Talk of the campus Spring 2015

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Addressing computer science gender imbalance

While the number of women enrolled in Canadian universities and in technical disciplines has steadily climbed in recent decades, the percentage of female students studying computer science continues to decline. Speaking at the University of Waterloo’s International Women’s Day Dinner on March 6, Jo Atlee, a professor in Waterloo’s Cheriton School of Computer Science, said female enrolment in university computer science programs has dropped from 35 to 40 per cent in the 1980s, to little more than half of that today. Campus initiatives, including the Women in Computer Science group and Go-Code-Girl outreach program are some of the ways Waterloo is working to change those statistics. 

Joe Atlee

Jo Atlee

Waterloo professor receives top research award

Chris Eliasmith, director of the Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience, has won the NSERC John C. Polanyi Award for outstanding research. Eliasmith has drawn on his experience in philosophy, neuroscience, systems design engineering and computer science to build a computer model of the human brain that makes human-like mistakes, has human-like accuracy, and takes human-like lengths of time to process information. The work could lead to better treatments for brain trauma and Alzheimer’s, as well as advances in artificial intelligence. Unlike other computer brains, this one — named Spaun — mimics the human brain’s ability to see, remember and act.

Chris Eliasmith

Chris Eliasmith. Photo credit: NSERC

Safe and supportive campus

In the wake of the Dalhousie University scandal that saw several dentistry students suspended over sexually violent posts on Facebook, Canadian universities are being urged to explain their own policies on sexual assault. The University of Waterloo is committed to fostering a supportive, safe climate for all, by striving to raise awareness, to prevent sexual violence from happening on campus, and to support those affected.

Alumnus wins Oscar for best animated feature

Chris Williams, who graduated in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, has won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature for Big Hero 6. Williams is the co-director of the popular Disney movie that has grossed more than $500 million at the box office. This was Williams’ second Oscar nod. He was nominated in 2009 for his role as co-director of the popular Disney feature Bolt.

Chris Williams

Chris Williams Photo credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez/WireImage

Alumni earn spots on coveted Forbes list

Two entrepreneurs who got their start in the University of Waterloo’s Enterprise Co-op program have been named to the 2015 Forbes 30 Under 30 list. Danny Yaroslavski, 23, founder of Lightbot, and William Zhou, 22, founder of, were named in the education category for “rethinking learning with the three Cs: code, college readiness and community impact.” Yaroslavski and Zhou each earned $25,000 grants for their ideas through the University’s Velocity Fund Finals.

Today, more than five million children get their first taste of computer science through Lightbot, while 100,000 teachers use as a lesson-planning, assessment and collaboration tool.

Waterloo names three new senior administrators

University of Waterloo will welcome two new deans and a new vice-president in 2015. 

Stephen Watt

Stephen Watt

Stephen Watt joins the University as the new dean of the Faculty of Mathematics. Watt, who attained his PhD in computer science at Waterloo in 1986, is currently a professor of computer science at Western University.


Robert Lemieux

Robert Lemieux

Robert Lemieux joins Waterloo as the new dean of the Faculty of Science. Lemieux comes from Queen’s University, where he is a professor in the Department of Chemistry and associate dean (research) in the Faculty of Arts and Science. 


Sandra Banks

Sandra Banks

Sandra Banks, the CEO of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair and a former Coca-Cola executive, also joins the University this spring as vice-president, university relations.


Your portal to Waterloo

Students at Waterloo are getting their first taste of a new intranet that’s designed to keep them better connected. The Student Portal is a mobile-friendly, customizable communications tool that delivers all the just-in-time information students need, when they need it. It pulls in relevant content from Waterloo websites and databases such as Quest, Learn and Waterloo Works. Having all the just-in-time information they need in one place helps students succeed, both in and out of the classroom.

The portal has been performing well technically, and all students are expected to have access by the end of May. Recent improvements include:

  • Computer lab widget providing real-time availability in Arts and Engineering labs
  • iCal feeds that can be imported from Facebook, Google, etc. 
  • Portal site tours, FAQs and academic resources 
  • Off-campus housing search filters and photos
  • Option to add personalized links and social media accounts
  • Real-time GRT bus data

Admissions stay strong as demographics shift

Applications to universities across Ontario are down this year as a result of the decline in university-aged high school graduates across the province. Waterloo is no exception, with a decline of 2.1 per cent in applicants from Ontario high schools.

However, total applications to the University are 22 per cent higher than just five years ago, and the University continues to attract some of the best students in the country. In fact, the entering class of 2014 had the highest-ever average (88.8 per cent), with that trend expected to continue in 2015.

Awards and honours

Recent recognition for University of Waterloo researchers includes: 

  • Drew Bennett, Polanyi Prize for Chemistry, Council of Ontario Universities
  • David Blowes, Synergy Award for Innovation, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
  • Melanie Campbell, 2014 Status of Women Award of Distinction, Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations
  • Trevor Charles, SPARK Award, Ontario Genomics Institute
  • Kyle Daun, Humboldt Research Fellowship for Experienced Researchers, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation
  • Brian Dixon, 2015 Robert Arnold Wardle Award, Canadian Society
  • of Zoologists 
  • Jay Dolmage, 2015 PROSE Award, Association of American Publishers
  • Chris Eliasmith, John C. Polanyi Award, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
  • Geoffrey Fong, 2015 Luther R. Terry Award for Outstanding Research Contribution, American Cancer Society
  • Ihab Ilyas, Distinguished Scientist, Association for Computing Machinery
  • Mohamed Kamel, McNaughton Medal, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
  • Raafat Mansour, Engineering Medal — Research and Development, Ontario Society of Professional Engineers
  • Eduardo Martin-Martinez, Polanyi Prize for Physics, Council of Ontario Universities
  • Terry McMahon, John C. Polanyi Award, Canadian Society of Chemistry 
  • Michael McTavish, André Hamer Postgraduate Prize, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
  • Terri Meyer Boake, 2015 Special Achievement Award, American Institute of Steel Construction 
  • Bruce Muirhead, Public Policy Research Chair, Egg Farmers of Canada
  • Safieddin Safavi-Naeini, Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
  • Philippe Van Cappellen, 2015 Science Innovation Award, European Association of Geochemistry
  • Pedro Vieira, Sloan Research Fellowship, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation