Workshop series brings SDGs to forefront of teaching and learning

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A series of one-hour workshops at York University will launch in the new year and share ways in which educators can infuse the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SGDs) into teaching and learning.

Co-developed by York’s Teaching Commons and SDGs-in-the-Classroom Curricular Innovation Hub, The Sustainable Development Goals in Teaching and Learning series launches Jan. 25, 2023 and presents five online workshops.

UN SDG wheel with the 17 SDGs

The series explores how educators might speak to the SDGs through curriculum, teaching practices, course design and assessments. The outcomes are developed to raise awareness of the importance of sustainable development and prepare students with the knowledge, skills and attributes to tackle the world’s greatest challenges.

The workshops, which run from 10 to 11 a.m., are:

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)-in-the-Classroom Curricular Innovation Hub is part of the SDG Teach In, a campaign to put the SDGs at the centre of all stages of education, and across all disciplines. The SDG Teach In, hosted by Students Organizing for Sustainability United Kingdom (SOS-UK), is a student-led education charity focusing on sustainability with a belief that change is urgently needed to tackle the injustices and unsustainability in our world.

The 2023 campaign will run from March 1 to 31, 2023, and encourages educators to pledge to include the SDGs within their teaching, learning and assessment during the campaign and beyond. Educators can pledge to take part now via the SDG Teach in pledge form

New portable device detects glow emitted by plants to measure their health

hands holding plants in a circle

When plants are healthy, they emit red light that is nearly impossible to see with the naked eye, but with a new instrument developed at York University, it’s now possible to measure that light whether in a lab or out in the field.

Although it may sound like science fiction to say healthy plants glow, this delayed fluorescence comes from light absorbed from the sun, related to the photosynthetic activity and health of the plant. Plants emit this glow after they absorb a flash of light.

Ozzy Mermut
Ozzy Mermut

“We can tell how healthy the plant is by the robustness of the red light they emit. The weaker the light gets, the less healthy the plant is,” says Associate Professor of biophysics Ozzy Mermut of York’s Faculty of Science. “You can’t always tell the health of the plant just by looking at it. Often, it will look green and healthy until you test it.”

That’s where the new highly sensitive and portable biosensor Mermut and York chemistry Professor William Pietro engineered comes in. “We developed a device that can capture low intensity light emission from plants,” says Pietro.

The tool, a SiPM (solid-state silicon photomultiplier)-enabled portable delayed fluorescence photon counting device with integrated plug-and-play excitation of a simple LED, can easily be deployed remotely. This enables the device to help measure the health and sustainability of plants, especially those stressed by CO2 emissions, greenhouse gases and extreme weather events, and asses impacts of industrialization. Not only can it be used in a lab but, as it’s the size of a briefcase, it can be easily carried from site to site, whether that’s crops in Saskatchewan, where Mermut hails from, protected Indigenous lands across Canada, or the rainforests of Brazil.

A new highly sensitive and portable biosensor  engineered to capture low intensity light emission from plants
A new highly sensitive and portable biosensor engineered to capture low intensity light emission from plants

“The results of this can tell us about the reaction of plants under various environmental conditions, including drought, heat and cold shock stress or after floods. It does this in a powerful new way that enables us to study this phenomenon of plant emission directly in the field. It’s so sensitive it can count individual photons, particles of light, emitted from plants,” says Pietro.

This wouldn’t have been possible even a few years ago. The technology was too large, not portable in the least, complicated, and expensive – all of which precluded field-based studies, until now. Mermut and Pietro are hoping other researchers will also start using the instrument in their studies, perhaps to study impacts of climate change over time on plants.

In the future, they hope to mount the equipment on a drone so it can fly over rainforests, conservation areas and agricultural fields – which may help farmers address food security – to gauge their health and how it changes over time or in reaction to environmental stressors.

Prototypes of the conceptual implementation of the device on a drone used to study and survey fields and forests
Prototype of the conceptual implementation of the device on a drone used to study and survey fields and forests

“This is so important because roughly 20 per cent of oxygen is produced by the Brazilian rain forests,” says Mermut, who has experience in creating remotely deployable medical devices for global health applications and space life sciences research. “You can imagine how useful such technology may become in the future, not only for plants, but for humans as well.”

