Meet Judy Goldring

Family of Governing Council chair has donated over $10 million to U of T

Meet Judy Goldring

Judy Goldring, Chief Operating Officer (COO) at AGF Management, had a special reason to spend time in the library during her undergraduate career at the University of Toronto. “I loved hanging out at Emmanuel College,” she says. “This will really date me, but Tears for Fears did a video at Emmanuel College, and I loved going into Emmanuel College and saying ‘This is where the video was done.’”

Four generations of the Goldring family have attended U of T, including Judy and her brother Blake, both of whom graduated from Victoria University, and both of whom have individually donated over $1 million to the university. The Goldring family has made numerous donations to the university. The most visible signs of its generosity are the recently opened Goldring Student Centre at Victoria University and the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport, currently under construction on Devonshire. “One of our family principles is to give back to your alma mater,” Goldring explains.

Goldring’s experience as a commuter student informed the decision to contribute to the Victoria student centre. “We’re really so honoured and proud and humbled to be able to put a building that we think will help integrate the commuter students, to have a place for not just commuter students but also [residence] students, and it’s a place of meeting.”

Goldring believes that the development of projects like the two Goldring centres must involve consultation and dialogue between donors and the administration. The student centre at Victoria created some controversy when it was first proposed in 2008, with students voting in a referendum that approved a $100 ancillary fee to pay for one-third of the $21 million building. Goldring says the decision of students to support the project at the time was inspiring. “I think that’s exactly what donations are all about; that’s exactly why if there’s a vote and people will support it, it’s because they want to make sure they’re improving the time for the student experience after they’re gone, and that’s exactly what we wanted to see happen with the Goldring Student Centre.”

The connection to Victoria is obvious, but why high performance sport? Goldring says her father, the late C. Warren Goldring, co-founder of financial firm AGF Management, believed in a well-balanced life. “I did joke with him, ‘There are no Olympians in my side of the family,’” she remembers, “but he was a firm believer about having that element of your life fulfilled, and it is about having all parts of your life in a positive way, and that’s what the Goldring Centre for High Performance does.”

Health is a particular topic of interest for Goldring; her husband has Type 1 diabetes, and she has previously co-chaired the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s (JDRF) Ride for Research charity event. According to Goldring, the quality of research being conducted at institutions like U of T is particularly important: “In terms of the research excellence that’s done here, you do see organizations like JDRF benefitting from phenomenal research, and research does make a difference in managing diseases like diabetes.”

Goldring believes that it is important for students to take care of their health. “You’ve got a lot of pressure; students today are under a lot of stress, and the pressure to perform and succeed in a very competitive environment is a challenge,” she admits. “But it is a good message to get out — to get out and do that, keep active, keep healthy, eat right.”

Goldring’s contributions to U of T go beyond the remarkable sums she has donated. She has been a member of the University of Toronto’s Governing Council for four years, serving as its vice-chair for two years before being elected to the role of chair on July 1, 2013. “We’ve spoken about my love of this institution, my fond memories of it,” she says. “My family connection has afforded me the opportunity to get involved, and when the opportunity came around for me to get involved with the council, I was excited to be able to give back.”

As Meric Gertler takes over as U of T’s new president, Goldring is leading Governing Council during a period of change for the school, and she looks forward to the work. “Certainly governance, I think, can be helpful in the transition, assuring a smooth transition to support the president and the provost,” she says. “We’re also looking to support, where appropriate, on key defined advocacy issues as the president might define or the administration might define.” Goldring emphasizes that a current key policy initiative for the Governing Council is the implementation of campus councils on the Mississauga and Scarborough campuses, an effort to respond to their growth by increasing decision-making at the local level.

Goldring balances her position at the university with what she drily calls her “day job” as COO of AGF Management, a $38 billion asset management company that invests money for clients without the expertise or inclination to do so themselves. Portfolio managers at the company construct investment packages in which individuals and institutions can then choose to participate. U of T itself employs AGF’s services through the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation. “So it keeps me busy,” Goldring says of her multitude of responsibilities with a smile.

“Some would argue there’s no such thing as balance,” Goldring notes, when asked how she manages to keep her complex life in order. “It’s just a very busy time on campus right now, which is great. So right now, the balance is a little imbalanced, but it’s okay. It’s all good.”

The discussion eventually turns back to the business of U of T. Goldring shares what she sees as the most significant challenge for universities in Canada. “Broadly speaking, I think for all universities it’s government policy around post-secondary education and sustainability of the framework that we’re operating in,” she says. “It’s one of the more pressing issues; it’s not a new issue, and it’s not going to be solved in a day either.” Still, Goldring is excited about the opportunities for dialogue for the schools leaders going forward, and particularly expressed great confidence in president Gertler.

