Senate approves five new Organized Research Units

research graphic

The five new Organized Research Units (ORUs) focus on new and emerging discoveries in artificial intelligence (AI), neuroscience, emergency mitigation, water, technoscience and society.

The Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation (VPRI) announces that the Senate of York University has approved five new ORUs, four of which officially started on July 1. The Centre for Integrative and Applied Neuroscience will commence its activity on July 1, 2023.

Amir Asif
Amir Asif

“York’s ORUs have been remarkably successful in fostering positive change by bringing together expertise across disciplines,” said Amir Asif, vice-president research and innovation. “Our organized research units serve as synergistic hubs, supporting innovative, interdisciplinary and collaborative research taking place beyond traditional academic units. The new ORUs exemplify our strengths in technology, sustainability practices, artificial intelligence, neuroscience and emergency management – areas of strategic importance to the University in light of our commitment to United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.”

The Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Society (CAIS) unites researchers who are collectively advancing state of the art theory and practice of artificial intelligence (AI) systems, law, governance and public policy. The research focuses on AI systems that address societal priorities in health care, smart cities and sustainability, and are fair, explainable, reliable and trusted. 

Neuroscience – the study of nervous system function – aims to explain the biological basis of human behaviour in health and disease. One in three Canadians will experience a brain-related health disorder. The Centre for Integrative and Applied Neuroscience (CIAN), commencing July 1, 2023, mobilizes research to address health, education, industry and other applications important for the global community. 

The Institute for Technoscience and Society (ITS) is a global hub of critical and interdisciplinary research and knowledge mobilization on the relationship between technoscience and society, especially the configuration of social power underpinning scientific claims, medical practices, emerging technologies and sites of innovation.

The York Emergency Mitigation, Engagement, Response, and Governance Institute (Y-EMERGE) works to transform the way societies understand, conceptualize, analyze, manage and govern crises, disasters and emergencies. Y-EMERGE emphasizes community-engaged scholarship, real-world and need-driven research, and evidence-based training for effective emergency management.

One WATER will greatly enhance the capacity to address the diverse aspects of the ongoing water sustainability crises, attract and train future leaders in the field, educate the public, innovate with industrial partners, and attract external competitive funding and endowments. One WATER will engage in interdisciplinary world-class research on sourcing, artificial intelligence, technologies, education and sustainability, resource recovery and reuse, as well as their environmental, educational and societal implications.

The York community can expect another announcement in the coming weeks on the appointment of the ORU directors for these newly established ORUs.

More information on York’s 30 existing Organized Research Units can be found on the University’s Research & Innovation website.

York researchers’ revamped AI tool makes water dramatically safer in refugee camps

Water droplets

A team of researchers from the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research and Lassonde School of Engineering have revamped their Safe Water Optimization Tool (SWOT) with multiple innovations that will help aid workers unlock potentially life-saving information from water-quality data regularly collected in humanitarian settings. 

Syed Imran Ali
Syed Imran Ali

Created in partnership with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the free-to-use, open-source online platform has been shown to dramatically increase water safety for people living in refugee camps and has corrected major inaccuracies about proper chlorination levels that went on for decades. 

SWOT v2, to be unveiled at a virtual event on Nov. 8, builds on earlier research with advancements in the tool’s machine-learning and numerical-modelling engines. A reimagined and redesigned user experience, and new functionalities, promise to give humanitarian responders much-needed assistance in situations where waterborne diseases are among the leading health threats. 

“Our first version of the tool was a prototype. What we’ve done in the past two years with user feedback and field learning is build a state-of-the-art web product,” says team lead Syed Imran Ali, who is a research Fellow at the Dahdaleh Institute and an adjunct professor at the Lassonde School of Engineering. “This is one of the first operational deployments of artificial-intelligence technology in humanitarian response.”  

Ali and the rest of the team, who include machine learning lead Professor Usman T. Khan from Lassonde’s Department of Civil Engineering, modelling graduate researcher Mike De Santi, Dahdaleh Institute Director Dr. James Orbinski, MD, and field advisor James Brown, say these improvements are informed by real-life lessons gleaned from the field.

Humanitarian aid workers face huge challenges supplying safe water to people affected by conflict or natural disasters, explains Brown, who has previously worked in camps managing the water supply of upwards of 40,000 people

“Working as a water engineer in crisis, you’re providing water to people who are often extremely vulnerable, and it’s your job to help protect them from all the health risks that exist in that kind of environment. It’s so frustrating not having the information you need to be confident that the water you’re delivering isn’t yet another health risk,” he says. 

