This Month in Math - Dean's message

May 2, 2022

Dear Faculty of Mathematics colleagues,  

What is it about the month of April in the university that it is always such a whirlwind of activity and busyness? The exams, grading, gearing up for conference season and getting plans underway for convocation. There is no shortage of work to do this time of year!

The past month, and indeed the whole Winter 2022 term, has also been a time of great achievement and productivity. One of the most gratifying things for me as Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics is to set aside time to reflect on all the amazing things our students, faculty and staff are doing. It is my pleasure as always to share some of their stories with you. I also had the great pleasure of meeting many Math alumni, partners and fans in the San Francisco Bay Area this past week. Their success stories were inspirational and speak well of the Waterloo experience you are all an integral part of providing.

Thank you to everyone for the wonderful work you do supporting our students and one another. Academic life can at times seem like a solitary pursuit, but great things can happen when people come together and work as a team. Being part of our Faculty of Mathematics team is something we can all be proud of.

Events

In late April, it was my great privilege to attend and offer a toast at the Grad Send-off. The event was well attended with some 200 participants, and it was a pleasure to meet so many of our new graduates who will be crossing the stage at the upcoming convocation. The future is certainly in good hands.

Here are some events coming up in May and beyond that may be of interest to faculty, staff and students:

  • In celebration of International Women in Math Day on May 12, the Women in Math Committee (WiM) presents a Picnic & Paint event. Join the celebration for some refreshments, socializing and discussion. Register to attend.
  • Also for International Women in Math Day on May 12, the Waterloo Women’s Impact Network (WWIN) is celebrating the occasion with a media event via a news story and video, which will be hosted on Waterloo News and shared with the alumni community through the University’s Alumni E-newsletter.
  • On May 17, the Faculty of Mathematics will host the Data + Health event. The event will explore all the things we have (and haven’t) learned about collecting health data, and how we might use it to create a healthier world. The discussion will be moderated by Anita Layton, Canada 150 Research Chair in Mathematical Biology and Medicine and Professor of Applied Mathematics. It will be held in person at Fed Hall and live-streamed on YouTube.
  • Oliver Pechenik, Assistant Professor in the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization, is organizing the 3rd annual Algebraic Combinatorics Virtual Expedition (AlCoVE), June 6-7, with Laura Colmenarejo (NCSU), Maria Gillespie (CSU), and Liam Solus (KTH). There is no registration fee, but those interested should register on the conference website, where they can also apply to present a poster.
  • Alumni will have the opportunity to reconnect, reminisce and revisit campus during Alumni Weekend on June 4, which features events across campus. Register today for the Alumni Weekend.
  • During Alumni Weekend, the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University are proud to celebrate a major milestone of the Double Degree program, its 20th anniversary as of 2021! Join the Double Degree Program 20th Anniversary Celebration on June 4.

Student awards and accolades

It is a privilege as always to recognize the successes of some of our amazing students. Pass on your congratulations if you had these wonderful students in your class.

  • Double degree student Karl Zhu was awarded the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers from the Governor General of Canada. Read more here.
  • Two students from the Faculty of Mathematics were awarded the Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association (WUSA) Leadership Award. Congratulations to Kanan Sharma, who is completing a degree in Financial Analysis and Risk Management, and Josué Kurke, who is completing a combined honours in Combinatorics & Optimization and Pure Mathematics. Read more about the award on the WUSA homepage.
  • Patrick Naylor, a PhD graduand in the Department of Pure Mathematics, won the Mathematics Doctoral Prize (First Place). Read more here.
  • Akshay Ramachandran, a PhD graduand in the Cheriton School of Computer Science, won the Mathematics Doctoral Prize (Second Place). Read more here.
  • Meng Yuan, a PhD graduand in the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science, was awarded the Mathematics Doctoral Prize (Third Place). Read more here.

Outreach and media

Communicating research impact and connecting with the public is a strategic priority of the Faculty of Mathematics. Check out some of the outreach efforts from the past month, and thanks to the following units and researchers for going the extra mile to help spread the word about the splendid work happening at Waterloo.

  • In the last week of April, the CEMC led a team of more than 350 volunteers (many of whom were active and retired secondary school teachers) in marking more than 30,000 full solution contests at the Grade 9, 10, 11 and 12 levels. Some of this data will be used to support admissions and scholarship decisions for our incoming Fall 2022 class.
  • The CEMC will also be running online versions of its annual Canadian Computing Olympiad and the Lloyd Auckland Mathematics Workshop. Kudos to all the fine folk at the CEMC for the work you do to bring the beauty of math and computer science to youths throughout Canada and around the world!
  • Michele Mosca, Professor in the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization and co-founder of the Institute for Quantum Computing, was featured in The Record discussing breakthroughs in quantum research. Read more here.
  • Daniel Vogel, Associate Professor in the Cheriton School of Computer Science and Cheriton Faculty Fellow, and Jian Zhao, Assistant Professor in the Cheriton School of Computer Science, were featured in numerous news items related to their work in human computer interaction and a new funding award from Meta. Read more here and here.
  • Bilal Akhtar, a 2019 graduate of the Software Engineering program, has been tackling the housing affordability crisis in the GTA. Read more here.
  • Achim Kempf, Professor in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Canada Research Chair in the Physics of Information, and Barbara Šoda, a PhD student in the Department of Applied Mathematics, were featured in several media outlets related to a breakthrough in research on the Unruh effect. Read more here.
  • Enamul Haque, a PhD student in the Cheriton School of Computer Science, was featured in a widely syndicated media release for work on a machine learning approach to understanding substance abuse in developing countries. Read more here.
  • Mazen Melibari, an alumnus of the Cheriton School of Computer Science who was advised by Pascal Poupart and Edward Lank, was named among the 30 most prominent AI experts in the Arab world according to the Arabic version of MIT Technology Review. Read more here.
  • The Layton Lab, under the direction of Anita Layton, Canada 150 Research Chair in Mathematical Biology and Medicine and Professor of Applied Mathematics, released new videos in the group’s latest work on knowledge translation and research communications. Read more here.