The researchers published their proof-of-concept study, A SiPM-Enabled Portable Delayed Fluorescence Photon Counting Device: Climatic Plant Stress Biosensing in a special issue of the journal Biosensors – Photonics-Based (Bio-)Sensors for a Healthy Planet.

Already, they are teaching students in the biophysics undergraduate program in the Department of Physics and Astronomy about the concepts and how to use the research equipment in the MiBAR Lab, where they can simulate the stresses found in nature in greenhouses, to see the effects on various plants.

It’s an example of how cutting-edge research is not only being used right away in the classroom, but also out in the field.

The Young Indigenous Women’s Utopia comes to York for inaugural artists in residence program

Indigenous feathers

The Young Indigenous Women’s Utopia Girls Group (YIWU) uses ceremony, culture and artistic activism to combat gender-based and colonial violence. The group will debut its newest book, exhibit its art and launch a series of workshops at York on Nov. 24.

The Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change (EUC) will also kick off the inaugural artists in residency program alongside their special guests from YIWU.

“These young women are inspiring leaders who have so much to teach us about leadership and Indigenous approaches to challenging injustice though the arts,” says Sarah Flicker, professor and coordinator of the environmental arts and justice program at EUC.

The group was initiated in 2017 as a part of the international research project “Networks for Change and Well-being: Girl-led ‘From the Ground up’ Policy Making to Address Sexual Violence in Canada and South Africa,” supported by Flicker.

Throughout the 2021-22 academic year, YIWU worked with EUC alumnus Zachary Mandamin to create an edited collection of their essays and photographs. The collection became the backbone of Mandamin’s undergraduate thesis, which will debut at the upcoming book launch. “The process of making it was full of so much love and self-love! I am so excited to return to campus to launch it,” said Mandamin.

All events will be hosted from room 140 in the Health, Nursing and Environmental Studies building (HNES). Registration is free and open to the entire York community.

Click here for more information and to register.

About The Young Indigenous Women’s Utopia

Young Indigenous Women’s Utopia
Young Indigenous Women’s Utopia

Over the last seven years, YIWU has produced films and photographic essays, sewn red ribbon skirts as an act of resistance, released a self-published book and gifted a mural to downtown Saskatoon. It has also participated in multiple inter-provincial gatherings and conferences and facilitated several community, university and classroom activities and conversations.

“We do the work of reconciliation by teaching the girls to be proud of themselves, their heritage and their culture. One of our key teachings is that ‘self-love,’ despite all the harms wrought through colonial and institutional violence, is an act of resistance,” said group mentor Jenn Altenberg.

When the group began, the first cohort of girls ranged in age from 11 to 13. Girls from the first cohort visited EUC for the first time in March of 2020 to attend the eco-arts festival. While at York University, they offered guest lectures and hosted workshops at the festival. They also visited Indigenous sites around the Keele Campus and the Centre for Indigenous Student Services.

During the pandemic, the girls decided that they wanted to welcome a second cohort of younger girls (2.0 generation), with each older girl recruiting a younger “sister,” cousin or friend into their expanding circle. As older girls began to take up the role of “auntie,” they passed on teachings to share what they had learned. In turn, the 2.0 generation began their own education and outreach work.

New collaborative art installation reminds York University to care ‘For the Birds’

Environment and Urban Change Health, Nursing, Environmental buildings

The Sky Studio Collective (SSC) is hosting a launch party in celebration of the “For the Birds” collaborative murals on Nov. 22 at 10 a.m.

“For the Birds” is an art project created by Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change students and teachers over the past year. This project was part of a larger initiative by Professors Gail Fraser, Traci Warkentin and Lisa Myers, who imagined ways that different classes could connect to help address an area of deep concern: migratory bird deaths resulting from reflective windows on campus.

The team applied to the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) to co-design and implement a unique project that would provide hands-on engagement, and raise community awareness, across three different undergraduate courses: environmental science, environmental education and community arts.

