Celebrating Women in Mathematics Day
Maliha Ahmed’s passion for math was sparked by her eighth-grade teacher, Miss Crawford. “She was so enthusiastic about the subject and helped us see that math can be made fun—that it wasn't just paper and pen kind of work,” says Ahmed.
Now a PhD candidate in Applied Mathematics, Ahmed uses mathematical models to better understand the role of hormones in the resolution of seizures. Yet, like so many women in the male-dominated field, her academic path hasn’t always been easy.
“The most challenging part about being a woman in math is just this feeling of intimidation due to the lack of other women around me,” says Ahmed. “I have seen my female colleagues and friends being told at times, ‘I think you should let this be. Maybe try something else.’ And that is extremely discouraging.”
Fortunately, Ahmed has found a supportive community of mathematicians of under-represented genders at Waterloo. She discovered this community partly through participating in events hosted by Women in Mathematics (WiM) and Women in Computer Science (WiCS), on-campus groups in part funded by the Waterloo Women’s Impact Network (WWIN) that seek to promote gender equity by advocating for and supporting women, trans, gender-fluid, gender-queer, and non-binary students.
“It has been extremely valuable to see the trajectory of so many amazing women and their achievements,” says Ahmed. “Being able to learn from what they have gone through in the past and how they overcame the challenges they have faced helps me do the same.”
On Women in Mathematics Day, celebrated each year on May 12, Ahmed says she will be thinking about these women and the many others, like Miss Crawford, who inspired her journey in math.
Honouring female trailblazers, acknowledging continuing challenges
Women in Mathematics Day was founded in 2019 in honour of Iranian-American mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani. Mirzakhani was the first Iranian and first woman to win the Fields Medal, the most prestigious award in mathematics. Tragically, she died of cancer in 2017.
Ghazal Geshnizjani, Chair of WiM and Associate Professor in the Department of Applied Mathematics, knew Mirzakhani as a high school student in Iran, where they competed against each other in national mathematical and computer science olympiads. The two attended Sharif University of Technology in Tehran for their undergraduate studies and were among the very few Iranian students of their generation that, despite all the political challenges, made it to the United States for their graduate studies in mathematical and physical sciences.
“She was the most committed, devoted, math-loving person among us,” says Geshnizjani. “I always felt she was one of the most inspiring people of our generation.”
While women, like Mirzakhani, who achieve outstanding success in math are cause for celebration, Geshnizjani says that we must also be clear-sighted about the steep challenges that remain for women in the field.
“We celebrate the women who came before us and, despite all the challenges, became great mathematicians and paved the way for us,” says Geshnizjani. “But we also recall those who didn’t finish the journey and never got a chance to get into mathematics despite their potential talents or interest.”
Faculty of Mathematics Dean Mark Giesbrecht agrees, citing the importance of celebrating progress while also reaffirming the Faculty’s commitment to further action to achieve gender equity.
“It's incredibly important that our student body and our professorial body look like the society in which we live, so that we have participation for people from all backgrounds and genders in the university and research experience,” says Giesbrecht.
WWIN-ing: Celebrating Two Years of Impact
WWIN was launched in 2020 on the second anniversary of Women in Mathematics Day. The aim was to build on the work of WiM and WiCS in promoting gender equity in the Faculty by engaging the University’s external community of alumni, friends, and partners.
Over its first two years, WWIN has connected thousands of women and male allies in virtual webinars with themes such as women in entrepreneurship, workplace sustainability and the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The organization has also raised money to fund programming and scholarships in support of female students and researchers in the Faculty of Mathematics. To date, 77 donors have made 150 gifts for a total of $41,378.
A recent Waterloo alumnus in the Mathematics/Teaching co-op program, Yuqian Wang (BMath ’21) says WWIN events allowed her “to meet other alumni and learn what they done with their careers.” “These women cleared a path for successors like myself to follow and now we can create more pathways for our younger students,” says Wang.
Computer science student Clara Xi credits WWIN events for helping female students build a support network. “I think it’s so important to have female mentorship especially as you try to navigate the world after graduation,” says Xi.
Join WWIN and empower the next generation of women mathematicians.
Centre for Career Action revamps hiring practices to support diversity
By Namish Modi and Krista Henry. This article was originally published on the Associate Provost, Co-operative and Experiential Education website.
Over the past year and a half, the Centre for Career Action (CCA) has been working towards becoming an equity-informed career centre. From overhauling its hiring practices to setting new equity, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism (EDI-AR) resource development goals, the team is continuing to learn through this process.
CCA, a unit within the University’s Co-operative and Experiential Education (CEE) department, works with Waterloo undergraduate and graduate students as well as alumni, employees, and post-doctoral fellows. The Centre is committed to being relevant and valuable to all members of the University of Waterloo community. To do this well, the team recognizes that they continually need to examine and explore what services they offer, how they are offered and who offers them.
“In CCA, our career advisors support people who are seeking to find employment and educational opportunities,” says Jennifer Woodside, director of CCA. “Within that, there are individuals who identify with marginalized groups that disproportionately face exclusionary practices within employment and higher education admissions contexts.”
For example, racialized students may struggle with fear and uncertainty around how to navigate interviews in white-dominated workplaces. The department educates and supports clients as they navigate these educational and employment structures that are typically rooted in biases.
“We need to design accessible resources and be able to support our clients through diverse situations and provide layers of support,” says Katie Schafer, manager of career education and post-graduate services in CCA.