Faculty hires and departures

Join me in welcoming new and continuing faculty members. Congratulations to:

  • Andy Zucker (Carnegie Mellon, 2018) has accepted a tenure track position as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pure Mathematics starting July 1.
  • Xuemiao Chen (Stony Brook, 2019) has accepted a tenure track position as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pure Mathematics starting July 1.
  • Liqun Diao, who was a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science, has accepted a position as an Assistant Professor starting May 1.
  • Erik Hintz, who is completing a PhD in the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science, has taken a position as Lecturer starting May 1.
  • Jack Davis, who is completing a PhD with affiliation through the Institute for Quantum Computing, has taken a position as Lecturer in the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science starting May 1.

Staff hires and departures

Congratulations to the new and continuing staff members:

  • Costin Ograda-Bratu (CSCF) has moved from a contract to an ongoing role as Information Technology Specialist as of April 1.
  • Todd Litchy (CSCF) has moved from a contract to an ongoing role as Information Technology Specialist as of April 1.
  • Melissa McNaughton (DOM) has moved from a contract role to the new ongoing role of Manager, Advancement Operations as of April 1.
  • Megan Martin (MUO) has moved from an Undergraduate Coordinator role to become the Student Services Manager, on an ongoing basis, beginning on May 1.
  • Welcome back to Christina Young (DOM) who is returning from maternity leave to her role as Donor Relations Officer on May 2.
  • Welcome back to Amelia Burton (UAO), who will be returning from secondment to her role as Undergraduate Recruitment & Admissions Officer on May 2.
  • Elisabetta Paiano (DOM) will be joining UW as the Social Media & Digital Communications Officer beginning on May 9.

Best wishes to staff members who are departing for other opportunities or leaving us for a time:

  • Chloe Pottier (C&O) moved to a new ongoing role in Finance on April 25.
  • Nadia Linares, Assistant to the Chair of Applied Mathematics, will be leaving as of April 27 to pursue a career off-campus.
  • Vicky Liu (UAO) will be going on maternity leave beginning on May 2.
  • Zoe Tipper (CS) moved to a new secondment role in the Dean of Arts Office beginning on May 2.
  • Kim Tremblay (MUO) has taken a secondment with CFM beginning on May 16.
  • Kristine McGlynn (DOM) has taken a secondment with WatSpeed beginning on May 2.

All the best to the following staff members taking their retirements:

  • Adrian Pepper (CSCF) will be retiring from his role as Information Technology Specialist on May 31.
  • Lawrence Folland (CSCF) will be retiring from his role as Technical Manager on May 31. In conversation with him, he reminisced about his time with CSCF. “I started working at UW for the newly created CSCF in 2003 as the Research Support Technical Manager, a role I have stayed in since that time, other than a one-year stint as the Staff Association President. I have very much enjoyed this role and am certainly going to miss it. As an IT person, I can say that we get to deal with some of the coolest computing equipment and brilliant researchers, which makes the job so fun and interesting!” Best wishes on your retirement!
  • Kim Schnarr (CEMC) will be retiring from her role as Project Coordinator on May 31.

Staff working from home

Starting on May 1, many of our staff members will be working from home one or two days per week on a regular basis. Staff members may not always be in the office to provide in-person service, but they remain available to support clients remotely during regular business hours. Many meetings will continue to take place virtually to accommodate people working in different locations.

It can be very difficult in this work environment to feel connected to your co-workers; people that we saw almost every day you may now only see once or twice per week. The issue of how to retain a healthy work environment is under active consideration by the Faculty’s Employee Health and Well-being Committee. If you have ideas as to retaining a strong community within the workplace, please reach out to any member of the Committee.

Staff members who wish to work from home are reminded that they require the permission of their supervisor and are responsible for the purchase of their own equipment and furnishings.

Looking forward

Once again, I would simply like to express my gratitude and admiration to all of you, the faculty members and staff of the Faculty of Mathematics. Although I know this is a busy time of year for everyone, I encourage you to find ways to unplug and enjoy the best that life has to offer. I look forward to hearing about all the accomplishments and successes that will surely be coming in May, and then to narrating this unfolding story of innovation and excellence once again next month.

Yours truly, 

Mark Giesbrecht

Dean, Faculty of Mathematics, University of Waterloo

Mark Giesbrecht