from the Dean

During a keynote speech at the World Economic Forum in 2016, Justin Trudeau pointed to the University of Waterloo as an exemplar of Canadian innovation and made an interesting observation about our success:

Why does Silicon Valley look to (the University of Waterloo) as a great source of brilliant minds and brilliant ideas? Well, it has high intellectual standards, of course. And it values entrepreneurship. But diversity is its indispensable ingredient.

He was right. Waterloo draws students, faculty and staff from every corner of the world. These people bring with them unique perspectives that enrich our culture and drive innovative approaches. This diversity is absolutely critical to our status as a University that is shaping the future.

Yet, we also acknowledge that more must be done to build a truly inclusive and diverse community. Sadly, racism and gender discrimination remain prevalent in society today. The racist violence that sparked protests in America last summer—and that occurs also in Canada and across the world—clearly demonstrates this fact. At the same time, we know that women continue to be vastly underrepresented in STEM fields and, more broadly, in positions of senior leadership across society.

We in the Faculty of Mathematics recognize that we’re not immune from racism or sexism, both systemic and overt, and the negative impacts that result from racist and sexist structures.  For this reason, we are committed to taking action to do better in the future, through student, faculty and staff support and engagement, through data collection and analysis (we are mathematicians after all), and through better consultation and engagement with our community and beyond.

As part of this commitment, we have launched a range of initiatives dedicated to making the Faculty of Mathematics a supportive and empowering place for women to work and study. These include Women in Computer Science (WiCS)Waterloo Women’s Impact Network (WWIN), the Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing (CEMC) and Women in Mathematics (WiM). The Faculty is also planning Indigenization initiatives in response to the call to actions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

This issue of E-Ties is devoted to the theme of diversity. We feature the remarkable story of KC Leong, who travelled from Malaysia to Waterloo for our Actuarial Science program, and rose from co-op student to Vice-President, Analytics, at Aon, a professional services company, in just a few years.

We introduce you to Waterloo alumnus and Facebook employee Rico Mariani (BMath ’88), who is demonstrating that philanthropy can play a key role in dismantling the barriers and inequities facing Black, Indigenous, women and LGBTQIA+ students in computer science. 

We highlight undergraduate recruitment officer Pavak Vyas’s efforts to bring the brightest minds in India to Waterloo—efforts that have proven successful in spite of the challenges posed by COVID-19.

Finally, we share the story of Wes Graham, the legendary professor known as the “father of computing” at the University of Waterloo, and the award created in his memory, the J.W. Graham Medal in Computing and Innovation. In 2020, this award was given to Joanne McKinley (MMATH ’02), a Google software engineer and a champion for women in technology.

In closing, I want to note that March 14 was Pi Day. Sadly, this will mark the second year in a row that, due to COVID-19, we were unable to celebrate the event on campus in our customary way (ie. with lots and lots of pie). Nevertheless, I do hope that our alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends enjoyed a very happy Pi Day! I look forward to celebrating it with you again in person in future years.  

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