Perhaps she is remembering her days making friends in The Buttery, or reading in her favourite quiet spaces around Vic, or being awestruck by the building in which Tears for Fears filmed a video (yesterday’s Mean Girls and Convocation Hall, one might say). At any rate, there is context that makes the words Goldring utters in conclusion just a little more meaningful. “Enjoy your time here,” she says. “It goes by quickly.”

Lack of interest in science is hurting the economy

Reduced enrolment in STEM subjects restricts career choices for Canadian youth, women remain underrepresented

Lack of interest in science is hurting the economy

How much does it cost the country when high school students drop out of math and science courses? Too much, says a recent “Spotlight on Science Learning” report by Let’s Talk Science, a national charitable organization committed to fostering engagement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in children and youth.



In Ontario, as in most provinces, math and science courses are optional after Grade 10. As a result, fewer than half of Canadian high school grads actually complete senior-level STEM courses, despite the fact that 70 per cent of top jobs and well over 50 per cent of university and college programs require at least some stem background.

The result? Huge costs, both for students — who may have to go back to school to make up prerequisites or miss out on potential job options and future earnings ­— and for Canada’s economy, since a decreased interest in these fields leads to a smaller talent pool and the loss of potentially key workers and innovators. Ontario alone “loses $24 billion in economic activity annually because employers can’t find people with the skills they need to innovate and grow,” according to the Let’s Talk Science report.

Part of the problem, according to the report, is that students are often unaware of how many doors they close when they drop out of math and science. If students are not fully aware of the benefits of pursuing STEM courses throughout high school, taking them can seem like a waste of time and effort. Yet many university and college programs, even those in fields like culinary arts, technical theatre, or fitness ­— at first glance fields unrelated to STEM ­fields — require Grade 12 math and science courses as prerequisites to admission.

Science GraphsIn a 2012 report, the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) also emphasized the importance of early math and science education in the development of Canada’s future researchers: “Young Canadians lack sufficient knowledge about educational requirements for future careers, as well as a clear understanding of what PCEM [physical sciences, computer science, engineering, mathematics] careers entail… Evidence indicates that there is a disconnection between the educational choices some students make at the secondary level and their post-secondary or career goals.”

Dr. Bonnie Schmidt, president of Let’s Talk Science, stresses in the report the importance of science literacy in any of a student’s potential careers, and emphasizes that if educators are to engage children and youth in STEM fields, that engagement needs to start early: “We need to inform our youth of the importance of STEM courses for their future careers, engage them in experiential science learning from an early age, and sustain their interest in science throughout their studies.”

Another contributing difficulty highlighted in the Let’s Talk Science report is the need to engage all segments of Canadian society, including groups that have been traditionally under-represented, such as women and Aboriginals. According to Statistics Canada, women currently account for 53.7 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 25 and 64 with a university degree. However, women represent less than one third (32.6 per cent) of Canadians with a university degree in STEM subjects.

The CCA also noted that women’s representation, not only at the undergraduate and graduate level, but also in research careers and academic positions, varies significantly by discipline. Although women are comparatively well-represented in the humanities, social sciences, and life sciences, they account for only 24 per cent of students enrolled in university programs in computer science, engineering, or mathematics or the physical sciences, and only 14.8 per cent of faculty members in these disciplines.

There is a clear need for more outreach and education, and U of T has recognized this need for some time. A number of programs on campus actively work to combat this lack of interest by getting elementary and high school students involved in exciting, hands-on projects. For instance, U of T works with Let’s Talk Science to mobilize undergraduate, graduate, and faculty volunteers, who run science activities for children and youth at both the St. George and Scarborough campuses.

The Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering has a range of programs in place, like the the Da Vinci Engineering Enrichment Program (DEEP). The DEEP Saturday workshops are classes “designed to introduce students in grades nine to 12 to graduate-level research in science and engineering.” Engineering Outreach also runs Jr. DEEP, aimed at students in grades five to eight, as well as March Break and summer programs. Sample activities include making slime, building model cars, rockets, and roller coasters, or creating musical instruments.

U of T is also leading efforts to address the gender gap. The Jr. DEEP program offers sessions for girls in grades three to eight. On October 19, U of T participated in Go ENG Girl, a province-wide program that invites girls to visit a local university and learn about opportunities for them in engineering from current female engineering students and graduates. Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) at U of T is a co-ed student organization that sends volunteers to high schools across the GTA to encourage and inspire students to pursue science and engineering at the postsecondary level.

