Dahdaleh Institute awards annual seed grants


Following its fourth annual Workshop on Critical Social Science Perspectives in Global Health Research, York University’s Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research awarded five researchers $5,000 seed grants to further develop grant proposals and research programs to carry out critical global health research.

All winners of the grants this year embody the critical social science perspectives in global health research that is representative of Dahdaleh’s three research themes: planetary health, global health and humanitarianism, as well as global health foresighting.

The recipients – largely representing the School of Global Health – and their projects are:

Syed Imran Ali, research Fellow in global health and humanitarianism, and Stephanie Gora, assistant professor in civil engineering, will explore community-based participatory water quality monitoring for safe water optimization in the Canadian North.

Chloe Clifford Astbury, postdoctoral researcher in the School of Global Health, will pursue mining, health and environmental change by using systems mapping to understand relationships in complex systems.

Godfred Boateng, assistant professor, director of the Global and Environmental Health Lab, and faculty Fellow at the Dahdaleh Institute, is studying Black anxiety with an exploratory and intervention look at Black families with children in and out of the criminal justice system in Canada.

Ahmad Firas Khalid, faculty Fellow in the Faculty of Health, will use experiential simulation-based learning to increase students’ ability to analyze increasingly complex global health challenges through a mixed methods study.

Gerson Luiz Scheidweiler Ferreira, a postdoctoral Fellow at Dahdaleh will examine how to break barriers to sexual and reproductive health by empowering Venezuelan refugee women in Brazil’s resettlement process.

2023 Critical Perspectives in Global Health Research banner

In keeping with the overall mission of Dahdaleh’s Critical Perspectives in Global Health’s (CPGH), these projects will seek to create greater effectiveness, equity and excellence in global health. The recipients of the seed grant share that in common with many of the projects presented at the Global Health Research Workshop earlier this year, which highlighted research looking at a broad range of issues.

Those included:

  • medical waste management practices in Accra, Ghana since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, presented by Jeffrey Squire, faculty member in the Department of Social Science;
  • the role of social media and how negative sentiments or misinformation contributes to vaccine hesitancy, presented by Blessing Ogbuokiri, postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics;
  • health-care inequity in post-slavery societies with a specific focus on Quilombolas populations, presented by Simone Bohn, associate professor in Department of Politics;
  • misoprostol and its use in providing reproductive health care during humanitarian emergencies, presented by Maggie MacDonald, associate professor and graduate program director in the Department of Anthropology; and
  • Indigenous Williche peoples acts of ecological repair and how it contributes to planetary health in the past, present and future, presented by Pablo Aránguiz, associate researcher with Young Lives Research Lab at York.

Watch a full recording of the workshop here.

For more information about CPGH, visit its project page.

Risk and Insurance Studies Centre receives $11M grant

Wildfire in the forest

Contributed by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Alliance (NSERC), the funding will go towards developing better ways of managing risk and protecting Canadians from increasing threats, such as pandemics, climate catastrophes and financial crises.

Professor Edward Furman of the Faculty of Science at York University leads the team at the Risk and Insurance Studies Centre (RISC) that will use the grant over five years for a new program called New Order of Risk Management (NORM): Theory and Applications in the Era of Systemic Risk. NORM looks to address an acute need for a fundamental transformation in how people think about and manage that risk. 

Edward Furman

“Risk management is key to promoting economic growth and improving welfare in Canada and in other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED) countries by taming conventional risks, but it has not had the desired results in today’s increasingly interconnected world. In fact, some call it a failure,” says Furman. “We hope to lead a paradigm shift around what constitutes best practices and regulation for systemic risk, one that has a broader view of what risk entails and that encompasses the complexity of its systemic nature.” 

Given recent socioeconomic, demographic, technological and environmental changes, the researchers say change is overdue. 

Systemic risks, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the global financial crisis which started in 2007, often spill across socioeconomic boundaries, disproportionately impacting vulnerable populations and magnifying social inequities. The pandemic has already driven Canada’s annual deficit to $348 billion and its national debt is on target to hit $1.2 trillion, while the global financial crisis resulted in a severe recession with sharp declines in national gross domestic product. 