“The motivation for all the work we’ve been doing to release the SWOT v2 is to help people make the best decisions and provide confidence that quality standards are being maintained — both for aid workers and those relying on the water supply.”  

The tool was born out of Ali’s experience working with MSF as a water and sanitation specialist in refugee settlements in South Sudan. Despite following industry-standard guidelines for water chlorination, Ali and his colleagues were seeing that water was still unsafe in people’s households during a large outbreak of Hepatitis E, a serious waterborne illness that can have up to a 25 per cent mortality rate among pregnant women.

“There was a huge crisis — end of the rainy season, flooding everywhere,” Ali recalled. “So all these waterborne diseases were tearing through the camp.” 

Through field research looking at how water quality behaves in refugee camps, Ali and his team discovered the chlorination guidelines used widely in the humanitarian sector were built on faulty assumptions.

“No one had ever looked at the problem of what happens after the tap,” Ali explains, noting that unlike most urban settings in the developed world, people in refugee camps must collect water from public faucets in containers and then bring it back to their homes where it is stored and used for many hours, introducing many opportunities for recontamination during this ‘last mile’ of the safe-water chain. 

Building on the work initiated in South Sudan, the research team studied chlorination levels at distribution and in households in refugee camps around the world, and realized they could use this data — which is routinely collected for monitoring purposes — to model post-distribution chlorine decay and generate site-specific and evidence-based water-chlorination targets. They put these modelling tools on the cloud to create the SWOT v1 prototype and carried out a proof-of-concept study in a large refugee camp in Bangladesh.

“We found that using the SWOT recommendations effectively doubled the proportion of households with safe water at around 15 hours compared to the status-quo practice,” Ali says.

While these results were very impressive, they did not account for all the various conditions water and sanitation workers could experience, Brown adds, which v2 factors in. 

They also did not account for taste. SWOT v2 not only promises to make water safer, but also find the optimal level where chlorine levels are high enough to protect people, but not so high that people will reject it. This is particularly important in parts of the world where people were previously used to sources such as high-quality spring water and are not accustomed to chlorine. 

“If people don’t like the taste, they don’t like the way it looks and smells, they’re not going to use that source and they’ll then go to a river or somewhere else that could be dangerous,” Brown says.

In future SWOT versions, the team hopes to include other water quality and health outcomes and look at how they could integrate more participation from displaced people themselves. While Ali says the tool cannot deal with the political roots of the refugee crisis, the practical need for SWOT is greater than ever. 

“The unfortunate fact of it is there’s more people displaced now than there ever has been in human history,” Ali says. “We see climate-linked disasters increasing in frequency and scale — in particular, flooding crises, which are linked to a lot of waterborne illness. It is a very clear and present danger. People need solutions that work in the current context.”

President Rhonda Lenton outlines York University’s sustainability goals

Photo by Tobias Weinhold on Unsplash

The University will expand the Office of Sustainability to help achieve net-zero sooner, and a significant reduction of direct and indirect emissions by 45 per cent by 2030.

Dear York community members:

There is no more pressing global priority than the need to embrace a more sustainable way of living. Through our teaching, our research and our own practices, York University has contributed substantially to our understanding of sustainability best practices which are as much about what we do as what we are purposely choosing not to do.

At the same time, we know that more needs to be done, and so, we are investing resources to drive and expand innovative initiatives in the next phase of our Sustainability Strategy, enhancing the ability of our community of changemakers to deliver.

I am pleased to share with you York’s ambitious plans for sustainability, which include achieving net-zero and significantly reducing the University’s direct and indirect emissions by 45 per cent by 2030. We will bolster this commitment by expanding the Office of Sustainability and by investing $1 million to advance sustainable innovation. You can read more in the full announcement.

York is committed to driving positive change for our local and global communities, and sustainability is a core value that is at the heart of everything we strive for. Together we are taking the action needed for future generations, the planet and for ourselves.

Today is an important new chapter for the next phase of our Sustainability Strategy and I invite all members of our community to get actively engaged both in the University’s evolving plans and activities, as well as off-campus opportunities, as we seek to affirm our commitment to live and work more sustainably. Consultations regarding the Sustainability Strategy are in process and regular updates will be posted in the months to come.