A great deal of work is being done to address the lack of interest and lack of knowledge about stem subjects that both the CCA and Let’s Talk Science have identified. Nevertheless, it’s important to keep in mind that Canada’s potential for innovative excellence in these fields depends on students’ talent ­—and if they aren’t interested, everyone loses.

A Place Like This

VICTORIA BANDEROB looks into the differences between urban and rural universities in Canada

A Place Like This
Click the X to peruse students’ instagram photos from urban and rural universities in Canada.

Located in the midst of a thriving urban centre, the University of Toronto, although an active player in the city at times, is often an accessory in the comings and goings of local and commuting Torontonians and the quick snapshots of tourists’ cameras. Students of the university view themselves not only as students, but also as residents of the City of Toronto, an active force in and around the institution.

The University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Ottawa are all universities in big cities. The urban environment that these universities inhabit has many other top employers and businesses that keep the city running and other aspects, such as vibrant cultural life, attract residents to live there. The university happens to be in the middle of it all.

In a small university town, the picture is quite different. The city that that the university resides in is relatively small — sometimes so small that one of the top employers in the city may be the university, as in the case of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, where it is second only to the Canadian Forces Base, employing just under 10 per cent of Kingston’s workforce. The University of Guelph is Guelph’s second highest employer in contrast to the University of Toronto which, despite occupying one of the top spots of employers in the city, is among 13 other companies that employ similar numbers of people. Similarly, the majority of residents in a university town might be students, as in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, home of St. Francis Xavier University, a town with a population of 4,524 and a student population of 5,185 (2011).

When students are choosing whether to go to a university in an urban or rural environment, these technical factors are often not their central concerns. Academic programs offered and the reputation of the school’s social life are critical considerations for incoming students, and these are often tied to the school’s location in a city or a town. Homecoming at U of T and at Queen’s have entirely different reputations; while Kingston does not offer the same cultural vibrancy that Toronto does.


Hands-on learning

While all universities typically offer a normative selection of academic programs, their settings impact the unique interdisciplinary studies they can offer.

The University of Toronto, Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and Concordia University in Montreal, are all located in the heart of busy cities, and all also host Urban Studies programs. These universities are accordingly surrounded by a living, breathing Urban Studies classroom — the city itself.

Being immersed in a city while learning about urban environments has its obvious advantages. David Roberts, a professor in Innis College’s Urban Studies program, points out: “Starting in the first year with our Innis One class, we have our students getting out in the community and actually involving themselves in seeing the processes that make the city run.”

The various organizations located in cities create increased opportunities for service learning and experiential learning that U of T, and numerous other universities, offers its students. Service learning is described as course-based learning, allowing students to participate in an organized service activity that engages the community, where further reflection allows greater understanding of the content. Many service learning courses can be found at U of T. The Dementia course (HMB440) explores aspects of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. In 2009, the students raised $1,000 by participating in the Alzheimer’s Society Walk for Memories. Not only does service learning help in strengthening understanding of a subject in the present, but it also can help provide knowledge of future opportunities in that field.

In contrast to urban universities, the University of Guelph, an example of a university located in a university-town, specializes in Agriculture — with a faculty of Plant Agriculture and programs such as Organic Agriculture and Food, Agricultural, and Resource Economics. Guelph is a rural area that allows programs such as these to flourish, as they are enhanced by an on-campus farm, the Guelph Urban Organic Farm, as well as greenhouses and open land so the students have an opportunity for off-campus research experience akin to U of T’s service learning.

Colbey Templeman, MSc student in Plant Agriculture at Guelph, comments: “Pursuing an education at the University of Guelph has allowed me convenient access to numerous field locations and research facilities. My graduate research requires me to travel to multiple field locations to collect data. Fortunately, Guelph is ideally situated for such a requirement, and I can be out of the city within as little as five minutes. This would be far more difficult in larger cities.”

Although the topics of research may vary between universities in large cities and those in small towns, the quality of research is not necessarily enhanced by being located in a big city. Emily Greenleaf, researcher of teaching and learning in the dean’s office and lecturer for “The University in Canada,” a University College course, suggests: “Especially among academics, their main community is other academics all around the world in their field. So although a university may be in a small town, the academic life of a university is often really cosmopolitan and globally connected… I think the ideas coming into the university, especially on the academic side of things, are really very cosmopolitan no matter where the university is located. Especially when we’re talking about universities with a research mandate and universities where faculty are very involved in the forefront of their field.”


