What do you do when it seems like there's nothing you can do?
As University of Waterloo systems design engineering postdoctoral scholar Ilknur Umay was getting ready to go to bed earlier this week, she happened to look at her phone. What she saw scared her. There were multiple missed calls and texts from her brother in Türkiye telling her to turn on the news.
When she did, Umay immediately saw what was happening and where. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake had hit the region where her hometown is located – shifting the tectonic plate it sits on a whopping three meters from its original position. Her parents had recently retired back to the family home there.
Umay’s immediate family is safe, but with the death toll for this disaster currently at 11,000 people and rising, we know that many others are not.
“What I want people to understand is that this isn’t just one town – this earthquake and the aftershocks that still continue are affecting an area as a big as Ontario,” said Umay. “My hometown isn’t located in the most damaged region, and still my parents’ home has collapsed. It’s like this for many hundreds of thousands of people, that’s why I’m trying to help – the need is so great.”
Rescue efforts have been hindered by damage to roads leading to the affected areas and by the political situation in Syria. When Umay tried to send supplies to her parents, she was told there was no way to get what they needed to them directly.
“It’s cold in eastern Türkiye right now and because the earthquake and aftershocks have made buildings so unstable, the government is telling people not to go inside,” she said. “People are in the streets, and they need winter gear to keep warm until they can find a different place to go. I thought, if I can’t send my parents supplies directly – I can bring people together to send supplies to everyone who needs them.”
Umay started small – with her close circle of friends at Waterloo, some of whom also have families affected by the earthquakes and some of whom are from places like Iran and have a keen understanding of what it’s like to be far from home when family and friends could be in danger.
Thanks to this group and to a wider and growing circle of people on campus who have come together to talk to each other about how to help, Umay’s efforts are growing.
“There is power in the collective,” said Umay. “Alone, I could not directly help my parents, but with this group, we can help so many people. I’m asking everyone at Waterloo to be part of this effort with me.”
If you would like to help with this effort, please donate new items before Friday, February 10 at 12 noon to E7 – 6332.
The items most needed are:
- Winter gear including coats, boots, hats, mittens/gloves
- Warm clothes for all sizes
- Diapers, sanitary napkins
- Tents, air mattresses, blankets, flashlights
The items will be delivered by Umay to the Turkish Embassy in Toronto which will be sending these items to those most in need. Please be sure that you are donating new, unused items as there is a lack of staff to sort through used items at this time.
Please also consider a monetary donation if you are able – the Government of Canada is currently matching donations made to the Red Cross campaign.
Mastering her voice
By Charlotte Danby. This article was originally published on Waterloo News.
Bertha Bridget Kankam (MBET ’22) recently completed her master’s degree in business, entrepreneurship and technology (MBET) at Waterloo Engineering’s Conrad School of Entrepreneurship and Business.
That is a worthy success in and of itself, but Kankam is not your typical MBET student. Better known to many as Yaa Yaa, she is an award-winning singer-songwriter from Ghana.
The 33-year-old crossed the stage to receive her degree at the University’s fall convocation ceremony last year. No stranger to stages and spotlights, Yaa Yaa radiated success as she stepped out in full academic dress robes — a new look for many of her fans.
Yaa Yaa always loved singing, but her first time performing on stage was in 2009 when she participated in the Ghanaian reality singing show Stars of the Future. She was 19 years old and won the competition.
Her singing career quickly took off with growing fan bases in Africa and the U.S. But when her two-year contract with Stars of the Future ended, she had to fend for herself in a tough environment.
“Everything was suddenly on me,” says Yaa Yaa. “I had to lead meetings, develop my own marketing strategy and build a trusted network. I was young and didn’t have a lot of business experience, so a lot of people tried to underpay, short-change or overwork me. It was a massive learning curve, but I stayed strong. By taking charge of my brand, I became an entrepreneur long before I knew that I was an entrepreneur.”
Working closely with other artists and performers, she realized there was a lack of local support for aspiring singers looking to improve their vocals.
In 2017, she branched out from managing her brand, Yaa Yaa, to start a vocal training practice called Vocal Hub. It was a huge hit from the start and demand for its services soon skyrocketed.
“My excitement at my new venture soon turned to panic,” admits Yaa Yaa. “Clearly I had started something good, but I didn’t have the business skills or the tools to manage it, let alone grow it. So I started looking around for a school that could teach me what I needed to know.”
Yaa Yaa knew that she didn’t want to enrol in just any MBA program, she wanted one that specialized in entrepreneurship. With family in the U.S. and Europe, she considered both for her studies. But her online search for the ‘best innovative school for entrepreneurship’ introduced her to some Canadian options, which soon led her to Waterloo’s MBET degree.
“I was a little worried about the cold,” laughs Yaa Yaa. “But the course ticked all my professional development boxes, so I applied. And I’m happy I did – it was the right one for me for sure. I’m really interested in venture creation and I came away with the practical learnings I need to help startups in the creative sector develop innovative solutions to their business problems.”
