Scarborough Campus Students’ Union disregards AGM consensus, votes to give more money to Women’s and Trans Centre

Additional $4,500 granted despite students voting against it at AGM

Scarborough Campus Students’ Union disregards AGM consensus, votes to give more money to Women’s and Trans Centre

Despite a rejection from students at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) in November, the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union’s (SCSU) Board of Directors voted to give an additional $4,500 to the UTSC Women’s and Trans Centre (WTC) for its annual conference.

During the AGM, the WTC requested $7,000 for its Making HERstory 2019 conference, but students voted to reduce the amount to $2,500.

This was largely due to concerns about the SCSU’s financial situation, as well as reluctance over giving such a large amount, especially because the WTC already receives $40,000 in levies.

At the board meeting on November 27, Political Science Director Raymond Dang motioned to give the WTC an additional $4,500 to complete the $7,000 that it requested for the conference. Dang called it a “one-time special amount.”

The money would be drawn from the SCSU’s unrestricted contingency fund. This fund does not include Health, Dental, and Student Centre Reserve funds.

While debating this motion, SCSU Physical and Environmental Science Director Zakia Fahmida Taj said that the student body already decided on this matter during the AGM. “We’re supposed to be representing the student body itself,” Taj said.

SCSU President Nicole Brayiannis agreed, saying that she would be “cautious” about giving more money.

In response, Dang claimed that there was “misinformation” during the AGM, which caused students to assume that the SCSU would be put into deficit if the full $7,000 was provided to the WTC.

Dang’s motion said that the SCSU has a “$66,745 allocation to [the] contingency reserve.”

Brayiannis proposed that the requested additional amount of $4,500 be reduced to $2,500, which would be added to the $2,500 previously settled during the AGM, totalling to $5,000.

According to Brayiannis, since students at the AGM already agreed on $2,500, and that $7,000 was too high, a total of $5,000 would be an “assured amount.”

SCSU Vice-President Equity Chemi Lhamo agreed with Brayiannis’ motion. She said that because of the “lack of information” at the AGM, students also chose not to fund sponsorship opportunities like the multi-faith initiative.

“By allowing one entity to access a certain unrestricted fund, I do not think that upholds the values of the union,” Lhamo said.

Several other students expressed their confusion as to why the SCSU could not provide the original requested money. Executive Director Francis Pineda said that the budget is “healthy” and that there are funds to support this motion.

Lhamo said that it is “not smart to overspend just because there is money.”

Dang argued that the money was needed because “$2,500 plus $2,500 does not equal $7,000. It equals $5,000. That is not sufficient funding [for the conference].”

Tensions rose in the room and the chair requested for people not to communicate with each other in a “distracting way,” and that people should not slam their name cards down.

Dang also asked the room to “keep things civil” and not to call people names in public or private conversation. He asked others to refrain from using “bad language.”

WTC members expressed that the WTC was already “exhausting [its] resources,” having been rejected by Hart House to receive help with funding. They added that the WTC was already in collaboration with internal and external clubs.

Brayiannis’ motion to amend the amount from $4,500 to $2,500 failed. The motion for the $4,500 to be provided to the WTC passed and the meeting moved on to the in-camera session.

At around 10:00 pm, Brayiannis motioned for the meeting to table, which passed. This meant that the remaining items on the agenda would all be moved to the next meeting in January.

The Varsity has reached out to Lhamo, Dang, and the WTC for comment.

UTSC researchers awarded NSERC instrumentation grants

Professors Ruby Sullan and Maithe Arruda-Carvalho will use the grants to accelerate their research

UTSC researchers awarded NSERC instrumentation grants

Each year, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) awards Research Tools and Instruments (RTI) Grants to researchers who require specific tools to conduct their research.

Earlier in November, Professors Ruby Sullan and Maithe Arruda-Carvalho were awarded NSERC-RTI grants.

RTI grants are awarded based on the need for particular instruments, the merit of the research programs and applicants, and the contribution that the equipment will have on the training of research personnel, like students.

Ruby Sullan and biofilms

Sullan is a professor in the Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences at UTSC. Her research lies in understanding the stages of bacterial biofilm development.

Biofilms are a major reason for hospital-acquired infections because they easily form on the surfaces of biomedical and implanted devices, like catheters and intrauterine devices.