Sincerely,

Rhonda Lenton
President and Vice-Chancellor


La présidente et vice-chancelière Rhonda Lenton décrit l’objectif net zéro de York

Chers membres de la communauté de York,

La nécessité d’adopter un mode de vie plus durable est la priorité mondiale la plus pressante. Grâce à son enseignement, ses recherches et ses pratiques, l’Université York a considérablement amélioré la compréhension des pratiques exemplaires en matière de développement durable qui concernent aussi bien ce que nous faisons que ce que nous choisissons délibérément de ne pas faire.

Nous savons toutefois qu’il reste encore beaucoup à faire. C’est pourquoi nous investissons des ressources pour stimuler et développer des initiatives innovantes dans la prochaine phase de notre stratégie de durabilité, améliorant ainsi la capacité de notre communauté d’artisans du changement à tenir ses promesses.

J’ai le plaisir de partager avec vous les plans ambitieux de York en matière de développement durable, qui prévoient d’atteindre la neutralité carbone et de réduire considérablement les émissions directes et indirectes de l’Université de 45 % d’ici 2030. Nous renforcerons cet engagement en élargissant le Bureau de la durabilité et en investissant un million de dollars pour faire progresser l’innovation durable. Apprenez-en plus en lisant la version intégrale de l’annonce.

York s’engage à susciter des changements positifs pour nos communautés locales et mondiales, et la durabilité est une valeur centrale de tous nos efforts. Ensemble, nous prenons les mesures nécessaires pour les générations futures, pour la planète et pour nous-mêmes.

Cette journée marque un nouveau chapitre important pour la prochaine phase de notre stratégie de durabilité. J’invite tous les membres de notre communauté à s’engager activement dans les plans et activités de l’Université et au-delà des campus, tandis que nous nous efforçons d’affirmer notre engagement envers une vie et un travail plus durables. Des consultations sur la stratégie de durabilité sont en cours et des mises à jour régulières seront publiées dans les mois à venir.

Sincères salutations,

Rhonda Lenton
Présidente et vice-chancelière

York faculty create Open Educational Resources, advancing UN SDGs

Person working on a computer

By Angela Ward

Faculty develop innovative Open Educational Resources (OER) that are aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and reveal the positive impact on teaching and learning.

Faculty members who are engaged in the process of creating OER reveal the impact this has on the teaching and learning experience, both in the classroom and beyond. They note that the interactive resources provide a tremendous opportunity for both instructors and students to learn and adapt as the world becomes increasingly more digitized.

Raymond Mar
Raymond Mar

Raymond A. Mar, associate professor, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health, and the creator of OER tutorials for data analysis, notes the financial difficulties students face when it comes to purchasing expensive textbooks. He says that OER not only reduce costs for students but also increase access to a wider audience, aligning with UN SDG 1 (no poverty) and UN SDG 4 (quality education).

“I think that making these resources more accessible increases the likelihood that they’ll be used more widely, which can really magnify your impact,” says Mar.

The OER tutorials he created are grouped in the resource “Research Methods: Interactive Demonstrations in ‘R’ at York (ReMInDeRY),” and are designed to help students learn a statistical programming language called R.

Mar explains that learning this software can be quite challenging for students as they move from a point-and-click interface to writing lines of code. R is becoming the predominant way of analyzing data for many fields, and being able to analyze data using R is a valuable skill to have in the workplace. When he first reviewed the available introductory tutorials for R, Mar thought that they remained intimidating.

“Even downloading and installing the software can be tricky for people,” he explains. “I created these tutorials to be the smoothest and easiest on-ramp to learning R, with everything available in a web browser window and no need to install any software.”

In this OER, students visit the website link, and receive an introduction to the basics of R with easy-to-understand language and quizzes to show their progress. From these tutorials, students can move onto learning more advanced skills in the software.

As a result of R being open source and free, packages have been created to improve its capabilities in creating interactive maps and websites. Mar points out how R can contribute to other SDGs by allowing users to produce persuasive data graphics that can speak to SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation) and SDG 13 (climate action).

Similarly, Tsvetanka Karagyozova, assistant professor (teaching stream), Department of Economics, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS), sees connections to many SDGs in the OER she developed with an interdisciplinary team.