The Community Arts for Social Change course (ENVS 2122) designed art for the windows which, after a full year of online learning, reconnected students for collaborative, in-person art creation for a cause. While activating their inner child with pencil crayons, stencils and scented markers, the group’s work centred around the bird’s view – the colours they see, the spaces they understand. Students conducted research and received Anishinaabeg teachings about the sky world from Myers, then worked in small groups to design window murals for the Heath, Nursing & Environmental Studies (HNES) building. These murals will sit alongside more conventional bird safety window treatments – such as dotted film – to offer a contrasting method for study.

The community arts course process was then adapted by the SSC who formed to design a united piece of collaged student imagery that represented the lifecycle of a songbird. The SSC, along with students from different faculties, gathered weekly to install the printed stickers on the HNES building.

“With the help of the Sky Studio Collective, a space was created for students to engage in conversation about how aesthetically appealing the colours and shapes are for the human eye amidst often colourless buildings, while understanding its importance for conserving birds living amongst us on campus,” said Sofia Colalillo, a third-year environmental arts and justice student.

In 2019, Warkentin’s environmental education course surveyed the community about the topic of bird strikes and will repeat the survey following the art installation. In 2022, Fraser’s first-year environmental science students examined windows for affected birds.

With approximately 1,000 deaths of migratory songbirds annually due to reflective windows across campus, “For the Birds” is an art piece that promotes awareness about how we can live among animal co-habitants. It examines how constructed spaces can intersect safely with the natural world. In addition to the physical mural, walkers-by can engage with the piece by scanning the QR codes embedded with videos and sound bites.

The “For the Birds” murals are best viewed from the outer, north side of the HNES building. Visitors are invited to share in science-informed, artistic student work that brings about environmental and urban change.

York professors explore histories of animals in new book

Traces of the Animal Past book cover

Elephants, horses, dolphins and bears have stories to tell about the past. Their lives and actions shape history and influence the lives of people in innumerable ways. How can these histories that animals make be studied and understood?

Jennifer Bonnell
Jennifer Bonnell
Sean Kheraj
Sean Kheraj

Professors Jennifer Bonnell and Sean Kheraj from York’s Department of History in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies recently published a new open access book exploring the ways that historians study and analyze the histories of animals.

Bringing together 17 original essays by a leading group of international scholars, Traces of the Animal Past: Methodological Challenges in Animal History showcases the innovative methods historians use to unearth and explain how animals fit into our collective histories. Situating the historian within the narrative, bringing transparency to methodological processes, and reflecting on the processes and procedures of current research, this book presents new approaches and new directions for a maturing field of historical inquiry.

“To understand our collective past, historians must engage with the more-than-human world and use new methods and approaches,” said Kheraj.

Traces of the Animal Past is available free online from University of Calgary Press here.

The Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies and the Department of History at York University will sponsor a book launch on Thursday, Nov. 24 at 12:30 p.m. in Vari Hall, room 2183. All are welcome.

York film professor’s documentary explores little-known struggle of the Sinixt people

Ali Kazimi - photo credit Heidi McKenzie

By Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor

Film poster for Ali Kazimi's documentary
The film poster for Beyond Extinction: Sinixt Resurgence

The film, Beyond Extinction: Sinixt Resurgence, is Kazimi’s critically acclaimed, award-winning feature documentary. It recently screened at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver, B.C. in May (co-presented with Rungh magazine). The film garnered The People’s Choice Award at the Toronto’s Planet in Focus International Environmental Film Festival. The film tells the story of the decades-long struggle of the autonomous Sinixt people to overturn their legal extinction by Canada in 1956.

Now the film will receive its international premiere at the highly prestigious International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam with four screenings taking place from Nov. 11 to 16. Beyond Extinction: Sinixt Resurgence is the only Canadian feature selected for the 35th edition of this film festival and is among 23 films that will be screened in Frontlight, a program that showcases “a leading cohort of truth-seeking filmmakers who don’t compromise on stylistic integrity.”

Kazimi began documenting the struggles of the Sinixt First Nation peoples in 1995 following an unusual encounter. “A close friend, immigration lawyer Zool Suleman, had recently started his practice and had shared with me a truly bizarre and shocking case. His client, Robert Watt, was being held in detention and was facing deportation to the United States,” said Kazimi. He noted that Suleman indicated that Watt had maintained to Canadian immigration authorities that he was Indigenous and had been appointed as caretaker by the Sinixt Council of Elders to protect an ancient village site and burial ground situated in Vallican, B.C. According to Suleman, the immigration department’s response was that “while that might be true, Watt was not legally recognized as an Indigenous person in Canada since the Sinixt people, then known as the Arrow Lakes, were declared extinct in 1956.” As such, the immigration department maintained that Watt was an American without proper immigration authorization and therefore the deportation order was justified.