Climate change is creating multiple systemic risks as sea levels rise, wildfire season becomes longer with a greater potential for catastrophic fires and extreme weather events increase, such as flash flooding and storm surges, which can result in widespread devastation to coastal and inland communities in Canada and globally.  

A better understanding of systemic risk is needed, says the NORM team, which includes York Professors Jingyi Cao of the Faculty of Science, Ida Ferrara of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, Dirk Matten of the Schulich School of Business and Shayna Rosenbaum of the Faculty of Health, as well as professors from University of British, University of Toronto, University of Waterloo and Western University. 

With their industrial collaborators, the NORM team will develop novel theories, operational tools and regulatory mechanisms to address the increasing systemic nature of risks, while also accounting for unequal susceptibility to systemic risk, pursuing equity and building resilience.  

“NORM’s impacts mean not only an academic breakthrough in how we conceptualize systemic risk, but also fundamental transformations in how we manage and govern this new type of risk more effectively through strategies that reflect and consider equity and vulnerability,” says Furman.

Systemic risk is a global threat. NORM brings exceptional depth and breadth of relevant scholarly expertise from actuarial mathematics, business, economics, psychology and statistics together with industry collaborators, including Sun Life Financial, Canada Life, CANNEX Financial Exchanges, Aviva Canada and Wawanesa Insurance, to tackles the issues. 

Learn more at News @ York.

Faculty of Health receives Krembil Foundation grant to advance therapy for psoriatic arthritis

Two women in a research lab

A collaborative research project led by York University Kinesiology & Health Science Professor Ali Abdul-Sater will seek answers at the molecular level to help develop more effective therapies for psoriatic arthritis.

Ali Abdul-Sater
Ali Abdul-Sater

The Krembil Foundation, a family-led charitable organization, has confirmed a $664,356 grant in support of this research. Having recently developed a successful therapeutic approach for rheumatoid arthritis and gout, Abdul-Sater’s lab will expand its focus to psoriatic arthritis (PsA), a less common debilitating inflammatory disease.

“The Krembil Foundation has generously supported medical research across Canada for more than two decades,” says Faculty of Health Dean David Peters. “We appreciate their recognition of Dr. Abdul-Sater’s innovative work investigating autoimmune diseases. By bringing together basic and clinical research, this project will lay the groundwork for developing new therapies to target psoriatic arthritis.”

The Foundation’s Scientific Director, Kate Williams, acknowledges there is a personal motivation for the Foundation advancing knowledge in this area, as some members of the Krembil family live with psoriatic arthritis. “Building on the Foundation’s established partnerships with clinical researchers, the new collaboration with scientists at York will shed more light on the fundamental mechanisms of psoriatic arthritis,” she says. “We hope the discovery of critical pieces of the puzzle explaining what drives PsA will ultimately provide better options for treatment.”

An incurable, inflammatory disease of the skin, joints, tendons and ligaments, PsA is currently treated by reducing inflammation in an effort to slow its advance and avoid severe damage to the skin and joints. Unfortunately, many patients either do not respond to this treatment, stop responding after initial success, or suffer from significant side effects.

In recent research on rheumatoid arthritis and gout, Abdul-Sater identified a protein called TRAF-1, which will either block or trigger inflammation, depending on the type of immune cell with which it interacts. By creating a modified version of TRAF-1, he was able to “pump the breaks” on the protein’s ability to activate those cells that cause excessive inflammation and tissue damage.

Since TRAF-1 is also associated with psoriatic arthritis, the new project aims to determine whether modifying this protein in cells from PsA patients will have similar beneficial results.

“We found that breaking the interaction with one specific protein is a really good way to limit inflammation and reduce activation of autoimmune cells, without affecting other functions,” says Abdul-Sater, the recipient of early career research awards from the Arthritis Society, Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Banting Foundation and York University.  