Sullan and her team hope to better understand major contributors of biofilm formation and ultimately encapsulate antimicrobial agents in nanoparticles that can target and eradicate the initial adhesions that cause the initiation and maturation of biofilms.

Her team will use the NSERC-RTI grant to install a Dynamic Light Scattering (DLS) system for biological chemistry studies.

According to Sullan, the DLS system is a particle analyzer and will be used to characterize nanoparticles for effective and targeted treatment of electrochemical sensor development against biofilms.

The DLS system can also be used to monitor the mechanisms and kinetics of protein aggregations. This can enable scientists to learn more about disease progression caused by protein aggregation, like neurodegenerative diseases.

Sullan also mentioned that the DLS system will be used by a number of other research groups, and it will be used to address a wide range of research questions and themes in biophysical research.

Maithe Arruda-Carvalho and brain development

Another recipient of an NSERC-RTI grant, Arruda-Carvalho works in the Department of Psychology at UTSC and is cross-appointed to the Department of Cell & Systems Biology at UTSG.

Arruda-Carvalho’s research is directed toward extending current knowledge about the maturation of neural networks, like emotional processing, that shape our complex behaviour and sensitivity to stress through to adulthood.

Carvalho and her research team are particularly interested in investigating how changes in brain development caused by early life experiences influence neural circuits and ultimately affect behaviour.

The onset of most mental illnesses first manifest during childhood and adolescence. This suggests the importance of proper brain development during these critical periods of life.

With the funding from the NSERC-RTI grant, Arruda-Carvalho and her lab will explore developmental windows during which critical neural connections of brain regions involved in decision making emerge and how they are fine-tuned with age.

How Type A are you, really?

U of T researchers find Type A might not be a personality type after all

How Type A are you, really?

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, co-authored by Michael Wilmot, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Management at UTSC, suggests that the Type A personality may not be a personality type after all.

The researchers replicated a 1989 study that produced the most influential empirical support for Type A and Type B personality theory. Despite conducting direct and conceptual replications to test the same idea, Wilmot and his colleagues were unable to find significant evidence for the existence of Type A behaviour as a type.

Type A and Type B personality theory is the idea that people fall under two disparate categories: either they are competitive, organized, and impatient — a Type A personality — or relaxed, non-competitive, and patient — a Type B personality.

This theory was the result of an observation by two cardiologists, Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman, who had found that patients who couldn’t sit still in the waiting room were more likely to develop coronary heart disease. They attributed this pattern of behaviour to a Type A personality.

Further research demonstrated a similar relationship between personality and other cardiac health concerns: Type A personality individuals had higher blood pressure and a greater risk of heart disease than their relatively laid-back Type B counterparts.

With Wilmot’s findings, there is now no normal personality construct that has uncontested evidence of a typological structure.

The existence of personality types is controversial. We typically conceptualize personality as something that goes along a continuum, rather than as a presence or absence of certain traits.

“I think people like the idea of personality types because categories are important conceptual tools we use to make sense of the world,” said Wilmot in an email to The Varsity. “However, just because we frequently like to categorize things, doesn’t mean that those things are truly categorical in some fundamental and real way.”

Most psychologists agree that personality variables are dimensional. A 2012 meta-analysis led by Australian and Belgian researchers found that few investigations into normal personality variables yielded typological results, yielding “little persuasive evidence” of types, and thus “many influential taxonic findings of early taxometric research are likely to be spurious.”

“From a scientific standpoint, I think the default should be to assume that all personality variables are dimensional unless proven otherwise,” wrote Wilmot. “As a result, the burden-of-proof rests on the person trying to show evidence for a typology. What is more, that typological evidence should be replicable across samples, researchers, and relevant data analytic techniques.”

Since it was first conceptualized in the 1970s, Type A and Type B personality theory has remained the only typological personality construct with largely unchallenged evidence. According to Wilmot, one reason for its long-standing, undisputed status is that most psychologists had shifted away from this model, focusing instead on the Big Five personality model, which proposes five traits along a continuum. But there is another reason that is more pertinent: most high-brow scientific journals seldom publish replication studies, meaning that most researchers would rather test new theories in their field than scrutinize the evidence of older theories.

Having examined the 1989 study, Wilmot and his colleagues plan to continue working toward their original goal of conducting a meta-analysis on hard-driving and competitive personality traits with respect to work and academic outcomes.