City versus school

Conflict can arise between the institution and the city which hosts it. This divide may be more prominent in a small town than in a big city.

In a university town, transient students are moving in and out of residential areas where families are raising children and elderly residents have lived for their whole lives. Disruptions, such as the Queen’s University riots in 2009, can easily cause a community to resent the students and the university that they attend. The Queen’s Town-Gown relations Department was formed in 2011 as a result of the riots and aims to bring students and their community together.

Respecting and accommodating all the residents is a very important aspect of sharing a small community. The City of Waterloo has received an IBM Smarter Cities Challenge Grant to support an initiative that will change a student neighbourhood’s reputation, which has been burdened with negative stigma attached to large parties and poorly maintained properties.

While there are challenges, cities and towns can combine forces for mutual benefit. A university town experiences benefits from the university including — the building and expansion of infrastructure to support the student population, such as restaurants, small neighbourhood stores, and even larger grocery stores. Urban centers and university towns alike benefit directly from some of the facilities within the universities themselves.

The University of Waterloo’s Earth Sciences Museum is largely used as an earth-science teaching museum for local schools and natural-science interest groups in southern Ontario. The university at the heart of a university town will also sometimes represent the interest of the community it is hosted by. In 2004, for example, the University of Guelph launched the Ontario Farmland Trust, an organization whose focus was to preserve Ontario’s lands for farming.

With the infrastructure and graduates produced from the University of Toronto, small businesses with big ideas are able to leverage public and private partnerships to hire, innovate, and create growth opportunities with the funding from larger institutions and governments. For example, the MaRS Discovery District allows entrepreneurs in the medical, science, and social fields to build their small ideas into global businesses. Opportunities like this create jobs for students, research for faculty, and tactile objects to teach about at the university; in turn, the company gains people and money for its projects.


Student life

School spirit, involvement in clubs, and social gatherings are all aspects of student life outside of the classroom. Enthusiasm for these activities differs greatly between students of a college-town and a large city.

Becky Eckler, a graduate of Queen’s University, suggests: “Students who choose to go to school in a big city are often picking that school for the city — not for the school. However, students who pick a school in a small town are picking the school for the school. You see a lot more school spirit because they are a lot more enthused about the institution.”

At small town universities, homecoming is the event of the year — school colours are painted on faces, and throughout the rest of the year these colours continue to paint the landscape. Noteworthy homecoming events include those at Western and Queen’s, which have been the subject of controversy due to the disruptiveness of the celebrations in their respective host towns.

While university-town institutions far exceed urban universities in terms of school identity, personal identity may form to a greater extent when one lives in a city, free of the confinements of a town.

Roberts notes: “The community aspect of student life is a lot more spread out [in the city]… you can find your niche outside of the university,” which can help you find new interests and past-times, or just separate your mind from campus and university life. Museums, concert venues, restaurants, and community activities are abundant in a city, but still exist in small towns due to the fact that a university is there. The large demographic of young people attracts businesses to a small town that may not have chosen to set up shop in a small town without a university.

Greenleaf adds: “[A university] is obviously a great creative force — it brings in young people, but it also attracts artists and all kinds of entrepreneurial things that cater to students and faculty. And so, the food in a small university town will be a lot better than the food in a town of comparable size without a university. And the music, and the movies that get shown, and all of that — it creates an audience for the kind of cultural activities that we often associate with a bigger city.”

When choosing your university, it’s not uncommon to hear the advice that whatever university you choose will be the best one for you — you just have to take advantage of what it has to offer and make it the best one for you. Emily Greenleaf notes on the choice of an urban institution like U of T: “[A] real trait of urban universities, [is] that they can attract people who have a choice to be anywhere; but they want to be in a place like this.”

Illustration: Wendy Gu

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson awarded Dunlap Prize

“Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive” to visit U of T in March 2014

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson awarded Dunlap Prize

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson has won the first Dunlap Prize from the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics. According to the institute, the prize recognizes those who embody “the institute’s vision for sharing scientific discovery with the public, training the next generation of astronomers, and developing innovative astronomical instrumentation to enable breakthroughs in observational research.” Tyson’s impressive career and academic achievements easily distinguish him as a renowned astrophysicist, but these factors alone did not earn him the Dunlap prize, nor did his reputation as the “Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive.” The award also recognizes his role in scientific outreach and education.