Noting that inflammation is an essential component of the immune system’s response to infection, he adds “We don’t want to stop it occurring altogether. Instead, we want to reduce excessive inflammation, which can be very destructive. It’s a double-edged sword.”

In the first stage of this project, cells from psoriatic arthritis patients – provided by Toronto Western Hospital rheumatologist, Dr. Vinod Chandran – will be compared with cells from rheumatoid arthritis patients, as well as from healthy donors. The team will investigate how levels of TRAF-1 protein change in patients who are at different stages of the disease.

Next, they will “edit” the protein to bring its activation level as close as possible to that of healthy donors. Future studies will involve working on biopsies from arthritis patients, “moving from the simple to the complex,” explains Abdul-Sater. “We hope this will enable us to find the proper balance in people at risk for this very complicated disease.”

The researcher says that he looks forward to collaborating with the Krembil Foundation, “We’ve had a lot of discussion with the Foundation’s research team during the proposal stage and will continue to work with them throughout the project. I’m really excited about what we can accomplish together.”

Homelessness Learning Hub continues improving lives, training

Hand reaching out for help

By Alexander Huls, deputy editor, YFile

Four years after its launch, the Homelessness Learning Hub (HLHub) is evolving to continue becoming an essential resource across Canada to the homeless-serving sector.

When the HLHub launched in 2019, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH) at York University had a clear vision of what it wanted the site to be.

“We’ve always been aware that the sector is quite cash strapped and often doesn’t have resources to send their staff for training,” says Stephanie Vasko, senior director of communications at COH. Because organizations often have time and money for mandatory training (such as first aid or crisis intervention), but not any additional professional development, COH wanted to create a free, self-directed online platform that brings together promising practices and training in the form of practical tools and resources.

Stephanie Vasko
Stephanie Vasko

With funding provided by the Community Capacity and Innovation funding stream of Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy, the HLHub dedicated its first two years with a clear strategy on how it would build a strong training curriculum aimed at service providers, researchers and policymakers. “We committed to developing five original self-paced trainings, or collections of resources, every year,” explains Karen Bosworth, senior instructional design specialist for the COH. “That would allow us to focus on building high-quality materials for the website, while also allowing us time to curate additional, relevant resources for the website’s library.”

The HLHub saw encouraging success out of the gate, but the team wasn’t content to rest on their laurels. Because the homeless-serving sector has frequently evolving training needs, in 2020, COH decided to assess their progress by soliciting and reviewing feedback from participants. “We felt it was an opportune time to understand what functionality on the website was working and wasn’t working. The best way to do that was listen to those who were using it.”

In doing so, it proved to direct not just the future of the site, but boost its success.

Among the surprises feedback revealed was that individuals in administrative, supervisor or human resource positions with no frontline experience were using HLHub to better understand what their staff were doing. There was another unexpected audience, too. “We learned that about half of the participants were coming from colleges. Students were being assigned our trainings as part of their coursework, which is a completely unintended audience,” says Vasko. It was a welcome sign, indicating that HLHub was helping to right the future, with students becoming equipped with the training before they enter careers in the sector.

Karen Bosworth
Karen Bosworth

Inspired by these discoveries and others, COH upgraded the HLHub website in 2021. “We really made it more true to an e-learning platform,” explains Vasko. Adds Bosworth, “We were able to create learning pathways for people, whereas before it was a lot of independent resources loosely gathered in collections.”

They integrated one click enrolment, saving of favourite resources, and progress tracking. “Another important feature – one that our audience asked for – was the ability for participants to earn certificates upon completing training. Certificates keep people motivated to complete courses,” says Bosworth.

A separate survey assessing the state of the sector, conducted by the COH research team in 2021, also highlighted an urgent need for self-care resources to address high rates of turnover and burnout in the sector. Training materials created to promote self-care are something Bosworth is especially proud of, as she ensured they would be personal and empathetic in their promotion of basic self-care (sleep, nutrition, relaxation and more) as well as tools to support emotional well-being, including lessons and activities about personal boundaries, nurturing self-compassion and deepening resilience.

