Letter from the Dean: Wes Graham and the future of computing at Waterloo

In early October, I had the great pleasure of participating in the Wes Graham Symposium, a Black and Gold Day event honouring the enduring influence of Wes Graham and the Wes Graham Information and Technology Trust.

What struck me about the event was that, while remembering the ‘father of computing’ at Waterloo, it was uniquely forward-looking. Graham Research Fellows shared their groundbreaking work and gave us a glimpse of the future.

Edith Law, associate professor in the David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science, spoke about the challenges of crowdsourcing and how to design systems that coordinate human and machine intelligence to tackle difficult problems, such as medical annotation.

Pedro Elkind Velmovitsky, a PhD student in the Faculty of Health, discussed the work of Waterloo’s Ubiquitous Health Technology Lab, which is using smart technologies to improve mental health, promote healthy aging, conduct environmental research and detect misinformation.

Joanne McKinley, Graham Medalist and Director of Software Development at Google, spoke about her work developing cutting-edge mobile technologies and promoting gender diversity and work-life balance in the tech industry.

The day filled me with hope for the future. It reaffirmed my belief that, here at Waterloo, we have the best minds working on the most advanced technology—not just creating it, but examining it from all angles, taking into consideration usability, ethics and societal effects.

It was a perfect way to honour Wes Graham, who was concerned, above all, with ensuring computers were a force for good in the world—a tool that enabled human flourishing.

This issue of E-Ties celebrates Wes Graham’s continuing influence on the Faculty of Mathematics in areas like entrepreneurship, computing and community impact. It features stories about:

  • Ian MacKinnon (BMath ’06, MMath ’08), co-founder and CTO of Later.com, who recently made a generous gift to help establish a new Entrepreneurship Fund;
  • Noel Chalmers (PhD ’15), who was part of the team at Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) that created Frontier, the world’s fastest supercomputer; and
  • Distinguished professor emeritus Don Cowan, who received an honorary Graham Medal at the Graham Symposium. 

I hope you enjoy this issue of E-Ties.

In addition, I wanted note two upcoming campaigns. The Faculty of Mathematics’ Giving Tuesday campaign is taking place on November 29 this year. On this day, people around the world will come together in support of their communities and the causes they love. We hope you will consider supporting the Faculty of Mathematics.

The University of Waterloo is also conducting a Waterloo at 100 exercise. The University broke from tradition when it was founded by community leaders in 1957 and, today, the University is seeking to honour this legacy as we imagine a bold future. Waterloo at 100 aims to develop a longer-term vision that will address: What do we as an institution aspire to become by our 100th anniversary in 2057? In shaping this vision, we want to hear from you, our alumni. If you’re interested, visit this website, read the Waterloo at 100 discussion paper, and send us your thoughts.

Mark Giesbrecht