Thursday, June 10, 2021

    Brandon Sweet
    University Communications

    Research Talks presents A Year of COVID-19: Teaching and Learning

    Research Talks logo.

    The final installment of the A Year of COVID-19 series is planned for Thursday, June 17 from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. 

    Please the visit the A Year of COVID-19 page to register for a link to this online event.

    The four ResearchTalks panellists.

    With a focus on teaching and learning, the panel session features:

    • Clare Bermingham, Director of the Writing and Communication Centre, University of Waterloo (Access and Affect: Virtually supporting student writers and speakers during COVID-19)
    • Rollen D’Souza, PhD student, Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Waterloo (Lessons learned from designing an engaging remote lab in the applied sciences)
    • Travis Ratnam, Co-founder and CEO, Knowledgehook Inc. (Knowledgehook’s Agrarian Office – The future of remote workplaces and K-12 teacher communities)
    • Diana Skrzydlo, Continuing Lecturer, Statistics and Actuarial Science, University of Waterloo (Beyond the pandemic: A breadth of meaningful assessments)

    The Q&A discussion will be moderated by David DeVidi, Associate Vice-President, Academic.

    Ontario enters Step One of reopening plan tomorrow

    Students in Environment 3 wear masks.

    Just after the stroke of midnight tonight, the province of Ontario take its first step towards reopening after it applied an 'emergency brake' on April 3, 2021 that resulted in a provincial shutdown and stay-at-home order.

    At 12:01 a.m. Friday, Ontario will officially enter Step One of its three-step reopening plan.

    A memo from Director of Safety Kate Windsor outlines the immediate changes that will be felt on campus during Step One, and also what won't be changing for the time being.

    The long and the short of it is that most restrictions currently in place on campus will continue until Step Two begins:

    • In-person course activity continues to be limited to that which has been offered thus far in spring Term (subject matter or instruction that requires in-person teaching such as clinical or hands on training with a limit of 10 students, and some exemptions in health care disciplines).
    • There will be no changes to current restrictions on research activities.
    • Those working remotely must continue to do so, unless the nature of your work requires you to be on-site. Please continue to follow all University safety protocols and only attend campus for approved activities.

    However, there will be some changes going into effect shortly, including:

    • Food Services will open the Bomber patio for use on Friday, June 11, 2021 during Tim Hortons operating hours only (Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., seating for 1 person per table only);
    • Athletics and Recreation will open outdoor programming at Columbia Ice Fields with restrictions (indoor facilities remain closed).
    • The reopening of The W Store | Gifts + Apparel in South Campus Hall on Monday, June 14, 2021 with modified hours (Monday – Friday, 12:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.). Capacity is limited to 15 per cent (or 6 people at a time), with controlled entry through north doors and exit through south doors. W Store | Course Materials + Supplies remains closed until further notice.

    "Step One restrictions will remain in place for a minimum of 21 days," Windsor writes. "Once more information is provided by the province, including any updates or a confirmation of Step Two start date, we will share further information with our campus community."

    "Remember that help is available if you need it. We appreciate your ongoing patience and support in following current restrictions and creating a safe campus community," Windsor's memo concludes.

    Velocity Incubator wants to help founders maximize their impact

    Velocity applications are now open banner image.

    A message from Velocity.

    Velocity encourages all students, faculty, postdocs, and alumni with a startup idea to apply to join the Incubator.

    Current Velocity companies are working on a wide variety of deeptech applications, with developments in clinical stage biotech, cultivated meat, graphene-based dehumidification membranes, zero-trust networking without a client, and pilotless delivery airlines. Velocity is equally keen to support software companies, which in the past have included Faire, ApplyBoard, and Vidyard. Regardless of your area of expertise, if you have a great idea, you have a shot at joining Velocity.

    Velocity is one of the strongest pre-seed (early-stage) incubators in North America, and its companies not only survived but thrived throughout the pandemic. Over the last 15 months:

    • Velocity invested $950,000 in 14 early-stage companies with >90% of the companies successfully raising follow-on funding from other institutional investors after Velocity’s initial investment. 
    • A large number of Velocity companies, both current and alumni, received funding from Tier 1 venture capital groups, such as Sequoia Capital, Founders Fund, Khosla Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, DCVC, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Index Ventures, Mayfield Fund, 2048, OS Fund, Fifty Years Fund, Y-Combinator, IndieBio, and Garage Capital. Receiving funding from top tier investors significantly increases the chances a company will continue to grow rapidly and have a lasting positive impact on the economy.
    • 4 companies incubated at Velocity were accepted into Y-Combinator, the world’s most competitive Seed stage accelerator.
    • 2 of the 24 Thiel Fellowship 2021 grants were awarded to founders currently incubated at Velocity. The Thiel Fellowship program awards $100,000 grants to exceptional young entrepreneurs, and it was founded in 2011 by famous technology entrepreneur and billionaire Peter Thiel who co-founded PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook.
    • Current companies and alumni have received preferential non-dilutive funding opportunities from various government programs.

