Telling stories of Ukraine through photos
Last spring the University of Waterloo welcomed 34 students from Ukraine whose studies were interrupted by Russia’s invasion of their homeland.
Shortly after arriving on campus, the Ukrainian students created a collection of photos to highlight the impact the war was having on academics and civilians. Beginning with Engineering in July 2022, the Ukrainian students have partnered with each of the faculties and the Balsillie School of International Affairs to host an exhibit where they can share photos, stories and Ukrainian treats with fellow students, faculty and staff. Arts has the honour of hosting the final exhibit on campus on February 15 before it moves to Kitchener City Hall.
“The main goal of this exhibition is to make people aware what's happening right now and show the spirit of Ukrainians,” says Halyna Padalko, a graduate student who travelled here from Kharkiv. “Right now it's an emerging issue in the world, and we need to stay united together.”
The exhibit is also a way for the students to combat misinformation and the rise of anti-Ukrainian harassment on Canadian university campuses. With declining news coverage since the war began and the media’s focus on military support and larger scale politics, the students found that telling personal stories through the exhibit was a powerful tool to connect with people and foster solidarity. “It works more than if you just read some article … because you see a real person, and everyone has their own stories,” Halyna adds.
During the exhibit, students share stories and photos of civilians living without electricity under bombardment, professors volunteering in the army and giving lectures from their iPhones, a Eurovision song contest taking place in a subway station. A virtual reality display allows visitors to experience Ukraine before and after the war, and a set of headphones plays the sounds of Ukraine in real-time. “We were living the same life as people here, developing our country and ourselves, and one day (February 24, 2022) the life of every Ukrainian changed a lot. In our exhibition, we just want to show our resistance and resilience through [these] everyday routines.”
Halyna is currently studying in the MA Global Governance program at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and hopes to focus her research on Russian propaganda, using her knowledge and network here to support her country. In addition to attending the exhibit, she encourages people to show support through small acts of solidarity. “I believe this soft power will work,” she says. “If you just have a small Ukrainian flag at your workplace or at your residence or on your backpack, it will also raise awareness and you'll remind people about Ukraine, and that’s very impactful.”
Stories of Ukraine: A Student Photo Exhibit will be in the Hagey Hall Hub from February 13 to 17. Full event details.
Founders helping founders gives startups an advantage
By Natalie Grosman.
Startups are shaking the foundation of modern technology, searching for different and better ways to solve today’s problems and imagining different futures.
In addition to the knowledge and experience-sharing among current Velocity students and founders, Velocity's staff is unique in the number of alumni who have returned to help students and startup founders accelerate their ideas and ventures.
“I’ve been through a number of different incubators — but Velocity felt like home,” says Moazam Khan (BSc ‘16, MBET ‘17), director of Velocity Health and founder of health tech alum, Curiato, which won Velocity’s $25,000 pitch competition in 2016.
“The ecosystem is very well connected, you can walk up to any founder who will wholeheartedly help you out. You don’t find that in other places where founders are competing against each other.”
Since 2008, when Velocity started as a University of Waterloo residence, a thriving entrepreneurial network grounded in community has emerged.
Ross Robinson (BSc ‘11), Velocity Fund co-lead, lived in Velocity residence in 2009 and co-founded two Velocity alumni companies, Tinker and Willet. He says a founder-first philosophy has been a part of Velocity since its inception.
“Every decision we make revolves around how it affects founders. We constantly ask ourselves ‘is this founder-friendly, will they benefit’?” Robinson says. “That is something instilled from the original leaders of Velocity — when founders had a problem, they worked with us to solve it, no questions asked.”
Velocity’s institutional expertise helps students and founders navigate the nuances of entrepreneurship with experience and empathy. And those nuances are not always immediately obvious.
Akash Vaswani (BASc ‘14), Velocity Fund co-lead, is intimately familiar with the twists and turns of being a startup founder.
While living at Velocity residence, he won the $25,000 Velocity pitch competition and went on to co-found Tripzaar, one of the first five Velocity companies.
Vaswani says that for founders at the starting point of their journey, the full picture of the path ahead is unclear.