The Sinixt traditional territory straddles the Canada-U.S. border, from the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State to Grand Bend, north of Revelstoke, B.C. The arrival of settlers in the mid-19th century led to a rapid dispossession of the Sinixt land. An ensuing smallpox epidemic decimated the Sinixt people and survivors were pushed by colonial violence to seek refuge in Washington State. In 1876, the Sinixt were among the 11 federally recognized First Nations forcibly relocated to the Colville Confederated Tribes Reservation.

In 1989, some residents of Vallican, which is situated in the Slocan Valley in B.C.’s interior, travelled to the Colville reservation to report to Sinixt elders that a new road through their community was going to destroy a recently discovered ancient village site and burial ground. Led by Sinixt matriarch Eva Orr, Sinixt activists headed north to B.C. to set up a blockade. They lost their legal battle, and the road was built, but they occupied the site and prevented B.C. authorities from constructing a tourist information kiosk on the ancient village site and burial ground, the very site that Watt was protecting for many years before he was detained by immigration.

In 1995, after hearing the story of Watt and the Sinixt struggle, Kazimi reached out to Marilyn James, the official spokesperson of the Sinixt. After several weeks of phone conversations, James invited Kazimi to attend the annual Thanksgiving gathering at the site. The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) was interested in the idea about a film on the Watt case. Kazimi used the limited funds he received from the NFB to produce seven hours of initial recordings that are now the core of the film.

Above: From left, political anthropologist Lori Barkely, Sinixt Elder Marilyn-James and Filmmaker Ali-Kazimi at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival
Above: From left, political anthropologist Lori Barkely, Marilyn James and filmmaker Ali-Kazimi at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival

“From the moment I arrived at the site I was met by Marilyn, Eva and the other elders with open hearts, it was one of the most transformative moments in my life. I was given access to everything, including strategy meetings and discussion,” said Kazimi. “This is the privilege of being a documentary filmmaker and I never take it for granted because with it comes deep responsibility.”

Sinixt-elder-Eva-Orr-1995-who-sparked-the-Sinixt-struggle-for-recognition-Ali-Kazimi
Sinixt Elder. Eva Orr, in 1995. Orr sparked the Sinixt struggle for recognition. (Image courtesy Ali Kazimi)

Kazimi learned that Orr was one of the last fluent Snsəlxcín speakers, and when asked, she agreed to narrate the survival story of the Sinixt in their language. This unique recording of the Frog Mountain story in Snsəlxcín, is now a vital part of a language revitalization program.

Progress on the film stalled, and in 1995, unable to get a green light for the film, Kazimi was forced to put the project to one side. In what would later be an insightful decision, Kazimi held on to the material he had filmed. Over the ensuing years, he also continued to follow the legal and activist developments of the Sinixt people.

In 2019, after he received the Governor General’s Award for Visual and Media Arts, Kazimi decided to use the award prize funds to restart the Sinixt project.

“Archival materials, especially moving images, form the core of my practice as a filmmaker. Now I was going to dig into my own archive, which simultaneously was also part of the Sinixt archive,” he said. In addition to his own archival materials, James gave Kazimi full access to her archive, which included documentation of events, actions, as well as home movies. Critical clips from films such as Bones of Our Ancestors by Slocan Valley filmmakers Max and Virginia Frobe were generously offered, as were clips by films made by the Slocan Narrows Research Project led by archeologist, Nathan Goodale of Hamilton College, N.Y.

After two years of filming, gathering archival materials and creating an assembly for the film, Kazimi, backed by a strong letter of support from James, secured a grant from Canada Council for the Arts to complete the project. At the conclusion of production, Kazimi returned to B.C. to screen the film to the Sinixt First Nation communities. Screenings were held in Nakusp, Nelson, Trail, Castlegar and Vallican.