That said, leaving her home and career to study in a foreign country was not an easy decision to make.
“I knew the course would be good, but would it be worth the stress of uprooting myself for over a year? There was only one way to find out,” says Yaa Yaa. “As it happened, my class was full of international students so I wasn’t on my own.
“I really appreciated how the University pays attention to diversity and mental health. It was a full-on, demanding year, but the on-campus counselling services were always available to us. Plus there were lots of planned social activities to help us acclimatize, make friends and feel welcome.”
Some of her highlights were trying to ski, canoeing the Grand River and introducing her classmates to West African cuisine at a class cultural event.
“I spent most of the ski day on my bum!” laughs Yaa Yaa. “But my jollof rice was a hit.”
Pass the mic
Like many entrepreneurs, Yaa Yaa has multiple irons in the fire at any one given moment. Top of her list is evolving Vocal Hub, now called Voplug, into an international, community-driven platform that connects voice talent – from singers and actors to public speakers – with the resources they need to improve their vocals.
Singing and songwriting will always be driving forces in her life. In fact, while studying, Yaa Yaa won the Best Ghana/Canada Act at the 2022 Ghana Entertainment Awards USA in New York. Needless to say, her fans are clamouring for more music and live performances.
Yaa Yaa can’t wait to get back on stage, but has been busy behind the scenes. She recently served the KW Glee team as a guest voice teacher and songwriter to prepare the youth choir for the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony 22/23 season. The choir’s musical theatre performance in January included an original song written by Yaa Yaa called ‘Remember Today.’
'No Running' is Yaa Yaa’s title track from her album Agoo.
How one voice can make a difference on the University's Senate and Board
By Sam Charles.
An affinity for university governance isn’t typically something that undergraduate or graduate students are known for, but in the case of Applied Science Masters student Jack DeGooyer that is precisely what drew him to Senate. In fact, DeGooyer serves as a member of Waterloo’s Senate and the Board of Governors.
“When I did my undergraduate, a lot of friends were really interested in governance and so forth, and I knew that once I arrived at Waterloo, I wanted to get more involved with university governance,” says DeGooyer. He says that participating on Senate and the Board of Governors provides him with an opportunity to provide a voice for students.
“I think being a senator, being there and hearing how policies are going to be affecting the day-to-day life of a student, it's important to have our voices heard. It's important to approve and to discuss all the topics that impact students.”
Senate reviews and discusses a variety of topics including student costs, the evolution of co-op, and enrollment among others to ensure the institution’s academic mandate is being fulfilled. “It also seems to be one of the few places where the university presents its vision and presents and discusses its progress on a variety of topics.”
DeGooyer says the workload isn’t heavy, and is something he really enjoys. “It definitely takes time to prepare and read over the memos and the notes that are made beforehand, but it's also just very enjoyable to be in Senate because for better or for worse, there can be some quite fiery debates and it's engaging to be both part of that and to witness those interactions.”
A member of both Senate and the Board of Governors since 2022, DeGooyer describes the process of seeking his nomination as reminiscent of running for student council in high school. He presented to several classes and shared a QR code along with a sign-up sheet to generate interest. “It's very much about talking to people one-on-one and winning them over slowly.”
Despite the relatively straight-forward nomination process, graduate student representation is low. It is a fact that disappoints DeGooyer, who feels that there needs to be greater graduate student presence. “I think at the university, voices of graduate students are not always being responded to, and that has resorted to graduate students trying to find other means of organizing themselves to ensure that their views and their time is valued at the university.”
An active member of the Waterloo community, DeGooyer also participates on the Graduate Student Association along with several clubs and student groups. While those experiences are very rewarding, he feels that his involvement on Senate is making the biggest impact.
“The more student voices that are heard and represented on Senate will lead to better experiences for all students at the university, not just for graduate students, but for undergraduates, professors and the like.”
Learn more about seeking a nomination to serve on Senate at https://uwaterloo.ca/secretariat/nominations-elections.
Registration open for Centre for Bioengineering and Biotechnology annual conference
A message from the Centre for Bioengineering and Biotechnology (CBB).
The Centre for Bioengineering and Biotechnology (CBB) is proud to announce that registration for the annual CBB Conference is now open. The forthcoming conference, Waterloo for Health, Technology and Society, will explore the use of technology for safe and accessible health care by examining the status of virtual delivery of care, enabling emerging technologies, and ensuring ethical and safe interventions for the betterment of our society and improved public health outcomes. In collaboration with leading experts throughout Canada, the conference aims to inform and educate, while encouraging constructive dialogue.
The event will take place on March 8 and 9, 2023, from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. each day; registration is free and open to all. We are happy to offer online, and in-person options and we hope you can join us from wherever you may be in the world. The conference will feature keynote addresses, panel discussions, student posters, and booth-style presentations for open collaboration between attendees. Please visit the conference website to see the agenda and to register.