The cumulative effect of these changes in 2021, as well as ongoing growth in awareness, has been significant. “Once we introduced those features, the enrolment in our trainings started to increase. We went from about 1,000 members in 2021 to now over 9,000,” says Vasko.

In 2022, HLHub also saw another form of encouraging success when it was awarded an additional $443,518 from Reaching Home, who is a partner on the project and has been using COH resources within its own community efforts. The team isn’t just grateful for the sign of continued support, but Reaching Home shares an understanding that HLHub is a long-term project.

“It’s gratifying to know that they appreciate it takes time to develop what we’re trying to do,” says Bosworth. “Now that we have a good base, we have to keep it going.”

With considerable success already achieved in its first four years, where does HLHub hope to be in the next few years? There are plans of launching a targeted digital marketing strategy, they also have high hopes for further driving awareness of HLHub’s training.

“Right now, our model is to be an open learning site so people can dip in and out wherever they find an interest or depending on their need,” says Bosworth. “We would like to create core foundational content for new hires, or different cohorts, along with a micro-credential that they could achieve. That’s where I see it going,” Vasko adds.

What’s most important, however, is the content and its audience. “Our focus on creating consistent, high-quality, free content in response to the homeless-serving sectors needs will be integral to continuing to build the reputation and awareness of the HLHub,” says Bosworth.

“Listening to our audience and their needs and developing materials in response to support them will be key to building this momentum. We have to stay current and relevant,” adds Vasko.

Students win BEST Startup Experience awards for innovative startups

lassonde winter students

Five awards were given out in early March at Lassonde’s annual BEST Startup Experience event to celebrate innovative startups created by students.

The BEST Startup Experience is designed to be part of an experiential learning opportunity for students to solve real-world problems in a team environment by creating projects related to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). This year, the event brought together over 300 undergraduate and graduate students to work in teams on more than 60 projects.

“These types of experiential learning activities provide students with unparalleled opportunity to acquire hands-on, practical knowledge and skills that they can apply in real-world scenarios,” says Maedeh Sedaghat, program manager, BEST. “Through active engagement in problem solving and collaboration, students are able to develop a deeper understanding of complex concepts and cultivate critical thinking, creativity, and adaptability.”

With support from their dedicated mentors, the students went through a structured learning journey using Design Sprint methodology and learned how to use various tools and techniques to create innovative solutions for real problems. The award winners, in particular, highlight the ongoing efforts of students and the University to move towards a more sustainable and equitable future.

First place went to Carbon Report (Alvin Chan, Arjit Johar, Nitya Bhatt, Mike Shen and Tiffany Kwan), an emission reporting and accounting software that focuses on collecting, analyzing, auditing and reporting data to regulators for oil and gas, metals and mining, manufacturing, and power and utilities. The project provides an all-in-one platform service that is accurate and affordable.

The winning team: Carbon Report
The winning team: Carbon Report

Second place was given to TranReality (Azwad Abid, Wachirawit Umpaipant, Madison Bardoel, Elijah Paulsen, John Brown and Francis Joseph Fajardo), a project that uses modular VR training programs to improve the retention of knowledge and baseline skill level for new employees when training them. The programs focus on bridging the gap between informational learning and on-the-go job training.

Second place team: Train Reality
Second place team: Train Reality

Third place and People’s Choice winner was Handi Fuel, (Muhammad Qasim, Daoud Ali, Jia Xu, Tarek Jarab, Mohamed Nizar, Sayed Suliman, Tariq Qureshey and Manala Perera), which aims to offer a full-service experience to those with disabilities or limited mobility when using a gas station. HandiFuel uses a robotic arm for fueling assistance. The team intends to work alongside the government, businesses and non-for-profit organizations to support drivers.