Tyson is the current director of the Hayden Planetarium in the America Museum of Natural History, located in New York. As an astrophysicist,  Tyson has followed an exceptional academic path: he earned his BA in physics at Harvard and a PhD in astrophysics at Columbia. He also completed his post-doctoral research at Princeton. He was twice recruited by former President George W. Bush to serve on White House commissions, and was part of the NASA advisory council from 2005 – 2008.

Born in the same week that NASA became operational, Tyson became fascinated with astrophysics on his very first visit to the Hayden Planetarium at the age of nine. “The universe called me,” he said during a conversation with Stephen Colbert. Now, as director, he has been tirelessly pushing public education of science and inspiring the young generation to explore space.

Dr. Tyson has authored multiple books, including Death By Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries, an anthology of his most popular essays in Natural History magazine, and The Pluto Files: The Rise And Fall of America’s Favourite Planet — an analysis of Pluto’s cultural impact as well as a collection of public responses to Pluto’s demotion. The latter is especially fitting, as Tyson took part in the decision to “downgrade” Pluto. In his most recent book, Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier, Tyson not only provides a well-documented list of NASA’s contributions to our society and daily life, but also calls for greater recognition and expansion of the space program.

Tyson’s efforts in educating and inspiring the public can also be reflected in his radio show, StarTalk. The weekly show explores a wide variety of topics, scientific and non-scientific alike, and analyzes them from a scientific perspective. Past topics include dark matter, time travel, zombie apocalypses and hip-hop. Tyson’s humour, together with the expertise of guest co-hosts, keeps the show entertaining and lighthearted, yet informative and scientifically accurate. He has also collaborated with many well-known names ­— like Richard Dawkins, Stephen Colbert, and Bill Nye  ­— to discuss science topics and encourage students to keep pursuing their dreams in science.

His witty and sometimes sarcastic style has gathered him a dedicated audience not only in universities but also online; his twitter account, followed by nearly 1.5 million people, is composed of fun facts, interesting thought experiments, scientific reviews of sci-fi movies, and other humorous quirky comments. In 2014, he will also be the host of Cosmos, a continuation of the legendary science show first popularized by Carl Sagan.

Tyson’s immense popularity has earned him 18 honorary doctorates, a NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal and an asteroid named in his honour (Asteroid “13123 Tyson”). On March 21, 2014, Tyson will visit at U of T for the Dunlap Prize ceremony and give a free public lecture in Convocation Hall. Registration for this event will be available later this winter.


With Files from the Dunlap Institute, Hayden Planetarium, and Colbert interview with Neil DeGrasse Tyson at Montclair Kimberley Academy.

Chess pieces and paper cranes

REBECCA OSTROFF explores some samples from U of T’s plethora of clubs

Chess pieces and paper cranes

During the clamor of Clubs Fair, it’s difficult to focus on any one group, as an endless mass of enthusiastic faces throw flyers, free pens, and sign-up sheets into your arms. Navigating the Ulife directory of clubs online is a similar undertaking, presenting an overwhelming variety of groups to explore. The Aquarium Club meets to “discuss the hobby of fish keeping.” The Yo-Yo Club gathers monthly to hone its members’ skills, while the Writers of Controversial Philosophy debate and discuss at the Mississauga campus. “We ParTea” meets to drink and discuss tea, aiming to spread awareness of tea around campus. Although confusing to navigate, U of T’s variety of clubs is an excess of riches that satisfy every niche of our diverse student body — and when they don’t, there are ample ways to start one up to fill the gap.

Everyone has quirky passions and interests, and while those may seem to set people apart from one another, the diversity of the U of T student population allows for the growth of niche communities with similar interests through clubs. In spite of their great variation, U of T’s clubs collectively bring students together and create small, warm collectives within the university.

Hart House Chess Club

ChessThe Hart House Chess Club was established in 1895, beginning as a small but skilled group of mostly male chess players. This year, however, the majority of executive members are women — an especially significant feat considering that, prior to the year 2000, there were no women in any  Hart House chess tournaments. President Sanja Vukosavljevic notes that the club is now decidedly inclusive, although they are often quite boisterous — constantly laughing and trash-talking one another. She adds that: “there are more chess variations than atoms in the earth,” giving players plenty of reasons to criticize and analyze one another throughout the game. This also means that there is always a lot left to learn for beginners and experts alike.



The club meets from 4:00–11:00 pm on Friday nights — a slot reserved for partying for many students. Nonetheless, Vukosavljevic contends without hesitation: “Honestly, I have more fun at the chess club. It’s the best part of my week.”