    Whether you have a specific opportunity in mind, or you are looking to chat about the feasibility of an early idea, we encourage you to reach out at

    Apply to join the Incubator today.

    Modeling the mysteries of the universe, closer to home

    A map of the world with COVID virus particles hovering over it.

    By Elizabeth Kliesath. This article originally appeared on Waterloo News.

    At first glance, astrophysics may not seem to have much in common with tracking and predicting the spread of a global virus. But to Professor Niayesh Afshordi, the link was clear – even early last year as our collective reaction to COVID-19 played out in real time.

    Professor Niayesh Afshordi.As with modeling the dark matter behaviour in the Universe, modeling the spread of COVID-19 requires identifying invisible drivers and interpreting the changing variables that our universe throws at us, in the face of uncertainty.

    Before the pandemic, Afshordi, a professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo had plans to start a project with a colleague, Professor Ben Holder from Grand Valley State University, who had just come to Waterloo to spend a sabbatical with Afshordi.

    Holder, an expert in modeling within-host virus dynamics, had been planning to transition his work towards black holes. Instead of tackling the mysteries of space-time, however, the pair ended up taking on the mysteries of COVID-19.

    “We were eagerly awaiting the data coming out of black hole collisions, and yet what we kept seeing was the deluge of data on exponential growth of epidemic across the world,” said Afshordi. “There were clearly patterns, but the geographic and demographic dynamics that drove these patterns was a mystery that was just too hard to ignore.”

    In an effort to understand the changes happening around them, Afshordi and Holder started studying how population distribution contributed to the growth rate during the early epidemic. This project quickly expanded into a multi-disciplinary project as it caught the attention of other collaborators, including two expert data scientists from Wolfram Research Institute, Waterloo philosophy professor Steve Weinstein and a former PhD student of Afshordi’s, Elizabeth Gould (MSc ‘11, PhD ‘18).

    The interdisciplinary team went on to develop a sophisticated COVID-19 model that uses not only population distribution, but also age, average household density, regional epidemic history, weather, social mobility in workplaces, mask usage, and the level of vaccination in an area.

    Recruiting coop students Shafika Olalekan Koiki, a 2nd year physics and astronomy student, and Jolene Zheng, a 3rd year computer science student, the team was able to create an online portal for interacting with the data and model.

    The MyLocalCovid portal lets anyone select a specific region in Canada, or county in the United States, and then see how changes in people’s activities affect the local model projections. Users can specify different percentages of face mask usage (as measured by Google searches for facemasks), the amount of social mobility in the region (how close to a total lockdown or normal activity), as well as the percentage of people getting a vaccine each week, to see how these factors all influence future COVID mortality in the region.

    A projection of possible COVID-19 mortality in Toronto, if social mobility returns to pre-pandemic levels in October 2021

    A projection of possible COVID-19 mortality in Toronto, if social mobility returns to pre-pandemic levels in October 2021

    "I didn’t anticipate a coop position quite like this one for my first work term but it was definitely an intriguing experience. It opened my eyes and showed me the similarities between solving the mysteries of the universe and pandemic modeling,” said Olalekan Koiki. “Working on this dashboard has been a learning experience but it has also been quite fulfilling knowing that you’re working towards an important issue that will hopefully benefit many people.”

    The preliminary results of this research (from Summer 2020) are available as a preprint and are being published in the proceedings of “Fields Institute Seminar on Mathematical Modelling of COVID-19”, while a more comprehensive publication is forthcoming. The MyLocalCOVID portal is being kept up to date as new prevention strategies are adopted and new infection drivers are identified.

    Link of the day

    World Art Nouveau Day

    When and Where to get support

    Students can visit the Student Success Office online for supports including academic development, international student resources, leadership development, exchange and study abroad, and opportunities to get involved.

    Instructors can visit the Keep Learning website to get support on adapting their teaching and learning plans for an online environment.

    Course templates are available within your course in LEARN to help you build and edit your content and assignment pages quickly.

    The following workshops, webinars, and events are offered by the KL team (CTE, CEL, ITMS, LIB):

    Employees can access resources to help them work remotely, including managing University records and privacy of personal information. Here are some tips for staying healthy while working from home.