They will also aim to better understand where these traits “fit into the general taxonomy of personality traits,” such as the Big Five model.

“Even though personality types are not real, typological models of personality can still have some usefulness in the real world. If it can help to partially explain or predict other people’s behavior, then a typological model can have value,” wrote Wilmot. “Put differently, a flawed model of personality is better than no model at all. However, such a model should be taken as a useful starting place, not as a final destination.”

Natashya Falcone develops healing hydrogel

UTSC PhD candidate researches cost-effective and sustainable chemical alternatives

Natashya Falcone develops healing hydrogel

Natashya Falcone, a PhD candidate working in the Kraatz Research Group at UTSC, is developing substitutes for chemical products that bear financial and environmental costs to produce.

Recently, Falcone developed a hydrogel, a sustainable and economical water-based gel that could repair damaged tissues. The hydrogel is made from amino acids — the building blocks of proteins — and could repair tissues by rebuilding damaged cells.

“We first start off by chemically synthesizing different peptide conjugates by essentially coupling different amino acids together,” explained Falcone in an email to The Varsity. “We then test the peptide [compound’s] ability to form gels by adding them to various solvents in various conditions to see if they self-assemble into a gel material.”

Though still in testing phases, Falcone hopes the hydrogel will be adapted for use in clinical settings while reducing environmental waste. Falcone will be testing the hydrogel to determine whether it can support cell growth at all. If successful, tests on wounded tissues can begin in vivo.

“We are looking at [using] it for wound healing cell support, for neuronal cell support for different nervous system damage, as well as see how bacteria can interact with these materials,” noted Falcone. “I believe this research can go in many different directions.”

Further development of the substance would also allow for biocompatible and biodegradable tools for tissue engineering and green chemical production. The gels could also be used in academic settings.

In addition, Falcone has developed a cheaper mimic of the NAD coenzyme — a key component in electron transfer reactions — that is already being used in industrial applications.

“This coenzyme is required by a lot of redox enzymes that help drive our metabolism system, as well as enzymes for selective chemical production,” wrote Falcone. “The issue with the natural coenzyme is that it is very expensive and also unstable at the amounts that industries would need if they wanted to use enzymes for large scale chemical production. Synthesizing mimics that are able to replace the natural one would allow a much cheaper, greener and selective chemical production.”

Falcone hopes her research has an impact beyond the laboratory.

“I like the idea of doing the chemistry work and making different materials but then applying them to some biological application to make what I am synthesizing useful and applicable to real life health or environmental problems,” wrote Falcone.

She also reminded budding chemists that responsible stewardship of the Earth should be a priority.

“We are all living on this planet and [it’s] important to take care of it. With everything going on with the pollution, and global warming, and plastics in our ocean,” wrote Falcone. “[It’s] important that we don’t add to destroying our planet with toxic materials.”

Do you want bugs with that?

Given recent food safety controversies, the SCSU must take action to ensure the well-being of UTSC students

Do you want bugs with that?

The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on November 14. Despite a lengthy six-hour program that discussed all items on the agenda, the attendees surprisingly failed to discuss one of the most serious issues currently affecting students: questionable food safety on campus.

Asian Gourmet, a popular Chinese-themed vendor, has made a name for itself this year by selling food that contained a bug in it to students on at least two occasions. In March, a student found a large winged insect in her bok choy meal. A similar incident occurred in October, involving another student.

As reported by UTSC’s student newspaper, The Underground, Asian Gourmet conceded that it would often find and pick insects out of the vegetables, but the two described incidents occurred because the insects were likely trapped within the leaves of the vegetables. It even admitted that given the quantity of food involved in the cooking process, employees don’t “look carefully” when it comes to insects.

Following the incidents, DineSafe, Toronto Public Health’s food safety program, inspected Asian Gourmet on October 15, handing it a “conditional pass” with a list of infractions.

These included: failure to maintain food at an appropriate temperature; not properly washing the surface of the kitchen; not properly protecting its food from contamination and adulteration; not using properly cleaned utensils; and, worst of all, using a dirty cloth to clean food surfaces.

