2017 / 2018 Report on Giving

David Shepherd (BMath ’75) could solve math problems in the blink of an eye – so his first high school students called him Tex, as in Texas Instruments. He worked through the equations with the same ease as the calculators on their desks, but what truly set him apart was his ability to help his students when they were struggling. If one method of solving a problem didn’t make sense, he would show them another, and another, until they found an approach that worked.

“There was no shame in failing,” says Krysia Piorczynski, David’s wife of 42 years. “David wanted to show his students that math was for everyone – that it was all around us, and it was  fun.”

Passionate about nurturing talent in promising young mathematicians, David also volunteered with Waterloo’s Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing (CEMC) by writing and marking problems for high school math contests. When he wasn’t teaching, he was coaching athletics and organizing meets for the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA). He was finalizing sponsors for OFSAA’s 2015 cross country championship when he suffered a debilitating stroke.

David was paralyzed from the neck down, and he wasn’t expected to speak or eat on his own again. His friends in mathematics and athletics rallied around him and Krysia to offer any help they could.
 
“I was getting all kinds of emails from the CEMC,” says Krysia. “Ian VanderBurgh, the director, would ask, ‘Is there anything we can do as a group for David?’”

“David’s commitment to his students and to mathematics education, both before and after retirement, was inspiring. From his work in the classroom, to his involvement marking and creating contests, to his interest in working in elementary schools after retirement, David set an example for all of us in how to treat people and how to give others opportunities for growth.”

Ian VanderBurgh, Director of the CEMC

Knowing how much David valued his volunteer work, Ian said that David would continue to mark their contests.

“He practiced every day,” Krysia says. “He was determined to get better, faster, because he had math to do.”

Sadly, David succumbed to his health issues and passed away in 2016. His involvement with the CEMC in his final months was so meaningful to him that Krysia decided to create a special scholarship at Waterloo. She and David had been donating to the Centre for years, but she wanted do something more to give back to the people who had become family to her and her husband.

Last year, she established the David Shepherd Upper-Year Scholarship in Mathematics, an award that recognizes students who stand out in both their coursework and extracurricular activities.

“It all starts small. If we achieve our goal of helping one person, then we help the community, the province, the country, the world.”

Krysia Piorczynski

“David and I felt it was extremely important to support students,” she says. “You look at them, and they have solutions for all the problems in the world. It’s a joyful thing to see.”

When talking about the award, Krysia adds that David wouldn’t have named it after himself. He believed in doing good deeds for their own sake, and not for recognition.

“David set the bar unconsciously,” she says. “He made me want to work that much harder, be that much of a better person. That’s all that he wanted of his students too. He always encouraged them to do their best.”