York University’s energy management program helps navigate hot weather sustainably

blue electric fan

In circumstances of extreme weather – such as heat warnings in summer due to soaring temperatures – Facilities Services works hard to ensure the York University community can continue to comfortably learn, teach and work on our campuses, while balancing the University’s commitment to sustainability in its operations.

Unseasonably high temperatures generate unprecedented demand on the provincial energy grid, leading to more energy use, higher emissions, inflated costs and strain on the grid. As a result, York U implemented a peak demand management program in the summer of 2023 – an effort to uphold its commitment to support a sustainable energy system in Ontario. This program, which has been implemented at universities across the province, requires York U to reduce its energy use in alignment with peak demand days to eliminate emissions, save costs and reduce strain on the grid.

Through participation in this program last summer, it is estimated that the University avoided 22,000 tonnes of carbon emissions and saved $3.8 million in energy costs by reducing its energy use by eight megawatts on peak days over the summer months. That is equivalent to taking 24,713 cars off the road or eliminating the consumption of over 34-million litres of gasoline.

“Global warming has forced us to think differently about how we heat and cool our buildings,” says Brad Parkes, assistant vice-president of Facilities Services. “In Facilities Services, we’re constantly looking at the data to see how we can optimize our systems, work with the provincial grid instead of against it and contribute to sustainability and cost savings goals through our operations. The concept of the peak demand management program is simple, but it has real impact that will continue to grow.”

To ensure comfort on York U’s campuses during the program, Facilities Services cools buildings to a lower temperature overnight, with the goal of retaining the cooler air throughout the day when the temperatures are elevated. Those efforts can be extended if community members keep exterior doors, windows and blinds closed to keep the cold air in. For those with workspaces adjacent to a space that has air conditioning, such as a hallway, keeping doors ajar to promote circulation might be helpful. Turning off lights not in use, or using natural light, is another way to help with unnecessary heat generation.

Facilities Services also references the classroom booking information from the Office of the University Registrar to strategically match air conditioning to buildings with occupancy and reduce air conditioning in buildings without occupancy. Special attention has also been given to buildings that require consistent cooling due to equipment, technology and ongoing research.

Community members with concerns or questions about the temperature in their space should get in touch with the Work Control Centre by emailing facilities@yorku.ca or calling 416-736-2100 ext. 22401. Managers should also refer to the Hybrid Work Policy and Hybrid Work Procedure regarding discretion and flexibility to adjust hybrid work agreements as necessary.

New, renewed Canada Research Chairs advance neuroscience, disability studies at York U

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York University neuroscientist Jeffrey Schall has been appointed a Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Translating Neuroscience, alongside two renewals – Gillian Parekh and Joel Zylberberg – for existing CRCs, announced by the Government of Canada on June 14.

The CRC program is a major investment by the federal government (up to $300 million+ per year) to attract and retain world-class talent at Canadian universities. The program also provides training opportunities for the next generation of highly skilled personnel through research, teaching and learning.

The new and renewed CRCs at York University are:  

Jeffrey Schall
Jeffrey Schall

Jeffrey Schall is a newly appointed Tier I CRC in Translating Neuroscience and a professor in the Faculty of Science

Schall’s research aims to further understand the complexities of the brain and how it enables decision-making processes for actions and experiences: how people decide what to do, how people control when they do it and how people know if they did what they meant to do. Insights from Schall’s research could improve the diagnosis and treatment of neurological conditions like dementia and schizophrenia.  

Gillian Parekh
Gillian Parekh

Gillian Parekh is a renewed Tier II CRC in Disability Studies in Education and an associate professor in the Faculty of Education

Parekh is examining how schools respond to disability in order to improve student success. She and her research team are gathering and analyzing new data to develop strategies that will shed light on how “ability” is used to justify student organization within schools and the inequitable distribution of in-school resources and opportunities.

Joel Zylberberg
Joel Zylberberg

Joel Zylberberg is a renewed Tier II CRC in Computational Neuroscience and an associate professor in the Faculty of Science

Zylberberg and his research team train artificial intelligence (AI) to see and respond to images in the same way as the human brain. By teaching AI to process visual information like the brain’s visual cortex, deep learning algorithms could lead to the creation of devices that help visually impaired or blind people see again, in addition to potentially advancing technology for self-driving cars. 