Marilyn James with Ali Kazimi
Marilyn James with Ali Kazimi

Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Amar Bhatia, who has shown Kazimi’s other documentaries in his courses, reached out to Kazimi to screen the film for his Indigenous Law course. “This is a powerful film that tells lesser-known aspects of the story of the Sinixt people, predating the border between Canada and the U.S., but touching on so many contemporary themes and flashpoints, including the impact of colonial Canadian laws, the Indian Act, residential schools, and logging,” said Bhatia.

Beyond Extinction: Sinixt Resurgence also plays at Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival on Saturday, Nov. 12, at 2:30pm in Cinema 4 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. The festival is also streaming the film from Nov. 14 to 20.

Biologist finds hope for critically endangered species

Pancake tortoise

By Elaine Smith

Marc Dupuis-Desormeaux, a York biology course director, is working to save the pancake tortoise that is native to some areas of Africa and assessing what it will take to develop a community-based conservancy plan.

Marc Dupuis-Desormeaux in Lewa, Kenya
Marc Dupuis-Desormeaux in Lewa, Kenya

York biologist Marc Dupuis-Desormeaux is off to Kenya in October on a search for critically endangered pancake tortoises, an unusual creature that took a circuitous route to capturing his attention. But, then, nothing about Dupuis-Desormeaux’s path to studying turtles – including tortoises, who belong to the turtle family – has been ordinary.

Until about 20 years ago, Dupuis-Desormeaux was successfully working as an investment banker, but didn’t find it satisfying. He returned to York University to study wildlife conservation and environmental studies and earned his PhD, taking a particular interest in how fencing changed the behaviour of animals. He began studying prey trails and safe passage at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya. When the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) sought someone to design fences and underground passageways for its population of snakes, turtles and frogs, Dupuis-Desormeaux realized that he had the requisite skills and could be of assistance.

“Of course, I had to learn more about turtles,” he says.

Although Dupuis-Desormeaux’s primary research focused on predators in Kenya, at home in Canada, he became the TRCA’s turtle consultant. In 2019, the two interests merged.

“I was at a turtle conference taking a break and talking to a well-known turtle researcher,” Dupuis-Desormeaux said. “I told him that I did work in Kenya and he told me about the plight of the pancake tortoise. The terrain he described sounded like the area where I usually work, so I began asking around.”

Pancake tortoises are small reptiles, growing to only about 17.8 centimetres and weighing no more than 400 grams. They are native to Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia, but habitat destruction and poaching have taken a toll, and female tortoises generally lay only one egg annually, so increasing the population is challenging. The tortoises live in crevices in rock outcroppings call kopje. Given that such terrain abounds at Lewa, Dupuis-Desormeaux was hopeful that more of the population had escaped plunder.

A pancake tortoise in its natural habitat
A pancake tortoise in its natural habitat

His questions about pancake tortoises didn’t ring a bell with the Kenyan wildlife guides he knew, but an area lodge owner sent him a photo of something that looked like the small reptile. Immediately, working from Canada, Dupuis-Desormeaux organized his Kenyan colleagues to conduct a three-day survey to confirm the presence of the rare tortoises at Lewa; they found seven. Intrigued, he assembled a team to search the area for more evidence of the tortoises, but the pandemic struck and the trip didn’t take place.

Marc Dupuis-Desormeaux holds two pancake tortoises

In 2021, Dupuis-Desormeaux returned himself and worked with Kenyan wildlife experts to search the conservancy property; the group found 59 of the small creatures. He found more on a subsequent trip, also locating 40 of the reptiles at two smaller conservancies during single day surveys. Now, he’s returning to these smaller properties to determine how large their populations are.

Finding and counting these “critters” is work done on foot, given the rocky, hilly terrain. He and his colleagues systematically work their way up the hills, peering into cracks in the rock to look for pancake tortoises. It can be challenging, since the reptiles may share their space with lizards and snakes.

“I don’t want to come face-to-face with any spitting cobras,” Dupuis-Desormeaux said with a laugh, but noted, “This is very exciting; we discovered undocumented populations. Because rhinoceroses are protected at Lewa, there are armed guards to prevent poaching, which gives us a chance.

“The goal of this work is to end up with a community conservation plan, since the communities in the area share the land with their wildlife.”

