Exceptional students were recognized along with accomplished graduates and a longtime corporate supporter as Waterloo Engineering staged its 2018 Awards Dinner for more than 400 people this week.
In addition to hundreds of graduate and undergraduate students cited for excelling in academic and extracurricular pursuits, the annual event at Federation Hall honoured alumni in four categories and a company with a history of backing researchers and students.
Dean Pearl Sullivan thanked alumni and other supporters for “making us what we are today,” and urged current students to tackle difficult problems as they go off to make their own marks.
“I encourage you to study hard, play hard, work hard, graduate and go change the world,” she said. “Be proud that you got into Waterloo and that you left Waterloo with a degree.”
Recognized with the evening’s five featured awards were:
General Motors of Canada – Friend of the Faculty Award
A partnership between GM Canada and Waterloo Engineering stretches back more than 50 years, including funding for research on collaborative projects that have advanced vehicle controls, structure, software, communications and more.
Research chairs held by mechanical and mechatronics professors Kaan Inal and Amir Khajepour are both backed by the company, which also supports students through initiatives such as the WATonomous undergraduate vehicle design team.
GM is the flagship sponsor of Capstone Design projects for senior engineering students, provides scholarships for master’s students and regularly hires co-op students and Waterloo graduates, including several who have climbed the ranks to hold senior positions with the company.
Travis Hester, president and managing director of GM Canada, spoke enthusiastically about the opportunities and responsibilities in an industry “that is transforming right before our eyes, right now” with the development of self-driving vehicles.
“It will be the mobility equivalent to the introduction of the internet and the introduction of the smartphone all at once,” he said of the predicted impact of automated vehicles on society.
“We’re not only getting to participate in this amazing transformation and this amazing technology, we have the absolute privilege to be able to shape it, guide it and ultimately direct the future of mobility – which is super cool.”
Sam Emaminejad – Young Alumni Achievement Medal
Emaminejad (BASc ’09, electrical engineering) built on his undergraduate degree with distinction at Waterloo to earn master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering at Stanford University.
He has been an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at UCLA since 2016, and developed a wearable wristband to diagnose diseases including cystic fibrosis and diabetes by gathering health-related data from sweat.
“It’s remarkable that in the early stages of your career you’ve already bridged the long-standing gap between the Internet of Things and personalized medicine,” Sullivan told him.
Emaminejad, who recalled attending the awards dinner as a student 15 years ago, said working alongside talented classmates in a rigorous academic program, doing a variety of co-op work terms and conducting research as an undergraduate at Waterloo all left lasting impressions on him.
“I firmly believe that Waterloo was the best investment that I made towards the future and the success of my career,” he said.
Flipp Corporation – Team Alumni Achievement Medal
Founded by classmates David Au-Yeung (BASc ’04, computer engineering), Matthew Cheung (BASc ’04, computer engineering), David Meyers (BASc ’04, computer engineering), and Wehuns Tan (BASc ’04, computer engineering), Flipp has grown from four friends in a basement to a Toronto-based company with over 800 employees world-wide.
Its namesake product, the Flipp mobile application, is used by tens of millions of people daily to display digital flyers from most of North America’s largest retailers to search for deals and plan shopping trips for groceries, home renovation supplies, pet products, electronics and clothing.
Used to open a staggering 1.8 billion publications last year, the app was launched in 2014 following years of twists, turns and a major pivot after the four friends decided to pursue their dream to go into business together.
“I’m just proud of the relationship that we have,” said Au-Yeung. “We’re still one team on one mission.”
Tan credited the “tough love” the foursome experienced at Waterloo Engineering with forging the tight bonds and determination needed to succeed as entrepreneurs.
“The toughness and the grit that you’re going to learn here are going to help you through the toughest times in your life,” he told students in the audience.
Mostafa Ammar – Alumni Achievement Medal for Academic Excellence
Ammar (PhD ’85, electrical engineering) went on a stellar career as a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, including over 30 years of research in the field of computer networks, after earning his doctorate at Waterloo.
His research work has focused on the delivery of communication services to a large number of users, with more than 16,000 citations to his name and honours including the Outstanding Service Award from the IEEE Technical Committee on Computer Communications.
He is a Regent Professor in the School of Computer Science, a rank above full professor, and has repeatedly been recognized as one of Georgia Tech’s top teachers.
Ammar has also supervised a long list of PhD students who have gone on to highly respected careers in academia and industry.
Taking notes out of his shirt pocket for a short speech, he attributed much of his career success to lessons learned at Waterloo and specifically thanked Johnny Wong, the professor who supervised his PhD.
“I’ve been fortunate to get several awards and honours over the years, but this really caps it all for me,” Ammar said. “It really means a lot to me.”
Frank Gerencser – Alumni Achievement Medal for Professional Achievement
Gerencser (BASc ’84, systems design engineering) is the co-founder of triOS College - which initially offered corporate training and support to employees of banks, insurance companies and other businesses - after a career that began in IT sales and distribution.
Now one of Canada’s largest private career colleges, triOS has campuses in nine cities in Ontario, including Kitchener, offering programs in business, technology, health care, law, supply chain, art and design. It also has a spin-off software startup called Lifecycle Systems.
He and longtime business partner Stuart Bentley, with whom he’s built seven businesses with a combined total of over $500 million in revenues, also acquired what is now called Eastern College in Atlantic Canada in 2014. Together, triOS and Eastern train more than 3,500 adult students a day.
Gerencser recalled helping his mother run small businesses as a boy after the death of his father and later selling computer kits as a sideline while he was still an undergraduate at Waterloo Engineering. That led to the official launch of his career as an entrepreneur right after graduation.
“We did it starting with nothing – no money, no experience, no contacts, no reputation – but no problem,” he said. “It just meant we had nothing to lose.
“You don’t have to have all the answers before you start a business. You learn a whole lot more by surviving the hard times than you do by coasting through the easy ones.”