York’s Chairholders received $2,400,000 and are part of a $94,500,000 investment in 121 new and renewed CRCs at 39 institutions across Canada. For the full list, visit the Government of Canada’s website.

Schulich ExecEd partnership to empower future leaders

Youth leaders

York University’s Schulich ExecEd is partnering with Skills/Compétences Canada (SCC), an organization dedicated to enhancing the involvement of youth and their communities in skilled trade and technology careers, to provide leadership training for the next generation of workers.

As part of the collaboration, Schulich ExecEd served as an education sponsor for this year’s Skills Canada National Competition, a multi-trade and technology competition for students and apprentices, which was held in Quebec City last month. Schulich ExecEd also served as the official 2024 training partner of the Skills Canada National Alumni Committee, comprised of 13 youth leaders from across Canada who will receive critical training in the areas of strategic communications, business case development and coaching.

“We take pride in our collaboration with Skills/Compétences Canada, serving as a sponsor and the official training partner of the National Alumni Committee for 2024,” says Rami Mayer, executive director of Schulich ExecEd. “The programming provided goes beyond theoretical knowledge, focusing on cultivating leadership skills crucial for empowering the next generation of youth.”

In an effort to bridge the gap between trade expertise and business acumen, Schulich ExecEd endeavours to equip future leaders with essential business skills such as management, leadership, finance, communications, data analytics and more. Through accelerated programming, Schulich ExecEd will provide tools to help ignite an entrepreneurial spirit, cultivate a resilient workforce and empower trades professionals to achieve desired growth levels in their respective fields.

“In today’s dynamic business landscape, young professionals are faced with multifaceted challenges that demand a comprehensive skill set,” says Mayer. “Through this meaningful partnership, we aim to empower these talented youth members with the business acumen necessary to navigate the complexities of tomorrow’s job market.”

Lassonde researchers elevate critical mineral research and reusability

Iron pyrite

Canada is home to some of the world’s most sought-after critical minerals, like copper, nickel and lithium. These minerals are essential for building a green and sustainable economy in Canada, with direct applications ranging from electric vehicles to solar panels. This is why Pouya Rezai, an associate professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at York University’s Lassonde School of Engineering, is leading a project to optimize the rapid detection and extraction of these critical minerals – particularly lithium.

Lithium is a versatile mineral that is widely used to develop and improve innovative technologies like energy storage solutions, as well as metallurgic and automotive applications. Currently, the industrial processes used to detect and isolate lithium are challenging, time-consuming and often expensive. To improve the efficiency of lithium retention, the Lassonde researchers are exploring methods to reuse and recycle the critical mineral from various sources like electronic waste and electric vehicle (EV) batteries.

This $1.5-million project, funded by the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada’s Alliance Mission Grant, addresses a nationwide call for critical minerals research, stemming from Canada’s Critical Mineral Strategy.

“Our project aims to enhance the entire supply chain of lithium production – from detection to mining and recycling to reuse,” says Rezai. “We are starting with developing technologies that can detect, quantify and isolate lithium from electronic waste materials like EV batteries.”

Other Lassonde researchers co-leading the project include Department of Mechanical Engineering professors Thomas Cooper, Cuiying Jian, Roger Kempers, Siu Ning (Sunny) Leung and Nima Tabatabaei, and Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science Professor Razieh (Neda) Salahandish.

Through the collaborative efforts of the Lassonde researchers and six industry partners, this project intends to uplift Canada’s green and digital economy by helping to increase the country’s supply of responsibly sourced lithium. Specifically, the researchers are engineering and testing lithium-imprinted polymers that are specially designed to isolate lithium from complex sources like electronic waste.

The team is also exploring and developing optical and electrochemical-integrated devices that can detect and quantify lithium amidst other materials, which would allow miners to detect the presence of lithium within hard rock ore. To ensure optimal performance and portability of the devices, the team is investigating the use of aerogels – an ultralight material with favourable properties and immense potential.