It might seem puzzling that Asian Gourmet remains popular and attractive to UTSC students, especially for lunchtime service, despite the repeated bad publicity. It is not as though students are irrational. The truth is that the food vendors at UTSC are limited, both in number and variety. A lack of competition leaves students with little choice and likely drives the careless service at Asian Gourmet.

The SCSU’s response, as indicated in a November 8 statement, is that it only operates as the landlord, leasing the Student Centre space to food vendors. Vendors like Asian Gourmet “operate independently, and are therefore outside the management of the SCSU.”

But food safety at UTSC is not just an issue for independently operated vendors. For instance, Rex’s Den — operated directly by the SCSU — also drew attention when hair and insects were discovered in the food served to students. During the summer, Rex’s Den also received a conditional pass from a DineSafe inspection, with two significant infractions listed.

Vendors like Asian Gourmet and Rex’s Den must do more: they have a responsibility for food safety, not just to meet municipal regulations, but also to ensure the health and well-being of students and customers.

There is no excuse for these incidents — and they only represent those cases in which students clearly found and chose to report items that compromised their safety. Students who don’t notice insects or hair in their food could fall in danger.

The SCSU must recognize that the pattern of food safety issues is a significant concern, especially considering that one involved its own vendor. It is necessary for the SCSU to take action and not just offer statements.

As Asian Gourmet’s landlord, the SCSU should firmly consider terminating its contract. This might seem excessive, but it would demonstrate that the SCSU puts the interests and needs of UTSC students above those of food vendors, which can always be replaced with other franchised food companies.

At the very least, a warning to Asian Gourmet by the SCSU could force it to improve operations. As for Rex’s Den, the union must take full responsibility and ensure that management lives up to optimal food safety. In general, it should consider implementing stricter food safety policies.

The SCSU must uphold its duty to represent students and do what is best — and that means ensuring food safety on campus.

Michael Phoon is a second-year Journalism student at UTSC. He is The Varsitys UTSC Affairs Columnist.

Room for Indigenous engagement at UTSC

An interview with Indigenous Engagement Coordinator Juanita Muise

Room for Indigenous engagement at UTSC

“I love the position that I’m in because I get to share some of my culture and really help people connect and pass it down, pass it on,” said Juanita Muise.

Juanita is the Indigenous Engagement Coordinator, a new role at UTSC instituted in August. I met Juanita one early morning in the TV Lounge at the Student Centre to learn more about the role.

When asked to describe her job, Juanita explained, “The engagement part is [about] engaging with faculty, staff, students. Also, engaging with the Indigenous community outside our campus to build relationships and also… having a space for Indigenous students where they can connect with programming.” She added that the Indigenous Outreach Program “touches on First Nations, Métis, and Inuit… cultural events.”

“[The parents of] a lot of students that grew up in the urban setting… may not have gotten the cultural teachings because of what happened in the residential schools, or if their family moved off reserve… or they married outside of their culture, then a lot of them were not permitted to practice their culture.”

A significant part of Juanita’s role is to make it possible for those students to reconnect with their culture. And it’s working — she shared several anecdotes about students who’ve already benefited from the program. “This creates a safe space,” Juanita said, “where [students] can learn and grow and ask those questions and inspire everybody to learn and grow together, to create that community here on campus.”

Reconnecting with the past

Juanita had her own experience of reconnecting with her Indigenous identity. “I grew up in western Newfoundland and [was] non-status, so for most of my life until I was a young adult, we were not even acknowledged or recognized in my community.”

She explained that this was a consequence of Indigenous erasure. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the Indigenous community was all but extinguished, both physically and psychologically. Joey Smallwood, the first Premier of Newfoundland, claimed that there were no Indigenous people left in Newfoundland. In other words, this violent history is accompanied by a tradition of denial. Even today, Juanita said some Indigenous Newfoundlanders claim that “they’re mixed race, they’re not real,” instead of claiming their identity.

“I didn’t even identify because even in the school system, you’re treated differently if you’re native,” said Juanita. “In my small town, when I was 15, my uncle was a chief of the band… and he went and brought over from Nova Scotia some traditional teachers to teach us more about our culture. So, the Mi’kmaq people from Nova Scotia… came and were teaching some of the songs and the dance and some of the ceremonies… There’s been this huge revitalization.”