    Stay informed about COVID cases on campus by consulting the COVID case tracker.

    The Writing and Communication Centre has virtual services and programs to help undergrads, grad students, postdocs and faculty members with academic writing.

    Co-op students can get help finding a job and find supports to successfully work remotely, develop new skills, access wellness and career information, and contact a co-op or career advisor.

    The Centre for Career Action assists undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, staff, faculty, and alumni through navigating career services that are right for them. You can attend a one-on-one appointment or same day drop-in session at the CCA for assistance with cover letter writing, career planning and much more. You can also book an appointment online or visit our Live Chat to connect with our Client Support Team. The CCA is here to help you.

    If you feel overwhelmed or anxious and need to talk to somebody, please contact the University’s Campus Wellness services, either Health Services or  Counselling Services. You can also contact the University's Centre for Mental Health Research and TreatmentGood2Talk is a post-secondary student helpline available to all students.

    The Library has published a resource guide on how to avoid information overload.

    The Faculty Association of the University of Waterloo (FAUW) continues to advocate for its members. Check out the FAUW blog for more information.

    The University of Waterloo Staff Association (UWSA) continues to advocate for its members. Check out the UWSA blog for more information.

    The Indigenous Initiatives Office is a central hub that provides guidance, support, and resources to all Indigenous and non-Indigenous campus community members and oversees the university Indigenization strategy.

    The Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre, based at St. Paul’s University College, provides support and resources for Indigenous students, and educational outreach programs for the broader community, including lectures, and events.

    WUSA supports for students:

    Peer support  - MATES, Glow Centre, RAISE, Women’s Centre - Visit to book an appointment

    Bike Centre – Open via Appointments and Rentals

    Campus Response Team, ICSN, Off Campus Community and Co-op Connection all available online. Check for more details.

    Food Support Service food hampers are currently available from the Turnkey Desk on weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. in the Student Life Centre. If you have any questions please email us at

    Centre for Academic Policy Support - CAPS is here to assist Waterloo undergraduates throughout their experience in navigating academic policy in the instances of filing petitions, grievances and appeals. Please contact them at caps@wusa.caMore information is available.

    WUSA Commissioners who can help in a variety of areas that students may be experiencing during this time:

    WUSA Student Legal Protection Program - Seeking legal counsel can be intimidating, especially if it’s your first time facing a legal issue. The legal assistance helpline provides quick access to legal advice in any area of law, including criminal. Just call 1-833-202-4571

    Empower Me is a confidential mental health and wellness service that connects students with qualified counsellors 24/7. They can be reached at 1-833-628-5589.

    When and Where (but mostly when)

    Healthy Warriors at Home (Online Fitness)

    Drop-in to Warrior Virtual Study Halls on Wednesdays from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Come together in this virtual space to set goals and work independently or in groups each week.

    Renison English Language Institute continues to offer virtual events and workshops to help students practice their English language skills.

    Warriors vs. Laurier Blood Donation Battle. Join your fellow Warriors, donate blood and help us win the Blood Battle against Laurier for a second year in a row. Set up a profile or add the PFL code: UNIV960995 to your account if you have a account already. Questions? Contact

    Bike Month, Tuesday, June 1 to Wednesday, June 30.

    International Conference on Games and Narrative, Friday, June 11 to Wednesday, June 16.

    NEW - IT Seminar: MS Teams Update & Social Intents, Friday, June 11, 9:00 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. Join online.

    Lectures in Catholic Experience presents No Power Higher: 12-step Recovery without God, Friday, June 11, 7:30 p.m. featuring Zachary Munro, doctoral candidate, University of Waterloo / Researcher for Non-religion in a Complex Future.

    NEW - President's Town Hall meeting, Tuesday, June 15, 11:00 a.m.

    Concept Intro Session:  Design Thinking, Tuesday, June 15, 5:30 p.m., virtual event.

    NEW - Portfolio & Project Management Community of Practice (PPM CoP) session, "Integrating EDI with Stakeholder Management in Projects," Wednesday, June 16, 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Register for this event.

    NEW - A Year of COVID-19: Teaching and Learning, the final event in a three-part series, Thursday, June 17, 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Please register to receive a link to this online event.

    NEW - University Senate Meeting, Monday, June 21, 3:30 p.m.

    NEW - Social Justice Wednesdays - Virtual Talk with Dr. Kim Hong Nguyen, “Mean Girl Feminism: White Feminist Outrage and Salvation”, Wednesday, June 23, 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m