Tsvetanka Karagyozova
Tsvetanka Karagyozova

“I was interested in creating OER because textbooks and peer-reviewed course materials are the gold standard in economics but over time they become more expensive,” adds Karagyozova. “At York, I typically leave one copy of the textbook required for the course on reserve at the Scott Library, so I can see how well-used that textbook is.”

Karagyozova was part of a group of York collaborators, including Ida Ferrara, associate professor, LA&PS, and Edward Furman, professor, Faculty of Science, and Ricardas Zitikis, an associate professor of statistics from Western University. They also secured support from research assistants, a project manager and Xpan, an external contractor for the virtual reality (VR) experiment.

United under the Risk and Insurance Studies Centre (RISC) at York, they received funding from eCampusOntario Virtual Learning Strategy (VLS) program to develop a fully online course, Economics of Insurance and Decision Making Under Risk, accompanied by a VR behavioural lab. Because this OER uses a Creative Commons licence, it allows others to freely adopt, adapt, and build on the materials.

“Some of the SDGs are embedded in the course materials,” Karagyozova explains. “One of the modules, for example, is dedicated to microinsurance and economic growth. We look at how microinsurance can promote sustainable and inclusive growth in developing countries, serving as a risk mitigation mechanism that can break the poverty cycle and elevate women out of poverty.” This directly addresses UN SDG 1 (no poverty) and UN SDG 5 (gender equality, and empowering women and girls).

She adds that with the high cost of textbooks, students in developing nations sometimes do not have access to basic learning materials. OER within niche fields like hers can be shared with learners globally, opening them up to the world.

Eric Armstrong
Eric Armstrong

Eric Armstrong, chair and associate professor, Department of Theatre, School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD), also touches on the global reach OER can have on communities. His open textbook, Lexical Sets for Actors, is internationally accessible and has garnered interest from the United Kingdom (U.K.), fulfilling a need they have for accent training.

“There are lots of resources to teach people accents and phonetics (the sounds of language) but the lexical resources available are outdated, buried in a philosophy and pedagogy that’s often biased towards a standard speech,” he explains.

Armstrong says he is open to working with others to make variations of the book for different audiences and needs. He has even received feedback from his U.K. partner on changes they would like to see. Because Armstrong’s OER is licensed with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, his OER allows for other instructors and educational institutions to remix and adapt the OER to tailor it to their local teaching context.

He approached the creation of the textbook learner with variability in mind. There are sample sentences for actors to practice their accents, which employs a creative writing component. It was also written with accessibility and many demographics in mind, including BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and non-binary communities. The OER’s inclusivity impacts areas outside the university as well.

“I’m also using the book with colleagues who are learning to be this type of teacher or trainer,” he adds. “Not working just in university settings but with professional actors, coaching them for roles. This resource stretches beyond the walls of academia.”

In looking towards the future of OER, Armstrong says, “The OER we are creating now will serve as models for others to get involved and to show that it can be done. People start to think differently about the nature of teaching, the nature of resources and about the nature of our responsibility to create a different kind of learning experience.”

Watery studies: Lassonde students gain hands-on experience in water treatment

Water droplets

In August, a group of graduate students from the Lassonde School of Engineering, led by Stephanie Gora, assistant professor in the department of Civil Engineering, attended a three-day experiential workshop at the Walkerton Clean Water Centre (WCWC) in Walkerton, Ontario.

The WCWC is dedicated to training water operators and supporting communities as they work to improve and sustain their drinking water infrastructure. As part of this effort, they offer a free, three-day workshop to any graduate students doing research about drinking water. The students receive hands-on training on “pilot scale” miniature water treatment processes such as filtration, coagulation and disinfection, and learn about water chemistry and common water quality analysis methods.

Above: From left, Sara Moghaddam (MASc, Civil); Shapour Jafargholinejad (MASc, Mechanical); Brandon Truong (MASc, Mechanical); Caroline Duncan (PhD, Civil); and Karen Abogadil (MASc, Civil)
Above: From left, Sara Moghaddam (MASc, Civil); Shapour Jafargholinejad (MASc, Mechanical); Brandon Truong (MASc, Mechanical); Caroline Duncan (PhD, Civil); and Karen Abogadil (MASc, Civil)

Gora, whose research focuses on drinking water quality and treatment, was inspired to send her graduate students to the workshop after reflecting on her own positive experience at the WCWC.