Third place team: Handi Fuel
Third place team: Handi Fuel

Additionally, two new awards were handed out at the event. The Special Award prize was given to a team named Yorkers (Shaheer Saif, Soo Min Yi, Jenny Zhao and Camie Wong), who worked on a project called LinkAssist, a digital platform for shelter staff that streamlines resource allocation and client data, allowing for a more efficient and cost-effective response to homelessness in the city of Toronto.

Special award winners: Yorkers
Special award winners: Yorkers

The Just Do It Award was given to Tiffin Time (Imam Khalid, Jason Yang, Shafin Mahmud, Tariq Syed and Masrur Rahman), a platform that connects producers and consumers to provide healthy and unique food options. This platform aims to make getting food from various cultures more convenient across Canada.

Just Do It winners: Tiffin Time
Just Do It winners: Tiffin Time

“One of the biggest takeaways from this experience has been the realization that with the right mindset, tools and techniques, we can overcome obstacles and achieve our goals,” says Rushanshah Saiyed, fourth-year computer engineering student.

For more on the program, visit the website.

Students thrive on York’s experiential education opportunities

Lisa Endersby, an educational developer with the Teaching Commons, welcomes attendees to the Student EE Symposium

By Elaine Smith

Thanks to York internship opportunities, graduating human resources student Khanh Do has a part-time job this term and Mohaimen Hassan, a third-year engineering student, has a job offer waiting for him upon graduation.

The two students, along with fifth-year geography student Averrie Vesico, were part of a March 8 panel at the EE Symposium, discussing their experiential education (EE) placements. The event was organized by a pan-University committee co-chaired by Lisa Endersby, an educational developer at the Teaching Commons, and Melanie Belore, associate director, experiential education for the Faculty of Liberal Arts &Professional Studies.

The students were excited about the growth opportunities they had thanks to their experiences. Do, who worked for electronics manufacturer Vexos, had the chance to work with a variety of software systems used to record employee data. In addition, she learned “to never give up and believe in what you do. There are a lot of opportunities out there if you are willing to put in the effort. I had the opportunity to work in different departments and transferable skills really do work.”

2. Lauren Rudolph, a third-year psychology student, explains her EE poster to attendees at the Student EE Symposium.
Lauren Rudolph, a third-year psychology student, explains her EE poster to attendees at the Student EE Symposium

During his co-op with consulting firm Deloitte, Hassan realized that he loved engineering.

“I was part of an engineering team and I improved my technical, collaboration and time management skills,” he said. “I love solving problems and this solidified that belief. It made me realize I had a lot to learn and that you need to have a growth mindset throughout your life.”

Vesico went on a Reading Week research trip to gain some hands-on research skills; she is now assisting the professor who led the trip with his research.

“I would never have approached him otherwise, but the trip introduced me to scientific research,” she said. “It has encouraged me to pursue physical geography and I am considering graduate studies.”

There were other student EE opportunities offered at the symposium, too, in the form of poster presentations. For example, Utku Ugur, a master’s student in political science, and his classmates in Regional Economic Development, worked with the Town of Grimsby to improve the municipality’s marketing communications in order to attract residents and investors.

“I certainly improved my communications skills in working with township officials and my peers,” said Ugur, an international student from Turkey. “I also improved my research skills. It was an opportunity to apply theory to real life.”

Abbie Mauno, a York BFA graduate who is finishing her teaching degree here, was enthused about teaching ceramics to high school students at Northern Secondary School in Toronto.

“It’s really fulfilling,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to be in an art community and talk about art with peers. During my teaching experience, my students actually taught me a lot in return, such as how to throw on the wheel. We do a lot of co-learning.

“Ceramics is an opportunity for tangible, hands-on learning using trial and error. The students experience failure and learn to grow in a safe way, and we all learned more about tenacity, problem-solving and persistence.”

The event also featured a welcome from Will Gage, associate vice-president, teaching and learning, on behalf of the provost, calling EE an example of the University Academic Plan in action as it advanced 21st century learning. A panel of faculty and staff – Sheril Hook, associate dean of teaching and learning for York University Libraries; Geneviève Maheux-Pelletier, director of the Teaching Commons; and Yvette Munro, assistant vice-provost, student success – each discussed the value of EE from their perspectives. 

