Working with purpose at a time when the world needs our best


Feridun HamdullahpurJust two weeks after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, University of Waterloo researchers announced they were
partnering with spinoff company DarwinAI to improve COVID-19 screening.

Not long after, another group of researchers announced they were developing a coronavirus vaccine. This ambitious team is working with another Waterloo spinoff company, Mediphage Bioceuticals.

We are humbled by the brilliance of our Waterloo faculty and alumni, but we are also awed by their agility – the speed with which they gathered their teams at the beginning of a global pandemic and asked: “How best can we use our talents right now to serve humanity?”

This capacity for change is the foundation of our Waterloo community and the thread that connects every story in this issue about working with purpose. The call to focus our talents has never been stronger as we work to find solutions to the global crises of health, climate, equity and racial justice.

We are featuring stories about alumni working with purpose to inspire and educate those of us who challenge ourselves each day to find a deeper purpose and have a greater impact in our communities.

In this issue, we share the story of Sheldon Fernandez (BASc ’01), chief executive officer at DarwinAI, and Nafiseh Nafissi (MSc ’09, PhD ’13) vice-president of research and development at Mediphage Bioceuticals. We also show how Ebele Mogo’s (BSc ’09) plan to become a medical doctor changed and the impact she is having as a global health expert and founder of the Engage Africa Foundation.

We learn from science alumnus Trisha Abe (Bsc ’18) how her relationship with Warrior varsity tennis coach Pat Craton gave her a foundation from which to launch her career as an artist.

Waterloo is known around the world for its academic excellence. Abe and the rest of us know that building relationships at Waterloo is just as important as our programs. This issue also introduces our alumni community to Waterloo’s new Future-Ready Talent Framework. This research-based framework will shape our community as we all seek to work with purpose during a time when the world needs us to be at our absolute best.

Judene Pretti (BMath ’97, MMSc ’09, PhD ’19), director of Waterloo’s new Work-Learn Institute, perhaps says it most succinctly: “The importance of thinking about purpose, thinking about what drives you and what you’re good at is a much more future-friendly approach to careers than having one path in mind.”

Waterloo’s students, researchers, staff and outstanding alumni continue to embolden me and I hope they inspire you too. Our world has countless challenges in front of it, but I remain optimistic because of Waterloo and the legacy of innovation its global community represents.