“I participated in the WCWC workshop as a graduate student and was impressed by the facilities and curriculum they provided. I wanted my students to have the same opportunity,” says Gora. “Many of these students took my water engineering courses in 2020 and 2021 when pandemic restrictions were in place and they weren’t able to get any hands-on experience in the lab or through field visits, so this workshop was an opportunity for them to gain this valuable experience.”

Many of the graduate students who attended the course are doing research in the areas of novel water technologies such as microfluidic sensors and treatment processes, or non-traditional water systems like decentralized water systems in remote communities. This opportunity was directly related to two major focus points for Lassonde: UN SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation and UN SDG 9 – Industry, innovation and infrastructure. For students, this was a chance to learn how real water treatment systems are designed and operated, and where their own work fits in with, disrupts or transforms existing water treatment and water quality paradigms.

Caroline Duncan (foreground) with Sara Moghaddam
Caroline Duncan (foreground) with Sara Moghaddam

“It was beneficial to put the theory learnt in the Water Resources Engineering course into a working pilot water treatment plant,” says Caroline Duncan, PhD candidate in civil engineering. “The chance to put the theoretical elements of water treatment into a pilot system and practice lab methods for optimizing the system greatly benefits my research. Having the opportunity to deepen my understanding of how the different building blocks of the multi-barrier approach work and how to run tests for optimizing the treatment process is key to developing the quantitative chunk of the optimization tool I plan to develop.”

In addition to gaining technical skills and seeing the theory that they learned in class put into practice, the workshop also gave students the opportunity to reflect on the social implications that access to clean water has on society and how they can use their knowledge to create positive change in the world.

“This workshop brought everything I’ve learned about water treatment to life,” says Sara Moghaddam, MASc candidate in civil engineering. “Through my studies and research, I can get a closer look at how much work really goes into providing people with clean water and how important it is. I hope to use this knowledge to help provide drinking water to communities and people whose water safety is currently at risk.”

Undergraduate students take on research with hands-on summer experience

Recently, the Lassonde School of Engineering welcomed 63 undergraduate student researchers for the eighth annual Lassonde Undergraduate Research Awards (LURA) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Undergraduate Student Research Awards (USRA) programs.

This unique experiential learning opportunity allows undergraduate students to work with a professor and their research team for four months on a specific research project in an immersive setting. Each awarded student receives a minimum of $10,000 and can learn highly marketable professional skills, all while gaining hands-on experience working in a research lab. This year, the Lassonde School of Engineering awarded 18 NSERC USRA and 45 LURA to undergraduate students from multiple programs at York University.

“These programs provide the opportunity to delve into research and get constructive feedback,” says Nina Yanin, a participant in the 2021 summer USRA program, who is returning this year as part of the 2022 LURA program. “I worked on a risk-based trip recommender model over the previous summer under Manos Papagelis. It was a positive experience that allowed me to grow intellectually and improve my critical thinking and analysis skills. I applied to the summer USRA/ LURA 2022 program to continue getting exposure to my field of interest.”

Students will spend their summer working on campus and taking advantage of the many available Lassonde facilities to conduct their research. Most of the research projects are closely tied to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation, Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure and Goal 13: Climate Action.

Some of this year’s research projects include:

  • effect of climate change on bridge infrastructure;
  • development of a printed hydrogel for tissue engineering;
  • ensuring point of use water safety in decentralized drinking water systems in Canada;
  • development of an autonomous mobile 3D bioprinting system for regenerative medicine; and
  • flame spread behaviour on timber floors.

The program will culminate on Aug. 16 with the 2022 Summer Undergraduate Conference, which will take place as an in-person event for the first time since 2019 this year. At the conference, students will have the opportunity to present their research findings to the Lassonde and York University community.

Learn more about the program on the Lassonde School of Engineering website.

Lakes in hot water, climate change creating a cauldron of issues

Little Wiles Lake (Bridgwater, NS)
Little Wiles Lake (Bridgwater, NS). Image courtesy of Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change Associate Professor Jennifer Korosi

As intense heatwaves grip the United Kingdom, Spain, France and Portugal, at times exceeding temperatures 40C, as well as in parts of North America and Asia, lakes around the world are feeling the heat from climate change, which is creating a cascade of ecological and environmental issues. 

