Accomplished alumni, outstanding current students and committed supporters of Waterloo Engineering were all celebrated as more than 400 people gathered recently for the 2017 Awards Dinner.
Along with hundreds of graduate and undergraduate students recognized for their academic and extracurricular successes, the annual event at Federation Hall honoured graduates in three categories and a foundation dedicated to helping produce engineers.
Dean Pearl Sullivan wrapped up the evening by urging everyone in attendance to wear their connections to the Faculty on their sleeves.
“Highlight that you are a proud Waterloo Engineering student, faculty member, supporter or graduate in your bio on LinkedIn, your business website and when speaking to the media or at any event,” she said. “Always keep that in mind. There is without doubt no other faculty of engineering like ours.”
Honoured with the five featured awards were:
The Esch Foundation – Friend of the Faculty Award
After making his fortune in the printing industry in Toronto, the late Norman Esch set out to do something of lasting importance for Canada by helping boost its supply of well-educated engineers.
The resulting Esch Foundation, established to further that goal in 2004, invests in creative, entrepreneurial engineering students by providing them with needed startup funding and access to leading business mentors.
Five years into its involvement with Waterloo Engineering, the foundation recently committed to another five years of funding. That will bring its total support for awards, scholarships and student startups to $2 million.
Speaking on behalf of the foundation, David Esch described his father Norman as “a perfectionist, a risk-taker and a great salesman” who did everything including mopping floors at night to build his businesses.
Highlights included printing many Canadian stamps and currency, which required the installation of bullet-proof glass in a special room that was guarded by two RCMP officers.
Esch said trustees are “blown away” by the Capstone Design projects they see at an annual startup pitch competition that is backed by the foundation, citing the success of Thalmic Labs and Landmine Boys (now Demine Robotics) as shining examples of its impact.
“I know Dad would be very proud that his vision of doing something for Canada is being achieved,” he said.
Nulogy Corporation – Team Alumni Achievement Medal
Founded by classmates Sean Kirby (SD ’02), Jason Tham (SD ’02), Kevin Wong (SD ’02) and Jason Yuen (SD ’02), and Tham’s father, Donald Tham (MASc ’78), Nulogy has grown from a living-room operation to a thriving company with 150 employees in downtown Toronto.
While providing software and support for world-wide clients in supply chain management, contract packaging and contract manufacturing, the company has racked up awards including top honours in the 2017 International Warehouse Logistics Association Innovation Contest.
Jason Tham said the seeds of the company were sown at Waterloo Engineering as the four systems design engineering classmates looked for a way to make a difference.
“We asked ourselves ‘What valuable problem should be solved for the world?’ and we extended that to ‘What valuable problem is no one else solving?’” he said. “That is Nulogy.”
Yuen called the award a “big milestone” and showed his enthusiasm by leading the audience in a “Water Water Water, loo loo loo” cheer.
“We’re a Canadian company, from Waterloo,” he said. “There are companies out there in the Valley doing their thing, but we want to reverse the brain drain and keep the Canadian talent growing.”
Richard Frayne – Alumni Achievement Medal for Academic Excellence
Frayne (Elect ’89) went on from Waterloo Engineering to do a doctorate in medical biophysics at Western University and launch a distinguished research career in magnetic resonance imaging for the study, detection and treatment of vascular disease.
He has been a faculty member in the department of radiology at the University of Calgary since 1999 and in 2010 was named the Hopewell Professor of Brain Imaging. He is also deputy director of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute in Calgary.
In addition to publishing more than 150 peer-reviewed journal articles and making over 450 scholarly presentations, Frayne has 20 international patents and commercialized technology worth over $50 million.
He gave special thanks to Waterloo Engineering professor Alfred Yu, one of his first students as a professor, and his wife, fellow Calgary professor and fellow alumnus Josephine Hill (Chem ’91). He also said his son Mark is continuing a family tradition.
“My son made his parents so proud when he chose to come to Waterloo all the way from Calgary and he’s now a 2B mechanical engineering student,” Frayne said. “His mother and I aren’t that sure on the program, but apparently it was a compromise.”
Andrew Pollard - Alumni Achievement Medal for Academic Excellence
Pollard (Mech ’75) earned his PhD at Imperial College, University of London in 1978 and three years later joined Queen’s University, where he held a Research Chair in Fluid Mechanics and Multi-Scale Phenomena for more than a decade.
His world-renowned research focuses on both computational and experimental fluid mechanics, and during a 40-year academic career, he has published or edited more than 250 peer-reviewed articles and books.
Pollard supervised over 300 undergraduate students for their final-year projects, supervised more than 50 master’s and doctoral students, and generated in excess of $55 million in research funding. He also established numerous centres, labs and societies.
He called the Waterloo Engineering honour his “equivalent of an Academy Award” and urged students at the event to persevere, never lose sight of the big picture and seek out their own paths to success.
“I thank this University, the Faculty, for instilling in me a can-do attitude,” Pollard said. “Yes, I can. I can compete, and win, at whatever I set my mind to.”
Rasmus Lerdorf – Alumni Achievement Medal for Professional Achievement
Lerdorf (SD ’93) single-handedly created the PHP scripting language 22 years ago, the first simple, elegant approach to putting dynamic content on web pages. The software language now powers Facebook, Wikipedia and the vast majority of the world’s websites.
For his enormous impact on the internet, he was recognized as one of the top 100 innovators in the world under the age of 35 by the MIT Technology Review in 2003.
Now a distinguished engineer at Etsy, Lerdorf has also worked at companies including WePay and Yahoo, where he created one of the key pieces in the company’s security toolkit.
He recalled “absolutely loving” his work terms while at Waterloo Engineering and said he has always been driven to use his privilege to help empower others. The open source PHP project did that by taking the creation of web content out of the sole hands of “geeks” like him.
“This idea of making an accessible language that allows anyone, anywhere to take their ideas and put them online was a very powerful thing,” said Lerdorf, who joked that he had to buy a suit for the occasion. “I like to think that it changed the web a little bit.”