U of T Naginata Club (UTNC)


Before joining the club, president Tomas Almonte had a negative impression of the practice because of how useless Naginata swords were designed to be in his favourite video games. Before I met Almonte, I had absolutely no idea what a Naginata sword was. Both of these forms of ignorance about Naginata are quite common, Almonte explains. Many of the club’s members had never tried the martial art prior to joining, he among them: “I had my Star Wars phase, but never actually used a sword until I joined Naginata.” He was compelled to continue attending practices by the emphasis on teamwork.


Naginata consists of “choreographed encounters,” making it a discipline that is only possible to practice with others. As a result of the necessity of teamwork, members of the club are very social with one another. The club hosts events outside of practice, like karaoke nights, to confront the pleasant problem of too much chatting among friends that has become disruptive in practices.


Fly with Origami, Learn to Dream (FOLD)

OrigamiThe FOLD office at 21 Sussex is whimsically decorated with an abundance of paper ornaments. Colourful cranes, flowers, and Angry Birds origami projects fill the room, while even more spill out of full storage boxes on the floor. “We’ve been raffling these off regularly, and we still need more space in here,” comments FOLD president Qingda Hu. In addition to these lotteries, the club also donates a lot of their projects to hospitals in the area. Off-campus volunteer projects have always been a facet of FOLD, which has also participated in teaching origami at Sick Kids and Relay For Life.


In addition to the joy that comes with a finished origami product, the act of learning to fold is relaxing and enjoyable, with an emphasis on thinking geometrically and following instructions closely. Teaching others how to fold origami requires a measure of skill, but proves very rewarding for the club’s students.


African Cuisine Club (The Afriks)


When Sandrine Uwimana and Taiwo Idris came to U of T from Rwanda and Nigeria, respectively, they had the idea to publish an African Cuisine cookbook. They started writing down recipes and established an on-campus club dedicated to planning, shopping, and cooking their favourite dishes in 2011. The two take turns teaching different western and eastern styles of cooking, and sessions are often thematically focused on one African country. Sandrine notes that the club’s most treasured dishes are its plantains, soft but crunchy sweet potato cookies, and spicy vegetarian stews. The group now aims to get fresh, healthy dishes into the campus dining halls at affordable prices.

Uwimana and Idris are particular about their idea of “fresh”— refusing to cook with ingredients that haven’t been purchased that same day. The two refuse to discuss the difference between plantains and bananas, insisting that it must be experienced rather than described.


Astronomy and Space Exploration Society (ASX)

StarsYou don’t need to know a lot about astronomy and space exploration to join ASX, nor should you expect to spend meetings lying in the grass and staring at the sky. Although, says new member Zack Zajac with a smile, “I do that anyways, multiple times a day.” Ammar Javed, the president of ASX, envisions making the potentially intimidating subject of astronomy accessible to students of all backgrounds, noting that astronoomy is essentially, “…the study of everything.”


Starry-eyed students learn about life beyond Earth, the environment on Mars, and contact with outer space. These quite romantic practices inspire some high-quality pick-up lines, as Javed adds that there is nothing that sweeps someone off their feet like learning astronomy under the stars.


U of T Beekeeping Education Enthusiast Society (BEES)

BeeCute is not the adjective most students would associate with bees, but Theresa Reichlin, secretary of BEES, gushes: “I love bees! They’re just so cute.” The term “enthusiast” is used quite literally in the title of U of T’s beekeeping club, which is made up of students who are truly passionate about bees. Pointing out that bees, unlike wasps, are not dangerous, Reichlin hands me a full-on protective suit and instructed me to climb onto the roof of Trinity College to observe the group’s beloved bees. Ironically, many of the club’s executive members have suffered childhood traumas involving bee stings. Being a part of the club has not only helped members to get over their fears, but has made them appreciate the measures that bees take to protect their hives.


Reichlin described the importance of bees to our planet, a timely warning given the current threats to the bee species. Apart from being an educational experience, being a beekeeper at U of T can also be both sweet and therapeutic. Reichlin notes: “The pure honey we extract is so healthy… I even use it to heal my skin burns”.


U of T Culinary Arts Club


Shari Li, co-president of the Culinary Arts Club, says that in her club, “We make everything from scratch.” Members of the Culinary Arts Club have varying levels of cooking skill. Both students who don’t know how to cook and those with a passion for culinary arts are welcome to attend events, where different culinary skills are taught. Both a social and educational experience, these often include multiple course meals, testing out recipes, and enjoying the experience and the food together. The club focuses both on the art of food presentation and on various advanced culinary methods. A particularly special event, as Li describes, was the club’s venture to make, “rum baba, a French pastry with real rum.”