“EE helps build confidence, no matter what the discipline,” said Hook. “It helps you feel employable and helps you engage with a subject you love.”

Maheux-Pelletier said, “EE provides the spark where you can understand what theories look like in the real world.”

For Munro, EE is “a chance to tie the student’s journey to the development of competencies that will benefit them when they graduate, especially in a highly competitive job market.”

York researchers invited to share, collaborate at global health workshop

FEATURED Global Health

Call for presenters: The Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research invites the York University community to join the ongoing discussion on critical social science perspectives in global health research.

Critical research often involves the use of critical theory with social justice aims. Critical social science perspectives in global health (CPGH) are transdisciplinary, participatory, experimental or experiential analyses that seek greater effectiveness, equity and excellence in global health. This means engaging directly with global public health actors, structures and systems to transform global public health while remaining committed to social science theory and methodology. For more information, visit the CPGH project page.

There is an open call to York researchers to consider presenting at the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research’s fourth annual, Workshop on Critical Social Science Perspectives in Global Health Research on March 29. The registration deadline for new research ideas presentations is March 20. Participants will engage with the research community at York University from a variety of disciplines to create new insights, foster collaboration and discuss research opportunities. The workshop will be an in-person event at the Dahdaleh Institute with continental breakfast and lunch. All are welcome to attend.

Critical Perspectives in Global Health Research Workshop Wednesday, March 29

Who can present?
York faculty and researchers (with the support of a York faculty member) are invited to deliver presentations.

What is the format of the presentations?
Interested participants are asked to prepare a brief five-minute, two-slide presentation on any research project, current or planned, which takes a critical social science approach to global health.

Seed grants
Following the workshop, the Dahdaleh Institute will launch the 2023 Critical Perspectives in Global Health Seed Grant program and award five research seed grants of up to $5,000 each. The seed grants will support critical global health research that contributes to the themes of the Dahdaleh Institute, which are planetary health, global health and humanitarianism, as well as global health foresighting.

For more information on these research themes, visit the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research website. For the event’s full agenda, visit the event page.

York University Black Staff Network offers networking, community building

Two Black women talk together

Formed in 2022, the York University Black Staff Network (YUBSN) is a volunteer network governed by an elected executive committee that serves as a place of engagement, support and community for Black-identifying staff at the University.

To mark Black History Month, YUBSN has officially launched its website and extends an invitation to Black-identifying employees from across the University to join the network, which currently has 80 members.

Close up portrait of overjoyed young multiracial employees team have fun posing for selfie on smartphone in office together. Happy smiling diverse multiethnic colleagues male self-portrait picture.
To mark Black History Month, YUBSN has officially launched its website and extends an invitation to Black-identifying employees from across the University to join the network, which currently has 80 members

“York University is a big place, whether you are just starting out or you’re a long-service employee, just knowing that you are not alone can help to foster a sense of community and belonging,” said Annette Boodram, inaugural Chair of YUBSN. “The COVID-19 pandemic made connecting with colleagues quite difficult. To alleviate these difficulties, the YUBSN facilitates opportunities for networking, professional development and overall advancement of Black employees so that they can find their fit at York.” 

As part of its engagement and education activities, the YUBSN hosts a book club that fosters robust discussions on titles, such as Frying Plantain by Zalika Reid-Benta, that bring the community together to learn about and discuss topics and subjects that matter.  

YUBSN recognizes the impactful work of Black writers who have provided insight into the struggles and triumphs of their community through the power of words and literary imagery.

“Writers that center the Black experience and deepen our knowledge help bring about healing and community building,” says Karen Traboulay, member of the executive team and communications co-lead for the YUBSN.

YUBSN has also established the YUBSN Black Health and Wellness Club for health-conscious individuals. The club, which meets for a walk on Wednesdays at noon, shares motivational content that supports each other’s health and wellness goals.