Saving a species from extinction? It’s a conservationist’s dream, one that may soon become a reality for Dupuis-Desormeaux.

Lassonde professor’s work is a field of green

Photo by Altaf Shah: https://www.pexels.com/photo/aerial-photography-of-green-fields-8314623/

Lassonde Professor Gene Cheung partners with a fintech agricultural company to improve crop yield predictions using graph signal processing and deep learning.

While many are aware of the use of mathematics and machine learning techniques in the fields of computer science, engineering, physics and medicine, have you ever wondered how well these techniques fare in literal fields or pastures?

Pretty well actually, as Cheung, who is from the Lassonde School of Engineering, discovered while working with Growers Edge to improve crop yield prediction using graph signal processing and deep learning.

Gene Cheung

Growers Edge is a fintech company operating in the agricultural space, providing decision-making tools, risk management and financial solutions to agricultural retailers and producers. One way they do this is by providing warranty-backed and data analytics-supported crop growing prescriptions to farmers: a combination of growing practices and the use of certain products or seeds to help maximize crop yields. “Crop yield prediction helps farmers determine benchmarks,” says Tim Eadie, data engineer at Growers Edge. “Sometimes they have production history but many times they don’t.” Crop models help fill in the gap for those who do not have a 10-year production history on their farms.

Conventional crop yield predictions use relevant features that influence crop production as inputs – for example, weather and geographic information such as soil composition, precipitation, temperature and even indices describing the degree of vegetation – to predict crop yields. However, drawing on data sources that describe diverse physical phenomena to produce an output in “bushels per acre” is complex, and thus this problem requires a data-driven or, more specifically, a deep learning (DL) approach which feeds data into a convolutional neural network (CNN), a DL model that excels in processing two-dimensional data such as images, or in this case, geographically linked data.

Although deep learning is a great solution, it also has its limitations. First, the network must be given a reference set of verified input (known as features) and actual crop yields to train the model to make predictions. This only works optimally when sufficiently large labelled datasets are used. However, in predicting crop yield, there may only be limited county-level data, numbering in the thousands. Moreover, data such as planting dates collected via farmer surveys by government entities like the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), or vegetation indices computed from satellite image analysis, are error-prone, occasionally missing, or low in spatial resolution. Finally, counties are defined by geographic boundaries and therefore county-level data, unlike the pixels of a two-dimensional image, are not evenly spaced out and require additional computational effort to make it suitable for a CNN deep learning model.

Graph shows yield prediction error in all the countries using denoised features
Yield prediction error in all the countries using denoised features

Although the team at Growers Edge was already implementing deep learning in their crop yield modelling, they needed to find a way to overcome challenges to improve prediction performance. This is where Cheung’s expertise in graph signal processing (GSP) comes in. With his help, Growers Edge can apply GSP to help reduce the noise-relevant (denoising) features before feeding the data into the deep learning model. A graph is a mathematical abstraction modeling correlated data, with nodes (representing fields/counties) and edges (encoding pairwise similarities). Graph examples in the real world include sensor networks (connecting wireless temperature in a forest), social networks (connecting friends on Facebook), etc. In this case, each node represents a particular county described by a set of environmental variables (a feature vector) such as precipitation or sunshine and vegetation indices (EVI, NDVI) of that area.

“The key insight is that one county ought to be similar to its geographical neighbours,” explains Cheung. “Both data and ultimately crop yields ought to be correlated as well.” The similarity of neighbouring nodes is reflected in the graph’s edge weights which are calculated by incorporating not only the geographic distance between the two counties but also the similarity of reliable environmental variables such as clay composition. In turn, this graph-based approach can be used to denoise unreliable features such as satellite-based EVI and NDVI by averaging out the values from neighbouring counties that are geographically near and environmentally similar.

Feature of different counties in Iowa as a discrete signal on a combinational graph
Feature of different counties in Iowa as a discrete signal on a combinational graph

Cheung and Eadie applied this graph-based denoising to USDA corn data from 10 states in the corn belt encompassing nearly a thousand counties. They denoised the unreliable EVI features before feeding the data to their DL model and improved its accuracy by 0.434 per cent compared to the previous approach. While this percentage improvement may not seem large at face value, Eadie reminds us that these predictions are for bushels per acre and when farmers are dealing with hundreds of thousands of acres these numbers add up quickly.

