Mathematics alumnus Alfred Simpson reflects on a life of rich learning

November is Indigenous Education Month—read on to learn about how the Faculty of Mathematics is supporting Indigenous students at Waterloo

Alfred Simpson is a lifelong learner.

When the BMath (’70) grad looks back on his time at Waterloo, he recalls: “I wanted to excel at everything I did for its own sake.”

At 72, Simpson is taking that dedication to learning back to school.

Simpson is a retired computer programmer who runs Totem Consulting, bringing his passion for programming to website and database design.

He’s also a Master’s student in Indigenous and Canadian Studies at Carleton University, and he’s already published research he undertook for a capstone project there.

For Simpson, the research is personal. It investigates the origins of his childhood home, Alderville First Nation, a small farming community south of Peterborough and Rice Lake. Simpson’s great-great-great-grandfather was one of the reserve’s first chiefs.

An educational journey begins at home

When asked about the role education has played in his life, Simpson returns again and again to the importance of family.

Simpson’s first teachers were his parents and grandparents. In his capstone research project, Simpson wrote about his early years: “My grandfather gave his time, imparting his very extensive knowledge of the details of farming. To him the grass that grows, even the trees were concrete examples of how to enrich our lives.”

His grandmother researched and documented his family’s history and their migration to Alderville. The desire to publish that research was what spurred Simpson to learn web programming. He built a website to share her research in 2001, and it would prove an essential resource in his own studies at Carleton.

Simpson was also close with his parents. He wrote his parents and visited often throughout his years at Waterloo.

“I visualize my family as a square,” he says, with his parents on top and his brother and himself on the bottom. “Just very solid,” he explains. Today he is deeply proud of his two adult children.

Now, looking ahead at his new interest in social issues, like the history of Alderville First Nation and the role of colonization and the Indian Act in that history, Simpson muses on the importance of lifelong learning.

“I was never really interested in the social, that’s not where my training lay…. But now social things have become more important to me,” Simpson explains. "Today, knowing how to learn really helps me in this new area."

So why is education important to this computer programmer, business owner and Master’s student?

“Because you learn how to learn,” says Simpson.

Supporting Indigenous students in the Faculty of Mathematics

Today, the Faculty of Mathematics is committed to building strong, supportive relationships with Indigenous peoples both on campus and in the community, combatting anti-Indigenous racism in all its forms and incorporating Indigenous voices and culture into its curriculum and academic programming.

Multiple scholarships are also available to Indigenous students enrolled in mathematics programs, including three entrance scholarships, four for upper-year students and six scholarships for graduate students.

New scholarships support teachers working with Indigenous communities

This year saw the launch of two new scholarships for the Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing’s Master of Mathematics for Teachers (MMT) program.

Funded by the Faculty of Mathematics, the MMT Indigenous Scholarships cover the cost of tuition for five Indigenous teachers entering the MMT, a fully online Master’s program for secondary school math teachers. 

The Agibcona Scholarship, funded Barry Ferguson (BMAth ’82, MMath ’92) and Angela Googh (BMath ’90, MMath ’91), is open to teachers teaching and working in an Indigenous, northern or remote community in Canada.

Ellen Poirier, a teacher of math, science, media art, French and tourism in northern Vancouver Island’s remote community of Port McNeill, is the inaugural recipient of the Agibcona Scholarship.

“Roughly half of my students are members of the ‘Namgis First Nation,” Poirier explains. She works closely with her school’s First Nations support staff to incorporate Kwakwaka'wakw culture into her lessons. 'Namgis First Nation is one of 18 First Nations of the Kwakwaka'wakw, or the Kwak'wala speaking people.

“It’s important to incorporate their own culture into lessons so that students feel welcome and acknowledged,” she says. “In a remote community, it’s essential to learn about the local culture to help students be engaged and excited to come to school.”

Show your support

November is Indigenous Peoples Awareness Month. Contact Alexandra Lippert, Associate Director of Development, to discuss how you can help support the Faculty’s Indigenous initiatives.