In addition to being a peer support group, the network engages with senior leaders on institutional projects and decisions that aim to improve experiences for Black employees at York, such as the Black Inclusion Framework and Action Plan, Black Advisory Council, and the Security Services Review. 

According to YUBSN Vice-Chair Alicia Pinter, “YUBSN is committed to Black excellence and inclusion through networking, collaboration and knowledge-sharing.

All non-academic employees who self-identify as Black are welcome to join.

Visit the YUBSN website to learn more.

Paulina Lau Scholar reaches for Mars


By Elaine Smith

Rehan Rashid has set his sights on becoming an astronaut, and the Paulina Lau Scholars Program is helping to pave his way.

Rashid, a mechanical engineering student in York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering, became fascinated by the planets as a child and learned as much about them as possible.

Rehan Rashid
Rehan Rashid

Eventually, the Brooklyn-born, Toronto-raised son of immigrants from Pakistan soon began dreaming of working for the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and becoming the first astronaut to set foot on Mars.

“I’m 23 years old and the U.S. plans to land on Mars in the 2040s, so I’m the ideal age,” Rashid said. “I’ll try to keep my life on track and achieve my goal.”

His choice of mechanical engineering as a major was a deliberate step in his plan.

He has moved closer to his dream with two NASA internships in 2022 and another slated for summer 2023.

Rashid was working at his part-time IKEA job when he received an email informing him of his selection as 2022 paid summer intern at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston. The Johnson Space Center is home to NASA mission control.

Excited about his first NASA internship, he yelled out the news while working at his part-time job and received an ovation from hundreds of IKEA customers.

In Houston, as a battery systems engineering intern at the NASA Johnson Space Center, Rashid worked on lithium-ion cell performance and safety testing.

He also took advantage of the opportunities his internship presented, meeting with nine astronauts, networking with NASA employees and touring various other departments, absorbing all the information and advice he could garner.

He followed up the paid summer internship with NASA with another one, a few months later, in Fall 2022. He worked at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia as a battery materials R&D chemist focusing on solid-state battery research and fabrication.

It was during this second internship that the Paulina Lau Scholars Program was a real benefit.

The program was established in 2022 by York alumni and life partners Hian Siang Chan and Paulina Lau, and their families. Through scholarships, the program supports student participation in diverse global learning opportunities.

Throughout his university career, Rashid juggled classes and part-time jobs to repay his OSAP (Ontario Student Assistance Program) funding and defray the cost of tuition. His course load is heavy when he is back at York; Rashid balances his desire to graduate on time with pursuing NASA opportunities, so he likes to get a head start on his coursework before he resumes classes.  

However, NASA internships require an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. commitment, so studying at night after a full, demanding work day seemed to be his only option. Fortunately, Rashid was named a Paulina Lau Scholar in time for his second NASA internship.

“The Paulina Lau Scholars Program significantly helped me to focus on studies for the upcoming academic semester during my Virginia internship at NASA by allowing me to quit my part-time job at a local Walmart that was a one-hour bike ride each way,” Rashid noted. “I strongly believe that the Paulina Lau Scholars Program allowed me to excel at NASA – a life changing opportunity. It has taken me closer to my dream of one day helping land the first human on Mars.”

NASA, Virginia
NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia, where Rehan Rashid worked as a battery materials R&D chemist focusing on solid-state battery research and fabrication

Rashid is eager for the upcoming summer internship with NASA, his third so far. In each of his previous internships, he has been the only student from a Canadian university in a group of 20-plus interns. It is something that makes him proud, but also gives him a sense of responsibility in representing an entire nation.

After the upcoming summer internship, Rashid has one more year of courses before earning his mechanical engineering degree. The next step in his plan is to earn an MSc from MIT or Stanford in mechanical or aerospace engineering before applying for admission to the 2040 astronaut corps at NASA. After talking to astronauts, he realizes “the odds are slim,” but he has a fallback plan: working at mission control or flight control for the Mars mission.

