Creating bonds between York's diverse scientific community through Alumni Networks

As is so often the case, our students develop strong connections to York University during their tenure on campus. Whether their York experience was defined by an academic mentor, a favourite subject or their fellow students, it is important that these relationships are allowed to carry forward far beyond the convocation stage.

Thanks to the work of groups like the York University Science Alumni Network (YUSAN) and York’s growing Alumni Networks program, these connections are turning into long-lasting ways for grads to continue their relationship with the University community and make an impact on the next generation of students.

We recently sat down with Sue McCall, one of YUSAN’s Executive members and President and Founder of Stellar Optics Research International Corporation (SORIC) to discuss how the Network came to be and how the Alumni Networks program has helped them build an engaged community of York science alumni.

When did your network start? Why did you choose to start a network?

YUSAN01Since it began, York University has granted tens of thousands of degrees in science across five Faculties and from within thirty-six programs. The Faculty of Science alone has 13,000 alumni living and working in nearly 165 countries. And distance wasn’t the only barrier – in 2015, there were multiple alumni groups formed by volunteers, but no specific Alumni Network that represented the general subject of science - where scientists could gather and network!

To combat these obstacles, the founding executive started YUSAN in 2015 with a vision of bringing together these graduates with degrees in science (and science-related fields) to connect, network and to enhance the profile of York University’s Faculty of Science. It couldn’t have come at a better time either – our Network was ratified during the 50th Anniversary of Science at York University celebration, making it the perfect way to continue our legacy and cement our impact with York’s long-established and constantly growing community of science alumni (and enthusiasts).

I am privileged to serve alongside my fellow founding executive members, Julie Tome of the Royal Ontario Museum and Brigette Hesman of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Maryland. In this past year, we were also pleased to welcome three more YUSAN executive members to our team: entrepreneur and kinesiology grad Lilian Ayisi, math grad Mohamed Jama and biology grad Robert Jenensch.

Can you tell us about your history and the work that you have done?

YUSAN14Being such a young Alumni Network, YUSAN’s history is noticeably humble – but despite this, we are a mighty and passionate group. We’ve already seen significant growth in our membership as well as the programming and support we offer them.

Not only have we exceeded our own expectations by building a community of more than 300 alumni, but we’ve also established a significant and global online presence across Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, with followers from here in Toronto and around the world in places such as the US, Poland, Jordan and China. Our membership have jobs in fields as diverse as biology, kinesiology, physics, chemistry, environmental studies, geography, earth science, biomedical sciences, space science, math, statistics, space engineering and commerce.

With this in mind, we’ve proudly been able to offer a number of services that keep this diverse community engaged with each other, with their education and with the University as a whole. This includes annual events, networking and mentoring opportunities and career resources. Through our various channels and the support of York’s Office of Alumni Engagement, YUSAN has given grads access to the best of the alumni experience, including the TASTE Mentoring Program, Career Conversations Panels, the Alumni Matters enewsletter and our own career portal through LinkedIn, which allows those either looking for work or wanting to hire to make meaningful contact through the YUSAN membership.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

YUSAN10Our greatest accomplishments so far are twofold. First is our annual meetings, which have both been graciously hosted in the Paul Delaney Lounge at Bethune College and which together have been attended by more than seventy science alumni. Our two free formal meeting events, which also featured dinner and prize raffles, provided these alumni with the chance to network and build important connections between themselves and important members of the scientific community at York and beyond.

We’ve also been privileged to host leaders from across the University and have them engage with our membership at these events. Our first meeting was attended by Dean of Science, Ray Jayawardhana, and the Master of Bethune College, John Amanatides, who shared their ideas for how science Alumni can interact with York University beyond Convocation, while our second meeting featured an interactive demonstration of LIGO’s gravity wave detection technology and a corresponding Q&A session by York U astronomers Marshall McCall and George Conidis.

Above all, these events brought together people from a wide range of scientific disciplines and stations in life into one room, in a relaxed atmosphere, to converse and get to know each other. Age or experience are not barriers either – we happily welcomed current York undergraduate and graduate students to the event so they might interact with alumni and find connections that could mentor them in finding their dream science job.

IMG_0220Our Network is very grateful to Bethune College for all their past, present and continuing support. Bethune College Master John Amanatides and Suzanne Park kindly welcomed our meetings to the Paul Delaney Lounge, meetings which we could not yet afford to hold off campus, and they gave financial assistance for our inaugural dinner. These meetings would not be possible without their support.

Second, YUSAN played a major role in helping a science faculty member, his wife and two small children deal with an unexpected tragedy when their apartment burnt down when they were on holiday and they lost all their possessions, including six beloved pets. As they weren’t insured for losses, YUSAN worked alongside the University of Toronto to spread the word and raise money across social media and on campus. In total, more than 300 volunteers raised over $14,724 on the TILT campaign and even helped the family to move into their new residence. It was great to see YUSAN play a major role in bringing people together to help people out in their time of need.

What do you think your impact has been?

YUSAN is successfully building connections among York alumni who are passionate about science, who are eager to participate in the Network’s alumni community and who want to give back to the future and vision of the University. It’s a forum for people to form relationships, network, gain insight, form friendships and voice opinions with like-minded people from around the world.

