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About Mathematics

Dean’s Message – July 2018

Our graduating class and alumni lit up the stage at convocation on June 15. With the addition of 1,141 students conferring, we are proud to say that we now have 38,882 alumni in 106 countries. Our valedictorians, Joseph (Joey) Pereira and Winnie Luong, did an exceptional job and we were pleased at the announcement of Tamer Özsu as University Professor, a distinction conferred to academics of exceptional scholarly achievement and international pre-eminence. One of our honorary doctorates and president of RBC, Dave McKay inspired students and their guests with his advice to: “Dream big, live with purpose, never stop learning, and never stop asking ‘why not me?’”

The day before, several of our students were inspired at the Recognizing Excellence Series and our annual convocation dinner. Our honorary doctorate recipients, Anand Pillay and Robert Tibshirani, both delivered talks, as did the J.W. Graham Medal in Computing and Innovation award winner Alex Nicolau. Pillay is the William J. Hank Family Chair in Mathematics at the University of Notre Dame and has made profound and lasting contributions in model theory. Tibshiriani is not only among the top statisticians world-wide today and professor at Stanford University, he is also a Waterloo alumnus. Nicolau is the Director of Engineering at Google. He was recognized for his innovative and entrepreneurial achievements, and his contributions to the field of computer science through his work at Google, and smaller startups.

All three were guests of honour at the convocation dinner at Fed Hall, as were three other student award winners. The J. Alan George Leadership Award went to Hannah Watson, the Governor General Silver went to Shouzhen (Bailey) Gu with an impressive 99% average, and Zhengxu (Billy) Jin took home the Alumni Gold.

Congratulations to all who received convocation honours, as well as:

  • 2018 Faculty of Mathematics recipients Jason Bell, Luke Postle, and Dan Vogel
  • University Research Chair Ruodu Wang
  • Canadian Artificial Intelligence Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award winner Robin Cohen
  • Cavaliere of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, Michele Mosca, knighted on June 28, also WEBIT Congress Security and Anti-Fraud Innovation Award winner
  • 2018 recipient Michael Abebe
  • Math Advancement and University Relations won silver at the CASE International Circle of Excellence Awards for #WeBelongInTech video 

It is my pleasure to announce two new programs to support research excellence in Math at Waterloo. The first is the Math Faculty Research Chair program. In 2019 and every year following, we will recognize exceptional scholarly achievement of up to three faculty members and designate them as Math Faculty Research Chairs. Nominated by a head of a Department/School, the Chair can be held for up to five years. The second, the Dean’s Distinguished Visitor Program, involves the selection of a leading international researcher to be a resident for one academic term in which they will give a public lecture and a full-term course for credit for graduate or senior undergraduate students. We invite you to make a nomination to the Chair of the selection committee.

Our outreach programs happen inside the ring and out. On June 9, we hosted the René Descartes Medallist Dinner at Fed Hall honouring teachers of mathematics and computer studies in the schools of Ontario. Earlier that day girls in Grades 6 and 7 came to campus for the second GIRLsmarts4tech program to inspire girls to explore technology. For anyone interested in learning basic programming skills, there was a three-day workshop held June 22-24 supported by the Python Software Foundation and Women in Computer Science.

In addition, three of our graduate students, Justin Laverdure, Ehsaan Hossain, and Anton Mosounov graciously volunteered their time to coach the grade 5 students at the K.W. Bilingual School for the "Mathematica Centrum" competition. They did such a fantastic job that the KWBS Grade 5 team tied for first place in all of Canada. The grade 3 team, coached by Spiro Karigiannis and Christiane Lemieux, tied for third place nationally for their grade level.

Other events to note in the past month:

  • June 1 we held a in honour of Dr. Vidyadhar Godambe, an important faculty member in the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science and a pioneer in the foundations of inference in survey sampling.
  • June 4 the Department of Pure Mathematics hosted a public lecture by Antonio Montalban of the University of California, Berkeley called Infinite Games.
  • June 21 the David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science hosted the inaugural Wes Graham Research Symposium featuring talks by Wes Graham Research Fellowship recipients Jesse Hoey and Bin Ma and the Wes Graham Research Postdoctoral Fellow Moojan Ghafurian. These were followed by an awards presentation to the year’s computer science award winners.
  • June 25 the David Sprott Distinguished Lecture featured Pauline Barrieu of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her talk was entitled Assessing financial model risk.

This month we will unveil the elliptical pool table – join us July 10 in the Comfy Lounge – and the following day we are hosting a panel with alumnus Sam Pasupalak. Next month the Department of Applied Mathematics is hosting the Frontiers of Applied Mathematics on August 1 and 2. You can register on the Fields Institute website. They are also excited to welcome the Canada 150 Research Chair Anita Layton to the team. Layton made the news in the Globe and Mail when the Canada 150 Research Chairs were announced in March.

A research team to also hit the headlines in the Globe and Mail included Hassan Khan, Urs Hengartner, and Daniel Vogel for their research on how “shoulder surfing” could threaten your smartphone password. Also to make news in Toronto on Breakfast Television was Peter van Beek’s research on discovering a new way to take sharp photos. Across the country, Mary Hardy, David Saunders and their colleagues hit the headlines with their Canadian Institute of Actuaries report about Retirement Consumption, Risk Perception, and Planning Objectives.

While the figurative spotlight continues to shine on the activities of the Faculty of Mathematics, we have also worked to brighten the environment in MC and DC literally. You may have noticed new lighting around the fishbowl and most recently in the MC halls and stairwells. We cannot wait for our newly minted alumni to return from their bright futures to the well-lit Faculty of Mathematics.

Stephen M. Watt
Dean, Faculty of Mathematics - University of Waterloo

Stephen Watt

Note: All faculty and staff will soon receive an invitation via email to read and provide feedback on the draft of the Math Faculty Strategic Plan.