“When my uncle started doing this and more people started identifying as being native, my aunt started helping people find their roots and their history. People wanted to know, ‘Where do I come from,’ ‘Who am I?’ A lot more people started feeling like a part of them and it was okay now. It was okay. Someone was giving them the right to say it’s okay to be proud of where I come from.” She continued, “Because during that revitalization that sense of community that was lost started to grow. And that’s how it grows. Community grows by giving people a place where they can grow and flourish and learn.”

Juanita also explained how she reconnected with her Mi’kmaq roots after moving to Ontario. “I went to the Friendship Centre downtown and I really felt like it was open to everybody. There was one lady who was Mi’kmaq and she had a drumming group and I… felt a connection,” she shared.

Two themes that Juanita mentioned repeatedly throughout our conversation were community and knowledge. It was easy to tell that she’s passionate about both. When she spoke about community, her use of the word encompassed the UTSC community, the broader Scarborough community, and the Indigenous community.

Her studies, Indigenous perspectives, and tokenization

During her undergraduate studies, Juanita became aware of the need for discussing Indigenous issues and Indigenous perspectives.

She also emphasized that there can be many reasons why some students don’t identify as Indigenous. For example, there’s a risk of becoming “a token,” especially when there are few Indigenous students around. Students who openly identify as Indigenous are sometimes forced to act as cultural intermediaries, and answer many questions about Indigenous culture and related issues.

I asked Juanita if the Indigenous history of Canada was discussed in her courses when she was an undergrad.“No,” she said. “I [studied] social welfare and social development and they focused mainly on the social system that started out in the UK. So, they explored the history there, that system, and how other countries, as they were colonized, took on that approach. So, a lot of it was European and looking at European history and not so much Canadian.”

“So what I did in my undergrad, to really bring awareness, is a lot of research on Indigenous issues in Canada and Ontario on my own, because I wanted to bring that to the discussion. But not everybody is confident enough to do that. It was just, to me, like the professors weren’t doing it so someone needed to.”

I asked her what reaction she got.

“It was a lot of the typical reaction. If issues came out about reserves, like if there’s flooding or economic hardship, [people would ask,] ‘Why don’t they just leave that place?’” To Juanita, this is “not really understanding or wanting to understand the reasons with the history behind that and why it’s like that.”

I wondered how Juanita found the courage to speak up like that. “I come from a strong line of women in my family. You know, I had to act. For me, sitting back and just not saying anything is worse,” she told me, smiling. “[But] there [were] days when I felt like, ‘No, I just don’t have the energy to debate this today.’” She felt it was necessary to “always have to have the facts, make sure to back up everything.”

“That’s why I went into education after my undergrad,” she explained. “Even with so much reconciliation in the schools, often I find that our Elders and students are used as tokens, symbols.

“That’s why I’m planning to go in to do my PhD in education leadership and policy because I really want to be a part of that change. So, me, in this role, building those relationships… with faculty [and] students, that is sort of prepping myself for my PhD. This here is a stepping stone where I can actually have more influence over change.”

Issues on campus

I’m curious about how Juanita feels about land acknowledgment.

“Well, I think when it comes to acknowledging the land, a lot of people are not from here, so I think before we can acknowledge, we should let them know where they are and some of the history behind that, but we don’t do any of that,” she said. “The idea of acknowledging the land out of respect for the Indigenous people who have been here before us is nice, but at the same time, it’s often undervalued.”

“[If a land acknowledgment] is a script that people are told they have to read and they’re just ticking off that box, there’s no value in it.”

The importance of understanding why we do something and what’s behind it was another recurring theme during our talk. Juanita brought up different traditions of knowledge, and the value gaps between them. She talked about the school system in an Indigenous community in the north, where she worked before coming to UTSC. “More than half of their programming is on the land. So, they’re not just following the Ontario curriculum. They’re actually also learning from their Elders… and members of the community, and that took up a large chunk of their learning.” This included learning about medicines and trapping and how to harvest foods.

“This is learning,” Juanita explained, “but it’s just not valued in our education system.”

Then, “when they finish grade eight, a lot of these students still have to leave their communities… [and] everything they’re familiar with.” Moreover, Juanita describes how these students are also disadvantaged because during their primary school years, they have had less access to support and special education, as compared to other students in Ontario.

I asked Juanita what it was like to come to UTSC. “I see there’s a lot of opportunities here at this campus because this campus is still fairly young and there’s room to grow.”