“We want this interdisciplinary project to demonstrate the Mechanical Engineering Department’s ability to work together and achieve a single goal,” says Rezai. “This is the first initiative that has brought together such a large group within our department. We are also hiring 28 student researchers across a spectrum of expertise to support the project and provide valuable learning opportunities. Our idea is to eventually expand the team and build more industry partnerships to achieve greater research and funding.”

According to the research team, this collaborative initiative is only the beginning of a much larger project. Through continued efforts, they hope to innovate the future of critical mineral supply chains and generate licensed, commercialized and patented technologies.

“If we can successfully detect lithium with our technology, we can do so much more,” says Leung. “We are working on a platform technology – the idea is to optimize the detection of one mineral and then work toward other applications. One day, we plan to expand our work to detect other materials, like biological contaminants or disease biomarkers.”

York U researchers receive CIHR funding to study dementia care

Nurse consoling her elderly patient by holding her hands

Professors Matthias Hoben, Tamara Daly and Liane Ginsburg from the York University Centre for Aging Research & Education (YU-CARE) have been awarded $750,000 from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Institute of Aging (CIHR-IA) to support their study examining the impact of day programs on individuals living with dementia and their caregivers.

This funding opportunity, made possible through the CIHR-IA’s Brain Health and Cognitive Impairment in Aging: Implementation Science Team Grants, is supporting 10 projects that plan to evaluate the effectiveness of existing programs, services and models of care for those impacted by cognitive impairment and dementia, and to improve access to care and support.

According to the York U research team, most individuals with dementia and their caregivers want the person in need of care to remain at home for as long as possible; however, doing so safely and well may become challenging as the affected person’s needs increase. Adult day programs aim to maintain or improve older adults’ health and well-being, while also providing respite to caregivers.

The researchers are setting out to address what they identify as a lack of robust Canadian research on the effects of day programs on older adults living with dementia and their caregivers, especially those of equity-deserving groups with multiple, intersecting vulnerabilities.

“Health systems have increasingly shifted care for people with dementia from institutions to the community,” says Hoben, the Helen Carswell Chair in Dementia Care. “While care in the community is the preference of persons with dementia and their family/friend caregivers, most of the care is provided by caregivers who, in turn, receive little support.”

The team believes supports are important for both the person needing care and their caregivers, so they are examining the effectiveness of adult day programs as a method of support.

“Adult day programs are among the few community supports that aim to meet these simultaneous needs,” Hoben explains, “but we lack research on their effectiveness and on how and why they do or do not work.”

By partnering with key experts across Canada – those in need of care, their caregivers, advocates, day program staff and health system policymakers – this project aims to reveal how and why day programs have positive, negative or no effects on people with dementia and their caregivers, uncovering important avenues for improving their effectiveness.

With the help of the CIHR-IA funding, and in collaboration with health systems and regional Alzheimer societies, the team will recruit individuals with dementia who have recently been admitted to day programs and their primary caregivers. The researchers will compare them to a group that is not using day programs. They will also assess how program characteristics and the social identities of participants are associated with study outcomes. To further contextualize the data, they will conduct semi-structured interviews and focus groups.

“I am passionate about supporting persons with dementia and their caregivers,” says Hoben, “and this research will be an important step to build these supports.”

For more information about the funding, visit the Canadian Institutes of Health Research website.

York University rises to top 35 globally in Times Higher Education Impact Rankings

THE 2024 General_YFile Story

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Dear colleagues,

York University has risen an impressive five spots to be among the top 35 institutions in the world for advancing the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to this year’s Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, published today.

This is a testament to the growing recognition for York’s global leadership on the SDG Challenge and has been made possible by our community of changemakers – faculty, staff, students, course directors, alumni and our many partners. It is your commitment to our shared values of sustainability, inclusivity and equity that has enabled us to achieve our highest ranking yet.

On behalf of the University, thank you for your individual contributions and collective efforts in interdisciplinary research, teaching, and a myriad of campus initiatives and community projects, which have led to this success.