Meanwhile, Rashid is truly appreciative of the support he has received in working toward achieving his lifelong dream.

“I will never take the sole credit for obtaining these fiercely competitive internships at NASA,” Rashid wrote in an email. “I believe it is a team effort of everyone who had supported me, especially the school and donors who have provided me the opportunity to learn and grow from these experiences. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to the donors of the Paulina Lau Scholars Program, and York University who are helping mold the next generation of scientists and engineers who will change the world.”

About the Paulina Lau Scholars Program

The Paulina Lau Scholars Program, an endowed award, was created to benefit undergraduate and graduate students travelling overseas to engage in coursework, research or internships. Preference is given to students who demonstrate financial need and are in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, Lassonde School of Engineering or the Faculty of Science. This scholarship program is established by York alums and life partners Hian Siang Chan and Paulina Lau and their family to inspire future generations of students to right the future. Find out more.

York occupational health and safety students build, curate multimedia research repository

Workers clad in hardhats and safety gear inspecting documents

Assistant Professor Duygu Biricik Gulseren’s Fall 2022 Occupational Health & Safety (HRM 3400) class created The OHS Project, which comprises case studies, news and academic articles, and podcast episodes, as a part of a semester-long experiential education effort dedicated to advancing workplace safety.

Professor Duygu Biricik Gulseren close-up photo
Duygu Biricik Gulseren

The newly launched project aims to become an informational touchstone not just for future occupational health and safety (OHS) students at York’s School of Human Resources Management (HRM), but for OHS researchers and educators around the world as well.

In accordance with prevailing open education principles, all research materials offered by The OHS Project are provided without redaction or subscription. Currently the website is home to 23 case studies, 21 articles and six podcast episodes, all published by students. As Gulseren welcomes new cohorts into her courses, and into the project, the breadth of the research materials on display will continue to grow and continue to be shared with students in other OHS courses, as well as with professionals in the field.

“[The project has] great resources for OHS professionals. I liked the cases and podcasts, they are very informative and make you think about company specific OHS procedures,” said Yasemin Mensah, general manager of safety and quality at Wartsila Energy Storage.

“I really appreciate the effort to create a website and share it with us,” said Yisheng Peng, assistant professor of organizational science and communication at George Washington University. “To continue building our future portfolio for occupational health and safety education, I will also encourage my students to engage in these similar activities, i.e. case interviews and analyses.”

Experiential education advantages

Naturally, the benefits of Gulseren’s diverse grading methods, and novel approach to promoting research opportunities, were felt first and foremost by the students who founded the project under her direction.

First-year human resources student Ugur Erdal hosted his own podcast episode which focused on occupational health psychology and the concerns of researchers within that burgeoning field of study.

“The podcast [provides] perspectives related to different academic backgrounds [adjacent to] occupational health and safety,” Erdal said. “The podcast provided me with [access] to international information transfer systems and [readily available] academic information. Even though international meetings and interactions seem hard [to coordinate,] podcasts present excellent opportunities for both students and professors [to engage experts abroad.]”

“The OHS Project offers a wealth of learning opportunities. It allows students to obtain certification in research ethics (CORE-2022), hone interviewing and transcription skills, apply foundational occupational health and safety principles, and offers the opportunity to network… with practitioners in the field,” wrote Jason Molnar, who authored a case study for the project. “Plus, writing the case study narrative was fun. I highly recommend this project for anyone interested in experiential learning.”

In the future, Gulseren plans for the program to not only increase in the quantity of research materials it contains, but to also evolve in how it prepares students for the workplace. There are also plans to expand the podcasting opportunities to graduate and PhD students.

“In the current term, we are also adding a training component to the project,” Gulseren said. “Students from this course, along with Ayesha Tabassum, a PhD candidate in HRM, and I are designing a brief, evidence-based ‘techno-stress’ training [module] for employees working from home. We will evaluate the effectiveness of the training using data from employees working from home.”