James D. Leslie was no stranger to adversity. He was born to an immigrant family in Toronto during the Great Depression in 1935. He experienced life’s challenges early on, which instilled the value of hard work, the ability to find creative solutions to life’s problems and determination.

In 1957, Jim graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in Engineering Physics and a goal of working for Ontario Hydro. Meanwhile, not too far from Toronto, three forward-thinking businessmen, Gerald Hagey, Ira Needles and Reverend Cornelius Siegfried were founding a new university. A university that would address the challenges of a new post war era, the cold war and the race for scientific advancements; one that was creative in its teachings and innovative in its advancements. In 1958, Jim was appointed a lecturer at the University of Waterloo, taking him down a very different career path than the one he initially imagined.

Jim obtained his PhD in Physics in 1963 from the University of Illinois and returned to the University of Waterloo as a professor. He was excited and engaged in his teachings, but recognized that the new Physics program was at a disadvantage because it did not offer any scholarships to attract the best students. Meanwhile, the province announced that high school teachers should obtain an academic degree. Jim had a creative idea to combine these two situations and resolve both issues; by offering correspondence courses for teachers to upgrade their education, the funds generated could be used for scholarships to entice the best and brightest undergraduate students. In 1967, he pitched his idea and began planning and a year later, it came to fruition.

Four physics courses were offered by correspondence in 1968, and 130 students took
part in the first year. Students were now able to study without attending class; the way
in which people could receive an education had been advanced. Jim was instrumental in
bringing education to those who were geographically restricted. In addition, undergraduate
scholarships were generated from the funds of the correspondence program within a year of
its inception.

Professor Leslie devoted 38 years to teaching and researching in the area of solid state physics
at the university. He received the 125th Anniversary of Confederation commemorative medal
in 1993 for his contribution to higher education, and became an honourary member of the
University in 2003.

“The greatest product which we will realize from our electronic era is the better educated race,” said Ira Needles, president of B.F. Goodrich Canada, in a 1956 speech that helped lay the foundation for the University of Waterloo. “This applies to all fields — not just the field of science.”

Professor Leslie did just that, he provided a medium through which the general population could be better educated; he brought post-secondary education into the homes of people, not just in Canada but globally. Through his vision, today we offer more than 500 online courses in all six faculties.

James D. Leslie

James D. Leslie, PhD, Founder of Waterloo's Correspondence Program