By combining graphs with both spatial and temporal modelling using earth observation data in the context of crop yields, the research team is paving new ground. “Graph signal processing is an excellent approach to capture correlations,” says Cheung. “However, at this time nobody uses it for crop prediction, so we need to convince people in this field that it is a meaningful approach.”

Growers Edge is certainly on board. “Some of the best research and solutions for many of the world’s most pressing issues have been born out of academic and private partnerships,” said Growers Edge CEO Dan Cosgrove. “In collaboration with our team, Professor Cheung and his student assistants have helped build a solution that can positively impact the entire U.S. ag industry for years to come. We value the contributions of Professor Cheung made on this project and look forward to finding creative solutions to problems in the future.”

As an applied mathematician, Cheung is always looking for impactful applications and once he realized that graph signal processing was applicable to crop yield prediction, he and Eadie started to collaborate. Cheung is now an advisor on the Grower Edges Data Advisory Board, and his PhD student, Saghar Bagheri, has started a Mitacs internship at Growers Edge. Their next step is to continue refining their model and design the best possible graph for the deep learning architecture.

“It has definitely been a challenging but exciting experience,” says Eadie. “We’re discovering newer and more innovative ways to tackle a problem that ultimately helps and empowers farmers.”

Applications for Glendon’s Research Apprenticeship Program and G21 courses are open  

Glendon students

Glendon Campus will be recruiting more than 30 undergraduate students to partake in the Research Apprenticeship Program (RAP) and the new G21 course during the 2022-23 school year.  

With funding from the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) and support from other on-campus partners, the Glendon Research and Innovation Office has created opportunities for students to pursue their diverse interests and passions by providing them with an impressive range of research experiences on campus. These initiatives aim to encourage students to participate in enriching, experiential learning opportunities. 

Glendon students have the option to engage in two unique opportunities to conduct hands-on research. Students in RAP work as research assistants on the projects of faculty members, while students participating in the G21 courses pursue their own independent passion project under the supervision of a faculty member. In both areas of interest, Glendon professors serve as invaluable mentors to all participating students. 

All students are welcome to submit an application RAP. Glendon’s incoming cohort of first year Top Scholar students, a group of high school students entering Glendon with an average of 90 per cent or higher, are given priority to participate in the first year of the program. 

As part of the application process, students will be asked to answer questions based on their research interests and engagement both inside and outside of the classroom. Students will also be asked to indicate their top three choices of faculty members with whom they wish to work in a research assistant capacity. Student researchers in the program are expected to complete five hours of apprentice-related work per week. Each student will be granted a bursary of $1,500 for their work. 

Students interested in pursuing an independent research passion project in the G21 courses must ensure that their project aligns with one or more of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Participation in the G21 is limited to upper-level Glendon students, who will enroll in the course entitled “G21 Passion Project / Projet passion G21” on the Glendon course website page, which is coded 4669 and can be found under the course listings for History, Linguistics, Drama and Creative Arts, Canadian Studies, Philosophy, Psychology, and International Studies. 

Students majoring in other programs may enroll in the social science version of the course. As part of the application process for the G21 course, students will be asked to submit a short proposal detailing the independent research project that they wish to pursue, and they will identify a faculty supervisor.

At this year’s Glendon Research Festival, a number of talented students presented their research findings and engaged in a stimulating question period at the end of the session. One student centered their research on SDG 11 by analyzing the critical role of public art in creating sustainable cities and communities, while another student focused their research on SDG 4 through their insightful analysis on the integration of students with down syndrome and dyslexia in an L2 classroom (a setting where their dominant language is not spoken). 

In the G21 courses, students will receive a course credit and have access to research funds for their projects. 

Both programs equip students with an invaluable skill set to conduct intense research, which includes enhancing their critical thinking, editing, presentation and writing talents. Students are also encouraged to cultivate networking skills through their participation in various research-oriented workshops that are organized throughout the academic year. It is through their engagement in RAP and G21 courses that many Glendon students can explore their research interests and develop a passion for conducting research.  

Undergraduate opportunities like the RA program and G21 courses demonstrate the benefits that come from engaging students in research projects beyond traditional, formal classroom settings. The skills and knowledge the students acquire will help them prepare for future academic and work endeavours. 