By connecting our diverse membership, with their broad range of professional experiences and career paths, we are opening their minds to the limitless possibilities that exist when you graduate from York with a scientific education. People are starting to become aware that a science degree doesn’t necessarily mean working in a lab – it’s important to promote the fact that we have members working in everything from research to business to marketing and beyond.

We’ve also happily seen YUSAN become a more purposeful and personal conduit between the University and its alumni than is often expected from a large postsecondary institution. The Network bridges the gap between grads and their alma mater and, as a result, these alumni are more likely and more willing to give back, whether in the form of financial contributions or as mentors for current students seeking out advice.

And the best way to demonstrate YUSAN’s impact is to hear directly from the source. “YUSAN provides an excellent platform for York science graduates to network with fellow colleagues and stay informed of current scientific topics,” shared Robert Jenensch, a YUSAN member and volunteer who agreed to be the Network’s newest Executive member. “YUSAN can help to facilitate connections between science industry recruiters and graduates and help people to pursue all of the amazing prospects, some apparent and some not so obvious, that sit before a York science alum.”

What do you hope your impact is moving forward?

YUSAN02YUSAN is committed to not only continuing the impact we’ve had so far, but also amplifying it. We want to still provide an excellent platform for York science graduates to network with colleagues and stay informed of current scientific topics. This includes raising awareness of science across campus while raising the profile of all our outstanding York science alumni are doing off campus, across the country and around the world.

As we facilitate connections between all members of the York science community and beyond, including academics, industry leaders and recruiters, we also hope to find new and engaging ways of connecting graduates with career opportunities, internships, and summer jobs, and connecting employers with our talented alumni.

With the recent launch of Impact: The Campaign for York University, we also want our membership to understand the important role they play in York’s future and how their support, no matter the method or size, can help impact the study and pursuit of scientific research and education to future generations of students. We know how passionate YUSAN members are about the University, so by communicating with them about the needs of the Faculty of Science, I have no doubt that they’ll be clamoring to show their support however possible.

Above all though, we want to have fun!

What are some of the activities being planned for 2016?

There are plenty of exciting things planned for YUSAN in the coming year.  With an expanded web presence now live on the Bethune College alumni website, and a number of channels spread across various platforms, we’ve started plans for a dedicated YUSAN website, which will not only allow us to consolidate our communications to members, but also allow us draw in new members and volunteers to our community. As well, this year’s Spring Convocation will be the first time we’ve taken part in welcoming graduating students to the alumni family.

What are your goals? Where do you see YUSAN going in the future?

YUSAN16Though the YUSAN Executive may have an idea in mind of future direction, we also recognize how important it is to give our membership a voice in our vision – this is why, at our first two meetings, we asked YUSAN members this very question. The overwhelming consensus was that people want to connect, in person, in informal settings to get to know and learn from each other in a relaxed atmosphere.

There was desire to expand the subject matter of these meetings to include such areas as the environment, public service, careers in science, interactive research exhibits and even science movie meet-ups. As well, members expressed their yearning for varying formats to accommodate the diverse needs of the community and way in which they engage, including round-table discussions, laboratory demonstrations or even informal lunch and dinner meetings.

While YUSAN can’t satisfy all these needs with any one meeting, we feel that we will be able to plan, organize and execute a variety of meeting formats in the future to address many of them, sometimes achieving multiple objectives at the same time.

ALUMNI NETWORKS

With a growing community of 295,000+ grads around the world, we know how difficult it can be to stay connected to York after graduation. That’s where our alumni networks program comes in! No matter where you’re located, alumni networks are a great way of getting involved with York and tapping into our vast community.

Alumni networks provide many valuable experiences for grads – they offer you a chance to develop a career path, to build relationships with fellow alumni and to create opportunities for future involvement with York and the broader community. Networks and their leadership play an important role as ambassadors for the University – they are an essential part of successful awareness campaigns, advocacy programs and student recruitment.

For more information about how to join an existing alumni network like MYPAC or start your own, visit alumniandfriends.yorku.ca/networks.

What are the benefits of being part of a network?

We believe YUSAN fills a niche in the York University community that has been missing for sometime. It provides an opportunity for graduates and current students to come together in a unique opportunity for networking, support and fun.

As graduates, we fondly remember our days at York University because the science departments provided a warm and welcoming environment that encouraged us to reach for our dreams while providing us the very best academic base we could have hoped for. There are many of us who want to give back, but just don’t know how to ensure their funds and efforts go to supporting science at York.

In addition, we want to find ways to give prospective students a glimpse of what York University science produces because of its unique ability to deliver academic excellence in a caring and inclusive environment. Our graduates are proud to be York alumni and now they have a venue to give back to the University they cherish and provide for future generations.

How can alumni contact you if they are interested in joining?

The YUSAN Executive is always happy to welcome all interested volunteers – membership is free to anyone who graduated from York University and there are plenty of ways for alumni to get involved with the Network. Besides connecting job seekers, employers and volunteers, a larger community helps to enhance the profile of science at York University for years to come.

Join our community and connect with us online through one of the channels below:

TWITTER:                     @YorkSciAlum

LINKEDIN:                    “York University Science Alumni Network (YUSAN)”

EMAIL:                         yusan@yorku.ca

FACEBOOK:                 "York University Science Alumni Network"

WEBSITE:                    www.yusan.ca