Sapna Sharma
Sapna Sharma

To get a cohesive picture of how climate change is threatening lakes, Reader R. Iestyn Woolway from Bangor University in Wales; York University Faculty of Science Professor Professor Sapna Sharma; and Queen’s University Distinguished University Professor John Smol, reviewed and synthesized available studies on freshwater lakes from across the globe.

Their paper, Lakes in Hot Water: The Impacts of a Changing Climate on Aquatic Ecosystems, was published in the journal BioScience this week.

The research team found that the effects of climate change on lakes are often cumulative, and can affect any of the more than 100 million lakes in the world. Warmer water temperatures lead to changes in stratification regimes, declines in dissolved oxygen, a higher risk of cyanobacterial algal blooms, as well as a loss of habitat for native cold-water fish. It can affect not only water quality and quantity, but also cultural and recreational activities, and local economies. 

“Climate change has far-reaching social and ecological repercussions, but the impacts of climate change, combined with other environmental pressures, are often little understood and the significance of them has not been appreciated at a global level,” says Sharma. “There is still much work to be done.”

Warmer air temperatures can impact winter ice cover in the case of northern lakes. Ice loss is one of the most blatant consequences of climate warming on lakes, which can increase winter evaporation rates and water temperatures, and lead to a multitude of physical and chemical effects, including greater salinity. The global mean annual evaporation of lakes is expected to increase by 16 per cent by century’s end. In addition, lower levels of precipitation can also have a significant effect on lake levels. 

“The ecological consequences of climate change coupled with the impacts of extreme climate events are already occurring in lakes globally and will continue to do so in the future, often without warning or time to adapt,” says Woolway. “The results of these kinds of changes have been felt in lakes from Algonquin Park in Ontario to Lake Chad in Africa, the English Lake District in the U.K. to Lake Mead in the United States.”

Declines in water levels can be severe in some regions. Historically ranked as one of the largest lakes in Africa, Lake Chad, which borders Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria, has shrunk considerably because of decreases in local precipitation and discharge from its catchment, as well as increased evaporation. 

“Events like an earlier summer season can also cause mismatches in fish spawning and foraging, often with widespread ramifications across the food web. Although a ‘longer summer’ may be welcome to many cottagers and campers, such weather conditions increase the risk of algal blooms, and especially cyanobacterial blooms, which can have far-reaching ecological consequences and even make drinking water toxic,” says Smol. 

Some of the effects of climate change are creating conditions where lakes are losing oxygen needed for fish and other aquatic species. This deoxygenation can be made worse by cyanobacterial blooms.

“Algal blooms can block sunlight from reaching the deeper waters and bacterial decomposition of sedimented algae can lead to a decrease in oxygen for deep-water fish and other aquatic life,” says Woolway. “In addition, episodic storms can cause nutrients to suddenly wash into lakes and foster the development of cyanobacterial blooms.”

A decline in the availability of safe drinking water caused by harmful algal blooms is considerably worse when combined with a reduction in water quantity. In 2014, a Cyanobacteria bloom in Lake Erie shut down the water supply in Toledo, Ohio, while a massive toxic cyanobacterial bloom in Lake Taihu, China, shut down the water supply for two million people for a week in Wuxi city.

“In Ontario, reports of algal blooms have not only increased, but have been reported as late as November, something that was typically not the case in previous years,” says Sharma. “These blooms could also affect tourism and lakeside property values.”

Seven years ago, Algonquin Park banned overnight camping on remote and nutrient-poor Dickson Lake because cyanobacterial blooms caused health concerns. A sediment-based study determined that these blooms were new to the lake and no comparable events had occurred in the last century, but that’s changing.

Warmer water temperatures, algal blooms, earlier onset, and longer periods of thermal stratification, combined with lower dissolved oxygen concentrations can have important cumulative and potentially negative effects on aquatic organisms, such as fish.

“The effects of climate change also interact synergistically with multiple environmental stressors exacerbating problems with water quantity and quality, including salinization, contamination, and the spread of invasive species,” says Smol. “As humans can’t survive without water, a better understanding of how climate change affects lake function is needed along with recognition of early warning signals.”

The researchers hope that recent advances in technology, such as remote sensing and environmental DNA, combined with a move to work beyond traditional silos, will allow for a better understanding of lake responses in the future. 

For the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal of equitable access to clean water to be realized by 2030, the inclusion of diverse voices from researchers worldwide, including the Global South, and the cross-pollination of ideas across disciplines, will be essential.

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.  

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.