With an additional 300+ universities joining the rankings this year, York has continued to hold its leading position among more than 2,100+ universities worldwide for the sixth consecutive year. York has a particularly strong global standing in the following categories: 

  • SDG 1 (No Poverty) – #2 in the world and #1 in Canada;
  • SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities) – 33rd in the world and #1 in Canada; and
  • SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) – tied for 13th in the world.

This is an achievement we all share and one that the entire York community can take great pride in. We are delighted to see the community united by our common goals: to realize the University Academic Plan 2020-25 and to answer the call of the SDG Challenge.

When we work together to create positive change there is no limit on York’s ability to address the most pressing global issues of our time. Read the News@York story for more details.

Sincerely,

Rhonda Lenton
President & Vice-Chancellor

Lisa Philipps
Provost & Vice-President Academic

Amir Asif
Vice-President Research & Innovation

Those who wish to share the news in social media posts or email signatures can find instructions on how to do so in the THE Impact Rankings Toolkit.

Y-EMERGE partnership to combat climate change by advancing mathematical modelling

climate crisis dry desert BANNER

By Elaine Smith

The York Emergency Mitigation, Engagement, Response & Governance Institute (Y-EMERGE) has established a partnership with the Research & Innovation Centre at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS-RIC) in Rwanda that will bring AIMS PhD students to York University to pursue their research in mathematical modelling as a tool for addressing climate change.

The project, called Human Capacity Building in Climate Change and Health in Africa, is being jointly funded by York International (YI) and Global Affairs Canada’s Canadian International Development Scholarships 2030 program, marking the first external grant to Y-EMERGE. It is also the first time York International has matched funds on this scale in support of an international research endeavour.

“York International is delighted that our researchers were able to leverage C$25,000 in matching funds to secure a significantly larger external grant for an impactful international research collaboration,” said Vinitha Gengatharan, assistant vice-president of global engagement at YI. “The money will be used to top up scholarships for up to six female PhD students coming to York, as well as to provide emergency bursaries for any PhD student travelling to York for this program.” 

As part of the project, 10 PhD students from the AIMS Research & Innovation Centre will each spend a year at York between 2025 and 2028 to advance their work with mathematical modelling and climate change. Y-EMERGE will be hosting the program, with York International assisting in helping the students to feel at home. Participating students will have the opportunity to develop their research by working with experts in their areas of interest. 

Pictured, from left to right: Vinitha Gengatharan, assistant vice-president, global engagement at Y-EMERGE; faculty member Jianhong Wu; Sam Yala, president of AIMS Rwanda; York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton; Amir Asif, vice-president research and innovation; Y-EMERGE faculty member Woldegebriel Assefa Woldegerima 
Pictured, from left to right: Vinitha Gengatharan, assistant vice-president of global engagement at Y-EMERGE; York University Professor Jianhong Wu; Sam Yala, president of AIMS Rwanda; York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton; Amir Asif, vice-president research and innovation at York U; and York U Professor Woldegebriel Assefa Woldegerima. 

AIMS is no stranger to York U; the institutions have previously collaborated on infectious disease modelling for influenza and COVID-19.

For Professor Jude Kong, founder and director of the University’s Africa-Canada Artificial Intelligence & Data Innovation Consortium (ACADIC) and a native of Cameroon, this collaboration is a passion project. He believes a focus on climate change and health is imperative, as the African continent is already feeling the effects of climate change.

“We’ll take the modelling experience present at York’s Y-EMERGE, as well as ACADIC and AIMS, to ensure we build the capacity to model climate change in Africa,” said Kong. “Climate change is coming and the situation is worsening in Africa. It will affect health in a way that has never happened before, and we’ll be able to build responsible models with an understanding of the local dynamics. … We’ll be using local expertise, so the results will be locally relevant, decolonized and intersectional.”

Professor Jianhong Wu, director of Y-EMERGE, is equally committed to the project.

“We consider this to not just be the beginning of an intensive collaboration with the AIMS Research & Innovation Centre in particular, but AIMS in general,” he said.

Professor Wilfred Ndifon, president of the AIMS Research & Innovation Centre, added, “For us at the institutional level, we have achieved our successes thanks to partnerships like the one we have with York.”