More than “blowing stuff up”

Professor Michael Reid on the power of Star Trek and science fiction

More than “blowing stuff up”

The first-ever Toronto Science Festival (TSF) took place September 27–29 at various venues around U of T. One event in the program was the Star Trek Half-Marathon. On Friday night, people interested in science and Star Trek came to Innis Town Hall to watch one episode from each of three different Star Trek series. All episodes were strategically chosen to fit with the TSF theme: “Life in the Universe.”



During the night’s half-marathon, Spock and Kirk encounter a homicidal but misunderstood silicon-based life form; Picard and Troi make first contact with a planet full of technologically inferior humanoids with bumpy foreheads; and Janeway and Chakotay struggle against a race of technologically advanced yet dogmatic aliens that evolved from dinosaurs.

After each episode, astronomy professor and TSF organizer Michael Reid joined sci-fi author Peter Watts in leading a discussion fuelled by participation from the audience.

Star Trek holds a special place in the lives of both guests: Reid held the long-running show partially responsible for his career choice, while Watts learned from Star Trek that “[i]f you’re a starship captain, you get laid a lot.”

In addition to providing witty remarks, the two speakers guided conversation that ranged from questioning the feasibility of a silicon-based organism to discussing the shortcuts in creativity taken by the show, which diminish its value as a work of science fiction.

The discussion contained as much fan-love as it did criticism; undoubtedly, Spock himself would have found this event “fascinating.”

The Varsity spoke with Michael Reid after the tsf was over and asked him about Star Trek, science outreach, and funding for scientific research. Reid started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation as a ten-year-old. One of his favourite characters was Dr. Crusher because even though “she didn’t get a lot of screen time and could get kind of boring story-lines,” he liked that Crusher and Geordi La Forge were playing key roles on the Enterprise as scientists, as opposed to the other military-type characters.

When asked about the new Star Trek movies, Reid replied: “They’re okay… one thing I always liked about Star Trek was that it was about exploration … amazing experiences of awe and wonder … and not so much on blowing stuff up… [The new movies] were more focused on blowing stuff up than I would have liked.”

As a key member of the TSF’s organizing committee, Reid has high aspirations to expand the event: “Our goal was to launch a festival that would ultimately be as big as Nuit Blanche or TIFF or Luminato or any of these other really big festivals that go on in Toronto.” Reid went on to explain why he thinks science outreach is important. Reid answers: “A scientifically literate society is a healthy society. People have to make really important decisions about things like, most recently, climate change. If you don’t have a basic level of scientific literacy, it’s hard to function well in a scientific, technological society.”

There are also things that are intrinsically interesting that Reid wants to share with others, and those things aren’t always practical. “A lot of people think of science as though it is a commercial activity … they want you to come up with things that can be marketed and used in some way,” he said.

Reid feels this mentality will eventually lead to stagnation: “Research in one area forks into another area, unexpectedly.” He uses the camera as an example of an invention that came not from someone trying to get more people to buy their company’s cell phone, but rather from astronomy — from scientists trying to improve upon using giant photographic plates.

On the future of the TSF, Reid says that “we probably will [do it again]” and “if people are interested, they should let us know.”

The Star Spot explores the unknown

U of T students, alumni host popular astronomy podcast

The Star Spot explores the unknown

A year and a half ago, a group of space enthusiasts — ­including University of Toronto students and alumni — sat in the Second Cup on College Street, mulling over the plausibility of starting an astronomy and space exploration-themed podcast. Since then, the podcast, now called The Star Spot, has lifted off at light speed. With a fan base across 46 countries, The Star Spot is nearing 30,000 downloads, and the team behind it has already incorporated as a Canadian non-profit organization.



The topic of astronomy can be as overwhelming as it is fascinating. The Star Spot’s goal is to reach out to both dreamer-nerds and casual listeners by providing clarity on subjects that can quickly become very technical and abstract.

“We think people are often intimidated by the ideas of space and astronomy,” says Natalie Morcos, The Star Spot board member and director of marketing. “We aim for young adults. We try to keep our podcast academic but still accessible to anyone, not just people who are in astronomy and science. Confirmation that it is working is that we have a huge high school fan base.”