Still, she’s anxious to see improvements for the Indigenous community on campus. Her main concern at this point is the lack of space for the UTSC Indigenous Elder, Wendy Phillips. Juanita is told that change takes time, but she feels that finding an office space for the campus Elder is something that should be fairly simple.

She’s also committed to building relationships with faculty and staff. She thinks it’s necessary that people in leadership roles show their commitment to reconciliation. “We have all these events and we have pretty much the same leadership that comes to events. If you’re really on board with this change, come and see where our needs are, speak with the Indigenous students.”

Again, Juanita is concerned with the meaning behind the words. Just like reading a land acknowledgment for the sake of ticking off a box, the same goes for the engagement with reconciliation and the presence of an Indigenous Elder on campus. “It’s great that [our programming is] making people come together and connect and learn and have those conversations that need to happen. But we still don’t have a space [for Wendy].”

Juanita’s concern with a space for the Indigenous Elder is also about having safe spaces for Indigenous students. “That’s what I’m fighting [for]. Hopefully by next year, we’ll have something in place. They keep saying [that] in two years we’re going to have a First Nations House here, on this campus. We can’t wait two years. It’s not fair to our students that are here now. Everybody deserves to have a space.”

“A lot of people don’t understand the value behind having a space, why creating a safe space for Indigenous students and non-Indigenous students to meet with an Elder, or for our feast. We feast to celebrate the seasons. We just don’t have that space to celebrate the feast.”

Looking to the future

Despite her concerns about a space for the campus Elder, Juanita is very enthusiastic about her job. “When I heard about this position in the south, I just jumped on it.”

“I really love every day,” she said. “I have a wonderful team that’s supportive… I love connecting with the students, building relationships with faculty and staff… I’m not really in the position to bring about a lot of change but I know that I am having an influence on a lot of people and so I feel good about that.”

“That’s another thing about our culture. Everybody has gifts and it’s just about nurturing those gifts that everybody has and to be able to share. It’s all about sharing,” Juanita said.

“Everyone can create their own bundles and be able to bring that in their life journey wherever they go.”

Success from challenges: lessons from dragon boat

An in-depth look at UTSC’s Crimson Tide dragon boat team

Success from challenges: lessons from dragon boat

Sweat. Maybe some blood. Maybe some tears.

Dragon boat athletes know that it’s a mental workout, as much as it is a physical one. Overcoming challenges “fortifies your mind,” says Rome Rehman, a third-year student at UTSC and a paddler on UTSC’s Crimson Tide dragon boat team.

Last season, the team won one silver and one bronze medal at the Toronto International Dragon Boat Race Festival, but medals aren’t the only fruits of their labour. The work put into this sport prepares athletes for life.

What is it about dragon boat that equips athletes with life skills? What can we learn from them?

The stakes

There are 22 people on the boat: 10 paddling on each side, one drummer in the front, and a steersperson in the back.

In dragon boat, everyone rows in sync, which means that the weakest link sets the pace for the rest of the team, says Rehman.

“You have to stay on top of your stuff to help the team move up instead of even maintaining where you are or even bringing the team down.”

On her first cold morning practice, Rehman described her surprise at having to row a 2,000-metre race in the rough wind and rain.

“I’d never done a 2k anything before,” she laughs.

Aware of the several times that she had stopped, and her small frame and lousy technique, she thought about quitting during those first few practices. “I was mostly just scared that it was going to be tough or that I’d make a fool of myself and end up letting people down.”

The team

In this sport, there are 21 people who are literally in the same boat as you.

“The team is your support and it’s like a mental game,” she says.

Rehman learned that in moments when panic sets in and you’re feeling disappointed by your performance, the best thing to do is to talk to other people.

You may be afraid of letting them down but “that’s when [your teammates] talk you through it and that’s when you keep pushing through, keep working hard.”

Rehman describes her team as friends who became like family. There’s an organic vision of how each team member contributes to the team’s success, and how the team supports the development of each athlete.

Rehman explains that while she’s come to appreciate how the team understands when you miss practices for school, she gets her academic responsibilities and work done well beforehand so that she can be a strong participating member at team practices.

There’s also “something about suffering together but then still achieving your goal at the end,” she says.