To help facilitate this long-term partnership, Y-EMERGE is forming a college of mentors to work with the AIMS students and establishing an advisory board to guide the growing Africa-Canada collaboration in mathematical modelling.

“We want the students to not only get excellent training but to grow their careers and begin to build up their own networks,” Wu said. “The students who come to York to train will be ambassadors for collaboration between the African continent and Canada in mathematical sciences.”

Kong is excited by the opportunity to build capacity on his home continent through a “train-the-trainers” model.

“When these students return home, they will be sent to other AIMS centres to make data actionable,” he said. “We need homegrown talent, rather than people from the Global North, to teach others [in Africa]. York is one of the many institutions that have reached out to help AIMS change the paradigm, and it is committing funding because they don’t view this as a one-off.”

York U study examines immigrant families’ experiences with autism stigma, caregiver stress

Woman and child hands holding together colorful puzzle heart on light blue background

A study by York University Faculty of Health Professor Farah Ahmad and her students Fariha Shafi and Amirtha Karunakaran, titled “Autism, Stigma, and South Asian Immigrant Families in Canada,” was recently published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

While existing evidence suggests early autism diagnosis and support results in positive outcomes for children and youth on the spectrum and their families, Ahmad believed the same might not be true for children of racialized families, who are often diagnosed at later ages and are more likely to be misdiagnosed and experience barriers to service access. She also identified a lack of research examining the experiences of parents in Canada from specific immigrant groups – many from racialized communities – who are caring for their children on the spectrum.

With funding from York University’s Faculty of Health, through a Collaborative & Community-based Research Seed Grant, the York U researchers set out to address this knowledge gap by looking at South Asian Canadian immigrant parents with children on the autism spectrum and examining their experiences with available care programs and supports, as well as their perceptions of social stigma.

“Disability should not hinder people’s opportunities to reach their full potential,” said Ahmad, “so it’s a matter of human rights to bring forth hardship experienced by families caring for their children or adult family members on the autism spectrum. This is particularly relevant for racialized immigrant families, given the dearth of scholarly knowledge in Canada on their experiences.”

The team worked with community collaborators, including the SAAAC Autism Centre and Health Access Thorncliffe Park, to find suitable study participants. Nine South Asian parents living in the Greater Toronto Area were selected and interviewed individually.

The study’s findings confirmed barriers to an autism diagnosis and to service access. Additionally, parent participants reported that the stigma surrounding autism kept them from receiving a timely diagnosis, access to support services and guidance on health-promoting behaviours. The findings also revealed considerable caregiver stress and psychological distress.

“I believe in a proactive strategy,” said Ahmad, “where we as researchers examine the ‘ground reality’ of caregivers’ challenges and ways to cope, with the aim to enhance equity in practice and policymaking for improving structural supports for them, including efforts to reduce societal negative attitudes towards disabilities.”

Ahmad and her team expect the evidence revealed by their study to have wide-ranging impacts, including helping to inform equitable policy, programming, and practices that better support the needs of children on the spectrum and their immigrant families.

Three professors receive SSHRC Partnership Development Grants

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Social sciences and humanities research at York University has received a boost of more than half a million dollars from the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), awarding Partnership Development Grants to three researchers in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS).

The latest round of Partnership Development Grant funding supports short-term partnerships (one to three years) between research teams from post-secondary institutions and organizations in the public, private or not-for-profit sectors.

“York University is grateful for SSHRC’s investment in our outstanding faculty and their mission to create positive change through community-engaged research,” said Amir Asif, vice-president research and innovation. “As an institution that excels in social sciences and humanities research, these three York-led projects exemplify our commitment to research excellence driven by impact and rooted in meaningful collaboration with our partners.”

Through their combined efforts, the research teams develop projects in the social sciences and humanities or design and test new partnership approaches for research and related activities, including knowledge mobilization.

The York U recipients include:

Annie Bunting
Annie Bunting

Annie Bunting, a professor in the Law & Society program in LA&PS, for a project titled “Youth-led initiatives for gender justice and peacebuilding,” which received $199,850. The project will bring together researchers, filmmakers, artists and others to study the long-lasting impacts of violence on youth, aged 15 to 29, in places affected by war and conflict. The project looks to gain a deeper understanding of how young people cope in such situations and involves multiple collaborating partners, with groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Sierra Leone and Kenya.