The Star Spot explores a wide spectrum of topics — such as the nature of time, the birth and afterlife of stars, and the future of humans as a space-faring species. A new episode is aired every other Sunday at 7 pm, and is hosted by Justin Trottier, U of T alumnus and founder of the Astronomy and Space Exploration Society, a U of T  organization. Usually an hour long, each episode opens with a news segment covering the latest events in space and astronomy. The news is followed by an interview with an expert to discuss a specific space-related topic in depth. Notable guests include Lawrence Krauss, author of the best-selling book A Universe from Nothing, and Carolyn Porco, a planetary scientist named as one of the top 25 most influential people in space by TIME in 2012. The podcast also makes an effort to have 50 per cent Canadian content. During the 50th anniversary of the launch of Canada’s first satellite, Alouette 1, The Star Spot did a video interview with Bob McDonald, host of Canada’s longest running science show, Quirks and Quarks. Recently, The Star Spot recorded an interview with Jill Tarter, director of the Center for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Research. Tarter was also named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME in 2004.

The Star Spot’s vision is to further promote interest in astronomy and space by interviewing more “big-ticket” guests and by collaborating with local groups.

The Star Spot is currently affiliated with the Canadian Space Society, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, and the Astronomy and Space Exploration Society. It also works closely with the Canadian Space Commerce Association.

Recently, it has made plans to take on more kid-focused activities with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in Toronto. The Star Spot team is also looking to accelerate the growth of its funding and sponsorship teams in order to travel to conferences outside of Toronto.

Despite its fast progress over the past year and a half, The Star Spot continues to be a very low-cost operation. Most interviews are recorded over Skype, and all people involved, from The Star Spot team members to the show’s guests, are volunteers. “We find that generally people are responsive, especially people who are passionate in what they’re doing,” says Morcos. “Everyone that’s into science is also really into science outreach and science literacy, which are values we espouse.”

To listen, volunteer, or donate, visit The Star Spot’s website at, or follow The Star Spot on Twitter (@TheStarSpot) or Facebook (The Star Spot).

Note: Natalie Morcos is employed by The Varsity as a web developer.

Protesters call for increased funding of science research at Queen’s Park rally

Rally part of nationwide effort to support open communication of scientific findings

Protesters call for increased funding of science research at Queen’s Park rally

“From small labs come big discoveries,” read a banner at the Stand Up For Science! protest on September 16. Around 250 people gathered in Queen’s Park to rally against the cuts made to scientific research across Canada. In Ottawa, Vancouver, Halifax, Montreal and Queen’s Park, protestors simultaneously urged the federal government to make a greater commitment to science in the public interest by restoring science funding and supporting open communication of publicly-funded research.

Many picket signs handed out at the event condemned the fact that 100 per cent of all new funding for Canada’s three granting councils in the 2013 federal budget is dedicated to research partnerships with industry.



Chris Austin, a master’s student studying biology at the University of Western Ontario, was one of 1,000 attendees at the Death of Evidence protest last year in Ottawa, which highlighted similar concerns. He was also at Queen’s Park on Monday: “These cuts are unacceptable. Canada used to be a leader in world research, and now it’s a joke,” he said. Canada is currently ranked seventh among the G8 countries in the percentage of its GDP spent on advanced research computing, and Austin is worried about the closure of field stations and research centres, such as the Experimental Lakes Area, a facility for ecosystem-scale experimental investigations and monitoring in northwestern Ontario.

Evelyn Boychuk is also doing a master’s in biology at Western. “I’ve always been super-passionate about this,” the aspiring bio-journalist said. Boychuk highlighted the role of chance in scientific progress, noting that some of the world’s greatest scientific discoveries came about entirely by chance. She fears that the cuts are “taking away that chance” and believes that “science isn’t a priority for the
Conservative government.”

Eva Everything, an environmental scientist, is especially concerned about the impact on availability of information about the effect of human behaviour on the environment. Everything pointed to a study by Fisheries and Oceans Canada research scientist Dr. Peter Ross as an example of the kind of information that would not be known without sufficient funding. The study found that killer whales had five times the toxicity level of beluga whales. Everything said she participated in the rally to encourage the government to “restore our science programs and fund research to pure science.”



Speaking at the protest were Dr. Margrit Eichler, professor emerita and president of Scientists for the Right to Know, and Brad Evoy, internal commissioner of the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union. Dr. Eichler hopes to see scientific funding become an election issue, calling science “the lifeblood of our future.” Evoy emphasized that “we’re not talking about a bad party; we’re talking about a policy.” The crowd also heard a statement from John Polanyi, the only living Canadian winner of the Nobel Prize. “[The benefits of science] will flow to your city, your country and the world. All three will thank you for ‘Standing Up For Science.’”

After hearing the speakers, Evoy led the march down to Elm Street, before returning to Queen’s Park. Eichler’s closing speech thanked the protesters for “taking a stand,” and promised more rallies in the coming months.