“Having a place where there is a cohort [of business advisers and directors] who have done it before, they can help look at various paths and change it early on potentially saving months of lost work,” Vaswani says. “That’s hard to do without having founder experience.”
And the potential pitfalls are many, right from the very start of the entrepreneurial journey.
Velocity has a rich presence on the University of Waterloo campus to help propel students’ ideas beyond initial phases.
For Krysta Traianovski (BSc ‘15, MBET ‘16), senior manager of Velocity Science, returning to work at Velocity is an opportunity to give back to students what she learned as co-founder of Velocity alumni company BrightGuide, which she originally pitched to Velocity during her studies.
A sudden interest in business and how it could be integrated with science was sparked during her co-op term. Back on campus, Velocity caught her attention and eventually opened her eyes to what being an entrepreneur means in practice.
“What [founders] are learning is not just specific knowledge, it’s also a personal development process — changing their mindset,” Traianovski says. “Being an entrepreneur is taking action, exposing your ideas to the real world.”
John Dick, director of Velocity campus and co-founder of Velocity alum Nicoya, participated in Velocity Science, one of three student creator spaces.
After leaving Nicoya, Velocity’s culture and a pull to remain a part of it stood at the forefront. “I reflected on what I enjoyed most about working in a startup and it was that early-phase,” Dick says. “Knowing how Velocity operates and its startup mentality and culture really spoke to me.”
He said among undergraduates there is a real desire to solve large problems that the world is facing and imagine a different future.
“There's a lot of energy in this newest group of undergraduate students wanting to do something for sustainability and clean technology,” Dick says. “I’m excited for the opportunity to work with these teams and flesh out their ideas to find the best vehicle to make a positive impact.”
The appetite for innovation shows no sign of stopping, Velocity continues to evolve
The strength of Velocity company products and services continues to skyrocket, especially as broader societal influences impact innovation.
“When I was at Velocity in 2009, when someone raised a fundraising round, it was a big deal, now it has become routine,” Robinson says. “The level of maturity and potential of Velocity companies has improved overall — I’m constantly impressed by the founders.”
Trends in research commercialization are influencing the quality of today’s startups as is a broader support for innovation beyond educational institutions.
“There’s a new shift towards problem-oriented research rather than curiosity-based, a change towards encouraging researchers to move towards entrepreneurship,” Khan says. “And there are also professional organizations, like physicians' groups, that are providing consultation services to early-stage startups with product development — that was rarely seen five years ago, and that shift will really help.”
These shifts in trends and research are advantageous to startups and our collective futures but the heavy lifting of innovation and the changes the world needs to see remains on the shoulders of founders.
And having a good idea is only the start.
“If you want to make a big impact you need to consider implementation,” Dick says. “Solving a problem includes figuring out how you will remain viable over the long term.”
Execution speed and mastering the complexities of running a business are crucial, so too is keeping an eye on the big picture.
“Day-to-day you’re solving small problems for a few people and iterating,” Robinson says. “But ultimately you have to understand what that bigger picture is, what type of company do you want to run — what is your footprint on the world going look like?”
And tapping into an ecosystem of like-minded thinkers can go a long way towards success.
“Being around other founders, like at Velocity, is a big asset because you can find someone who is or has been in a similar position and ask them questions,” Khan says. “That can really help propel startups forward.”
The impact of founders helping founders goes beyond accessing necessary practical advice, Traianovski says. “It’s incredibly meaningful to hear from someone who really understands what you are going through during the transition from student to entrepreneur, from the smallest day-to-day challenges to the experience of changing as a person.”
Courageous innovators must become champions of tech for good
This article is part of the Global Futures Innovation Update series.
Dr. Marcel O’Gorman is a University of Waterloo Research Chair and founder of the Critical Media Lab. Strategically located in the heart of Waterloo Region’s tech hub, the lab is an interdisciplinary research initiative that explores the ethics and impact of technology on society and the human condition.
With innovations happening at a rapid pace, technologies are often adopted before the full impact on culture and human behaviours is understood. We asked O’Gorman how we should lead technological transformation to ensure a safe and human-centred digital future.