“Dragon boat is a cult,” Terrence Yu, coach of UTSC’s dragon boat team, jokes. “Once you become involved, it’s easy to stick around because your friends are all in it.”

The lifestyle

Students appointed by Yu make up the executive team, or the “core.” They’re in charge of leading workout sessions throughout the week and nurturing the winning mentality.

This includes identifying individual-specific goals to improve, especially when you’re having a tough time.

After stopping during the 2k rowing, Rehman recalls Yu telling her, “As long as you get one per cent better next practice.”

By focusing on and implementing each specific piece of advice to improve her rowing technique, she would get through. “You’ll work on hinging more or going forward, or work on shifting your weight out, work on pulling the water through, or something like that. Each time you get one per cent better, so over time you get through it.”

“It’s all within your own ability to prevent that from happening again,” says Yu. “That’s where the self-development comes along.”

In fact, rather than letting the negatives bring you down, Yu describes the challenges themselves as part of the positives. You build upon your strengths.

“That’s the great thing about sport itself,” says Yu. Compared to the long haul of school, it’s putting you in scenarios where you are constantly challenged and constantly receiving results.

Once you have your breakthrough moment, whether it is accomplishing a personal fitness goal in the gym or winning a race with the team in the water, overcoming athletic hurdles gives you the confidence to take on difficulties at school and in the workforce.

“That’s one thing that I know,” says Rehman, “I have this experience now in my arsenal that I know if I push through I can get through.”

Yu encourages students to think of how to use dragon boat opportunities to fuel their personal development.

“At the end of the day, we just want people who are like-minded in making themselves a better person and hopefully improving their fitness and having a great time as a group,” says Yu.

If you think you could use a vehicle to bond and get along with others, to develop leadership skills, and become mentally and physically stronger, try dragon boat.

If it’s not for you, simply take it as a metaphor for overcoming any of life’s challenges.

Keep rowing.

Keep growing.

From scraps to plastic

Luna Yu founded Genecis to repurpose food waste into products

From scraps to plastic

In 2016, Luna Yu started Genecis Bioindustries with a team of like-minded individuals, including U of T students and graduates. Genecis uses food waste to make high-quality products using a multi-step process.

The company uses polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) — products of bacterial fermentation — from waste to create useful materials. The process uses a bacterial culture to break down food waste into fatty acids, which are then induced to another bacterial culture to produce PHAs in their cells. The cells from the bacterial culture are then lysed to collect the plastic. 

The plastic created from this process can then be used in flexible packaging, compostable coffee pods, and 3D printing filaments, to name a few. 

Yu first realized the potential of food waste after completing her studies at UTSC in Environmental Science.

“What appealed the most to me was the ability to integrate advancements in artificial intelligence, big data, automation, and genetic engineering together to build the platform for the next generation of industrial chemical manufacturing,” writes Yu in an email.

At first, Genecis aimed to repurpose and sell processed food waste  from local restaurants that companies could use to make into biodegradable plastics, biofuels, and pharmaceuticals. 

A year later, Yu and her team won second prize in the early-stage category of the RBC Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. But that accolade wasn’t the end of their growth.

Genecis continues to grow for the better, following months of market research and planning. 

Yu says that it was the discussion with professors, PhD students, and her potential customer base that led them to redefine Genecis’ operations.

“[The ensuing market research] has led us to also change our business model to be one of technology licensing and production distribution, dramatically reducing our own capital expansion costs.”

Genecis uses organic waste and reprograms microorganisms to “buy low, sell high.”

Yu also stresses the importance of corporate partnerships, be it for business development, scale-up, research and development, or commercialization.

In the last two years, Genecis has amassed 15 partners, which include waste processing companies and manufactured bioplastics buyers. Many of these partners are also locally based firms.

With a team comprised of award-winning scientists and engineers experienced in biotechnology and programming brought together by a common goal and a bit of serendipity, Yu has big dreams for her company in the next five to 10 years.

The company is in the process of developing synthetic biology platforms to reprogram bacteria to produce the highest quality product. 

“We aim to grow into the Industry Leader for Industrial Chemical/Materials Production using our Synthetic Biology platform. Our main value proposition is to make chemicals [or] materials currently too expensive [or] difficult to produce traditionally more economical,” writes Yu.

Yu advises aspiring entrepreneurs to “move fast, be firm in objective but flexible on details, and never give up.”