To learn more, visit the Glendon Campus research webpage.  

4REAL experiential learning opportunity to focus on local climate solutions 

glass planet in a forest with sunshine

The Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning Canada (CEWIL Canada) is supporting York University’s 4REAL (4th Renewable Energy & Agricultural Learning) project.

Students building a compost at the experiential learning partner farm, Native Plants in Claremont as part of a previous CEWIL-funded REAL project

CEWIL partners with post-secondary institutions, community members, employers, government and students to champion work-integrated learning. The 4REAL experiential learning opportunity will focus on local climate change solutions through the lens of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically regenerative agriculture and gardening, value-added food production, sustainable building construction, renewable energies, electric mobility, Indigenous knowledge and environmental education, including arts-based learning. 

This innovative project will enable 224 post-secondary students from across the country to receive a $1,200 scholarship. In addition, it will cover the costs of trainers, safety equipment, transportation and more.  

The project lead is Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) Associate Professor Jose Etcheverry, who is also the Co-Chair of Sustainable Energy Initiative (SEI) and director of the International Renewable Energy Academy (IREA). Project coordination will be led by master’s of environmental studies graduate Dale Colleen Hamilton, and administration by York University master’s of environmental studies student Codrina Ibanescu.  

“Our goal with this grant is to provide practical and memorable experiences, and to allow people from all different walks of life to participate in seeing and creating the world that they would like to see,” said Etcheverry. 

4REAL is linked to York University’s renewable energy course to offer undergraduate and graduate credits. Participants may also receive a United Nations Sustainable Development Goals certification based on their level of achievement, issued by the International Renewable Energy Academy and the Rural Urban Learning Association. 

4REAL will begin July 18 and conclude Sept. 30. The timing of the project is flexible, with options available for all interested students and partners to remain involved as a team for subsequent initiatives. Interested students can sign up through the Eventbrite link

The Beausoleil First Nations and Six Nations alongside REAL team members who built design elements of the Climate Solutions Park, an ongoing project that began during previous REAL rounds in Penetanguishene, Ontario

The project aims to provide practical training in renewable energies and regenerative agriculture as pivotal climate change solutions. The project offers opportunities to select and train a group of student leaders to undertake SDG-focused projects and work collaboratively with community partners to develop practical deliverables in areas such as: regenerative agriculture, scientifically proven climate change solutions, renewable energies for farm and general use, arts for environmental education, ethical entrepreneurship, and Indigenous reconciliation.   

“We must make peace with our own actions if we would like to speed up change for the climate. We all have to come to peace with our own responsibility for our community, and collectively open our consciousness to create something different if we are to contribute to the well-being of future generations and climate solutions. It starts with us. We are all one ecosystem, and we need to manifest our natural abilities for greatness,” said Jacqueline Dwyer, 4REAL community partner and founder of the Toronto Black Farmers and Growers Collective. 

This opportunity will ensure students obtain the practical skills needed by diverse employment sectors, represented by 4REAL’s numerous community partners. Students will explore their professional and personal development needs, positioning them for employment in high-demand local sectors such as food production, energy, transportation, housing, and environmental education. 

A solar installation training offered with Relay Education in February 2020 as part of a previous REAL project. Each of the three cohorts welcomed more than 50 students

4REAL participation can be entirely online, but with a strong preference for some in-person experiential learning at our various farm and green industry sites in the Guelph, Toronto and Georgian Bay areas. Students will work in groups informed by mentors and collaborating with strategic partners and other local community stakeholders to design and implement practical strategies to tackle selected SDGs; and will curate their experiences for online knowledge mobilization. 

“Each student which enters this training has the opportunity to empower themselves towards their greatest potential, and importantly, their own self-actualization. Education, to me, has always been a liberatory practice aimed to awaken and free my mind, and I believe this training offers just that. We must allow seeds of hope and inspiration to plant trees that will water future generations for many years to come. Everyone has a purpose, and it is up to all of us to discover what that is. I’ve learned that when we join together with like-minded individuals, anything becomes possible,” said Ibanescu. 

For further details about how to participate in 4REAL, email csp@123mail.org.