Opinion by Dr. Marcel O'Gorman:
The promise of tomorrow’s tech has inspired the imagination of every generation. It is said that we shape technology, and thereafter it shapes us. It is an understatement then to say that the stakes of future tech innovation are very high. Now and in our future, we can’t imagine our technological future without considering the broader social and environmental contexts of that future.
Waterloo has been a champion of innovation for years, and we continue to lead the way in Canada and beyond. Now we have a unique opportunity to be a champion — an exemplar, even — of responsible innovation.
A culture of responsible innovation needs to be rooted in sensitivity to human values, non-human stakeholders and a committed sense of care for the future. This is not just a technological challenge or a problem to solve. It’s about persistently asking the right questions: What kind of world do we want to live in? And who is “we” in the first place? Can our future technologies avoid replicating the social and environmental problems that are embedded in our current tech ecosystem?
Tech for good
There are many reasons to be concerned about our technological present: facial recognition interfaces that misrecognize black women; conflict minerals mined for circuit board components; the cloud’s obscene energy consumption; predatory data-gathering; and targeted “fake news” that fuels the fire of political polarity.
The tech community can do better, but only if it resists a profit-at-all-costs value system. This sort of retooling is a lot to ask, but our community is up to the challenge.
The phrase “tech for good” might bring to mind humanitarian technologies such as tech that supports a specific cause. But a commitment to “tech for good” means that all technology should improve life on earth, keeping in mind that “good” is a relative term that changes according to context.
Embedding a respect for variable contexts into the tech design process is the first step toward establishing a culture of “tech for good,” a culture that takes responsibility for the world it is building and carefully considers potential consequences of innovation — even if that might slow down the process. There is no room in responsible innovation for a “move fast and break things” mentality.
It’s time to put words into action
The technological change incubated in Waterloo region is enormous. Taking responsibility for the social and environmental outcomes of that change requires purposeful interventions. The Tech for Good Declaration, which I helped develop with Communitech and other partners, is a good first step. It’s time to put these words into action.
This is precisely why I founded the Critical Media Lab more than a decade ago. It provides a safe space to slow down and reflect on the impacts of technology. These projects range from the design of artistic “objects-to-think-with” that facilitate critical discussions, new policy formation and practical workshops in responsible innovation for startups, tech professionals and students.
We want to create a context for critical engagement, making room in the tech ecology for courageous innovators who will go beyond the design of good tech and strive to become champions of tech for good.
Student Experience Survey is open again and other notes
The Winter iteration of the Student Experience Survey kicks off this week. "Check your @uwaterloo.ca email or LEARN profile to see if you are one of the 10,000 randomly selected participants," says a note from the Survey Research Centre. "If you did not receive an invitation this term, you may receive one next time!"
Students who submit their survey will receive $5 added to their WatCard.
The Winter 2023 Student Experience Survey (SES) is administered by the University of Waterloo Survey Research Centre (SRC) in collaboration with the Institutional Analysis and Planning (IAP) department, the Associate Vice President, Academic, the Associate Vice President, Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs, the Keep Learning Team, and the Student Success Office (SSO). This survey is intended to be ongoing (once per semester), as a “pulse-check” for students and a way to gather feedback on strategic initiatives and to understand students’ learning environment and experience.
"The special tribute to the on-campus achievements of Michael Herz, a long-standing member of the Staff Association executive, is scheduled for Thursday, February 16, from 2:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. (hybrid format)," says a note from the University of Waterloo Staff Association (UWSA). "The online participants are invited to join via the MS Teams. Those of you who noted a preference for in-person participation are invited to join the gathering in EC1-1323 (the Collaboration Space inside the Games Institute)."
"If you had not had a chance to note your willingness to share a story about Mike, please consider presenting it yourself (online or in-person) during the event or to draft something ahead of time and have it read out to the attendees. In either case, please contact Agata Antkiewicz (firstname.lastname@example.org) to note your willingness to participate in the storytelling."
"The in-person location of the event is equipped with commercial-grade HEPA filters and mask-wearing is encouraged."
"Please note that the opening of the event will include a smudging ceremony performed by the UW Office of Indigenous Relations as part of the Territorial Acknowledgement."