CCA's equitable hiring practices
For CCA, a major first step to meet their EDI-AR goals started with updating hiring practices to be more inclusive. Some of the team members involved had previously learned about trauma-informed service systems. With that background, CCA applied a trauma-informed lens to their recruitment practices. The revamp involved a significant amount of learning, challenging assumptions, and reflection — all aimed at identifying and uprooting practices and processes that put people with different lived experiences at a disadvantage.
Next came the implementation and testing of new hiring practices which included:
- Overhauling job descriptions - Overhauling job descriptions can help eliminate any unnecessary qualification or credential requirements. CCA updated job listings with more descriptive language to better capture the skills, capabilities and values that will help successful candidates to perform well in the role.
- Posting jobs on more platforms - Posting on a variety of job-seeking platforms ensures that more diverse communities can access the job listing. CCA found that doing so piqued the interest of candidates who may not have otherwise considered applying to the University.
- Diversifying the interview panel - Including members of underrepresented groups in the interview process brings a diversity of lenses to hiring decisions. CCA has sought to create hiring committees that include a diversity of lived experiences and to compensate any student members for their labour.
- Training the hiring committee - Equitable hiring requires preparation. Training, resources (including the University’s equitable faculty recruitment and selection toolkit), and discussions have helped CCA to ensure members of the interview panel continuously work towards naming, acknowledging, and being aware of their own biases.
- Résumé blind screening - Removing names and other select identifiers to ensure that résumés are anonymous is an important step to minimizing bias in the hiring process. CCA has a team member outside of the hiring committee give each application a unique identifier (e.g., “Applicant 1”) to anonymize the résumés.
- Revamping the interview process - Thoughtful interview questions can enable candidates to showcase their understanding of how the position or sector can support EDI. CCA’s interview questions give candidates the opportunity to highlight their understanding of the range of career development needs experienced within marginalized communities.
Bringing the student perspective into focus
CCA recognizes that they would not have been able to conduct this work without a small group of career advisors who pushed to highlight and prioritize the insights of diverse student groups and their lived experiences. The staff advocated to identify and engage students through the process of piloting new approaches and to help limit implicit bias in the interview process.
“Student colleagues took part in the interview process with CCA staff and managers and helped CCA to iterate toward a more equitable process. CCA also hired students into co-op and full-time contracts to bring their lived experience, student connections and voices to project and planning work toward supporting other kinds of inclusion-driven change,” says Woodside.
CCA is committed to building more connections with those who identify as Black, Indigenous, people of colour, people with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ2S community.
Looking to the future
CCA recognizes that there is more to learn as equitable hiring in the unit continues to evolve. “Overhauling longstanding hiring practices is a complex undertaking,” says Schafer. “For instance, you can create a comprehensive list of interview questions in collaboration with diverse voices and yet deep-rooted biases can still creep in.”
The work ahead goes beyond hiring practices and will include a focus on EDI-AR in all business practices. “CCA will keep working towards designing and engraining equity-informed departmental practices across the board,” says Woodside. “This means prioritizing psychological safety and intentionally seeking to create inclusive communications, service systems and spaces”.
Remembering Diane McKelvie
A message from Co-operative and Experiential Education (CEE)
With sadness we wish to inform you of the passing of dear friend and retired colleague Diane McKelvie on Friday, April 1, 2022.
Diane retired in early 2020, after a 42-year-long career with the University, with the majority of that time devoted to Co-operative Education. Diane acted as one of the Harassment Officers for the department and also advised many students on their chosen career paths. Diane loved every aspect of her role, from the students she inspired to the many colleagues and friends she made in the faculties, in Co-op and within the larger campus community.
“Diane was a wonderful colleague and member of the Co-op team here at UWaterloo,” says Ross Johnston, Executive Director, Co-operative Education. “She cared deeply about our students, their success and well-being. She was a fountain of knowledge and very supportive of her colleagues, with a terrific sense of humour and will be deeply missed by us all.”
Leeann Ferries, Associate Dean, Undergrad in the Faculty of Health remembers Diane as “a champion of experiential learning who worked collaboratively with academic units to create solutions that fostered meaningful outcomes for students. She was an excellent student advocate and always made time to discuss potential solutions and follow up on student experiences.”
Sara Houston, academic advisor from the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies shared that, “Diane McKelvie taught me many things over the years. She taught me the importance of looking at the big picture, not just the small details, that there is power in simply listening to another, and a good laugh with a good friend is the best medicine for a tough week. Diane pushed me to take time to catch up, have a coffee and see what was happening on the other side of the campus. Diane brought kindness, humour, wisdom, care, and the drive to always do and be better.”
Cathy Richardson, Co-op Services Manager, writes, “Diane was a true and loyal friend who was always there for her friends in good times and in bad times. She cared deeply for her friends and family and provided sound advice when needed and was a ton of fun to be around. She was that person you were proud to call your friend.”
Diane had an infectious smile that embraced anyone she came in contact with, and she will be fondly remembered as a kind, generous, inspiring and devoted person who always went above and beyond and will be sadly missed by many friends, colleagues and family.
May we continue to follow the example she set for us.
Building occupants asked to keep their cool as temperatures change
A message from Plant Operations.
We are experiencing rapid changes in outdoor temperatures, worker shortages, and supply chain issues. This has translated into a slow transition from heating to cooling and you might be experiencing very warm indoor temperatures in some of our buildings on campus.
Please note, this annual process is involved and once complete Plant Operations will have no capacity to heat most of our buildings if outdoor temperatures suddenly drop.
We are monitoring and servicing sensitive areas. Please consider your working hours (mornings are cooler) and layered clothing while we transition all mechanical systems and pass through the shoulder season.