of bears, are redistributing. You’re getting an increase in more sub-Arctic species, like killer whales for instance.”

The researchers analyzed harvest samples of polar bears from across Nunavut, provided by subsistence hunters over a period of about eight years, and identified spatial hot spots of prey species. The study suggests polar bear diet may provide early evidence of changes in the distribution of mammals due to climate change.

“I’m getting a large geographic representation of bears, especially in areas that tend to be less studied,” says Galicia, who was able to analyze the fatty acids, such as omega 3s and omega 6s, in the fat tissue of bears.

“Each bear will have a specific fatty acid signature, a kind of fingerprint for individual bears and because of that you can see what that particular individual is eating and what percentage of their diet that represents.”

They found bowhead whale carcasses were increasingly becoming more common in polar bear diet potentially linked to killer whales venturing further north and staying for longer periods of time.

The researchers say changes brought on by a warming climate – the Arctic ecosystem is experiencing climate warming up to three times faster than any other region – will likely force widespread species redistribution, particularly in polar environments. The polar bears in Nunavut aren’t experiencing climate changes to the same degree as some subpopulations in western Hudson’s Bay or Beaufort Sea areas, but ultimately that will likely change.

“As temperatures across the Arctic warm and sea ice loss increases, there will be profound cascading ecological consequences. What’s not known is how that will affect species, such as seals and whales, but by monitoring the seasonal prey consumption of polar bears, scientists can better keep track of where marine mammal prey species are showing up and their seasonal distribution,” says Thiemann.

There is currently little information on the abundance and distribution of marine mammals across the Arctic so this study offers a way to gain further insight and highlight potential range shifts.

The researchers say future studies of polar bear diets should include prey species not typically found in the region and help predict the severity and influence of climate-induced change.

The paper, “Polar bear diet composition reveals spatiotemporal distribution of Arctic marine mammals across Nunavut, Canada,” online now will be published in the December issue of the journal Ecological Indicators.

Faculty members can co-create community of practice on UN SDGs

United Nations SDGs

Calling all faculty who infuse the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into their classrooms!

Provostial Fellow Cheryl van Daalen-Smith is searching across York’s campuses to identify faculty who have begun to find ways to infuse the UN SDGs into their teaching, courses and classrooms. Whether it’s incorporating SDGs though guest lectures, linking SDGs to disciplinary foci and in-class discussions, providing options to students to consider the SDG of an assignment, or other examples of teaching and learning with a UN SDG focus, van Daalen-Smith wants to hear from any and all faculty members.

The goal of the call-out is to co-create a community of practice, and perhaps organize a teach-in, to highlight what is already happening at York and inspire others to “see the SDGs” in their respective areas.

Many faculty members are finding innovative ways to tether their disciplinary/programmatic/course focus to an SDG, or several – with some selecting their relevance by the 3P model of dividing the SDGs up into people, prosperity or planet. Students are reporting a zeal for the ability to consider real-world issues and to look at them through their own disciplinary lens. Faculty members in departments including dance, engineering, nursing, kinesiology, biology, children’s studies, business, and gender, sexuality and women’s studies are already finding ways to tie their existing foci to the SDGs.

Faculty members interested in participating are invited to contact van Daalen Smith as soon as possible by emailing with the subject line “SDGs in my classroom.”