Marcello Musto
Marcello Musto

Marcello Musto, a professor in the Department of Sociology in LA&PS, for a project titled “War and the Left: A Global History,” which received the maximum $200,000. The project will examine how left-wing political forces and theorists have responded to war, deepening understanding of the intellectual and political history of numerous progressive social movements and political parties around the world. It aims to be the most comprehensive study of the topic to date and involves researchers from York University, five archives, six research-focused organizations and two museums, from eleven countries across four continents.

Jose Miguel Gonzalez Perez
Miguel González

Miguel González, an assistant professor in the Department of Social Science in LA&PS, for a project titled “Emancipatory Horizons for Self-determination of Indigenous and Afro-descendant Peoples in Central America,” which received $199,840. The project will gain insights into the struggles and strategies of these peoples to protect their land, rights and way of life. It will promote the political and legal efforts of civil society organizations to advocate for autonomous self-governance and will involve a dozen Indigenous and Afro-descendant groups in Costa Rica, Panama and the San Andrés archipelago.

The three York-led projects were among 75 projects across Canada to receive the new funding. A full list of the Partnership Development Grant recipients can be found on the SSHRC website.

EUC provides opportunities to high-school students

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A recent initiative highlights how York University’s Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) is helping high-school students reach their potential as the next generation of sustainable changemakers.

With the ongoing climate challenges the world faces, the need for active citizenship and environmental stewardship has never been greater. It’s why EUC has made an ongoing effort to provide climate, sustainability and social justice education for the leaders of tomorrow.

The Faculty fulfills that goal with the students currently enrolled in its post-secondary programs, but it doesn’t want to stop there. Among its key objectives, EUC commits to frequently offering high-school outreach activities that provide resources, hands-on skill building opportunities and support to young people who want to make a difference in the world.

Big events, like February’s annual iteration of the Change Your Work conference – which welcomed 500 Ontario high-school students and their teachers to York U’s Keele Campus for a day of environmental education and inspiration – are part of those efforts. Smaller initiatives are part of them, too – like the recent Design Thinking Challenge event in May, attended by 60 students and teachers from several York Region schools.

The event offered local students two programming tracks. The first was a Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) ICE Challenge Case Competition, which tasked participating students to come up with a sustainable architectural solution for redesigning the front entrance and foyer of the Health, Nursing & Environmental Studies Building on York University’s Keele Campus.

The second track was a new extracurricular Urban Solutions program, where students presented their solutions to global challenges, ranging from language accessibility in the Toronto Transit Commission system to disaster relief in Haiti.

Once students worked through their projects, they had a chance to present their design proposals and get feedback from Abidin Kusno, EUC professor and undergraduate program co-ordinator; Teresa Abbruzzesse, EUC professor and Cities, Regions, Planning program co-ordinator; and Laura Taylor, co-author of the SHSM challenge, professor and master of environmental studies Planning program co-ordinator.

“The students came up with some ingenious solutions for the challenge that was presented to them,” said Philip Kelly, professor and interim dean of EUC.

One example was a student who presented a proposal to solve period poverty – the inability to afford feminine hygiene products – in Uganda, building upon her existing interest in gender equality. Her solution was a more sustainable, accessible, disposable pad that would be produced using locally sourced materials.

For students, EUC initiatives like this can provide experiential learning opportunities that are rewarding in more ways than one. In this case, the event featured several prizes: the Feasibility Laureate award for the most practical and easy-to-implement solution; the Empathy Emblem award for the solution that shows the deepest understanding of the users; and the Impact Pioneer Plaque award for the solution with the greatest potential for positive impact.

EUC hopes experiences like these – representative of the Faculty’s broader efforts with high-school students – are rewarding in other ways, too.

“The event offers students early exposure to higher educational environments, which can motivate students to pursue further education and set higher academic and career goals,” said Brittany Giglio, EUC recruitment and liaison officer. “These partnerships contribute significantly to the development of well-prepared, motivated and successful individuals.”