I’m hoping you all had a healthy November and share my glimmer of hope for the end of the pandemic and seeing opportunities beyond it. I’ll start by applauding all Math faculty, staff, and students for their skill, devotion, resilience, and stamina as we approach the end of our third term under COVID. Please do make sure that you are availing yourself of our supportive resources in these challenging times and take the time to congratulate yourselves on a job well done. 

Please also join me in welcoming our incoming President Vivek Goel, to start in July 2021. Professor Goel brings a strong vision for education and the student experience, research and entrepreneurship, and the university’s role in grand societal challenges. I look forward to working with him over the coming years.

As you all know by now, the Waterloo region has moved into the red zone of the provincial framework for managing the spread of COVID-19. The University has updated its COVID-19 screening processes to align with regulations the Ontario government recently announced. It is now mandatory for every individual who comes to campus, including essential visitors and contractors, to complete COVID-19 screening assessment, and the University will now be tracking compliance. 

You can view the full details of the new requirements and access the Campus Check-In Form on the University’s COVID-19 information site.

You’ll remember that in 2018 we rolled out the Math Strategic plan. We have made significant progress in a “restart” meeting of the Math Strategic Plan Committee, documented in a report Martha Foulds has put together with the Implementation Working Groups and unit heads. She has also documented the implementation process. I want to thank everyone who has contributed so far to shaping the Faculty’s priorities and charting our path forward.

The Centre for Education of Mathematics and Computing in mid-November coordinated the marking of more than 15,000 Canadian Senior and Intermediate Mathematics Contests (CSMC and CIMC) written in schools (and homes!) around the world. CSMC and CIMC allowed students to have fun while developing their mathematical problem-solving ability.

During the month, the Faculty of Mathematics also took part in Waterloo’s Virtual Open House, which saw a record number of participants. Thousands of potential students and their families engaged with the Faculty in our contest workshop and sessions about Computer Science, Computing and Financial, Mathematics/Business Administration, Honours Math and admissions. 

The Faculty’s Advancement team hosted a virtual fireside chat with two inspiring entrepreneurial leaders Susan Heystee, BMath ’86, Managing Director at Golden Seeds, and Katie Witkop, Founding Designer at Faire. Among the topics discussed were the importance of supporting female-owned start-ups, potential funding sources for entrepreneurs, incubators, female founders’ experience, and the recent shift towards women starting their own businesses during COVID-19.

 I would also like to take this time to celebrate the achievements of people in our community over the last month. Congratulations to:

  • Jason Bell, who was named a Fellow of the American Mathematical Society for 2021.
  • Yeying Zhu received NRC funding as part of the Challenge program for her project AI-assisted solutions to network operations automation for remote communities.
  • Michele Mosca and Douglas Stebila (Combinatorics and Optimization) represent two-thirds of a team whose project, ‘Building a standardized quantum-safe networking architecture,’ was selected in the Canada-UK Call for Proposals on Quantum Technologies. The team is collaborating to advance quantum technologies in Canada and the UK.
  • Eric Blais and Shalev Ben David (CS) won the best paper award at the 61st Annual IEEE Symposium on Foundations of Computer Science.
  • Maura Grossman was named a Global Elite Thought Leader in Litigation by Who’s Who Legal 2020.
  • Johnson Shih (CFM), who wrote a blog post about his experience, won the Schulich Strategy Discipline Case Competition with his team of students.
  • In late October, we held our second virtual Waterloo-local ICPC programming contest. The top five were all undergraduate students of the David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science:
    • Ildar Gainullin (1A CS) who earned first place for solving all five problems
    • Jason Yuen (3A CS) finished second after solving all five problems
    • Pang Wen Yuen (1A CS) placed third after solving four of the five problems
    • Kevin Wan (1A CS), was fourth having solved four out of five problems
    • George Chen (1A CS) earned fifth for solving three of the five problems

We also had several press releases go out to the media. Anita Layton and her PhD student, Mehrshad Sadria, identified two classes of drugs commonly prescribed to people with hypertension, diabetes, kidney and heart disease that may increase COVID-19 infection severity.

Samer Al-Kiswany and his graduate students, Mohammed Alfatafta, Basil Alkhatib and Ahmed Alquraan, found a fault called partial partitioning as the culprit of catastrophic computer system failures. The good news is the researchers have not only identified it; they have figured out how to fix it.

I am sure you would all like to join me in wishing Jodi Szimanski, former director of strategic communications, all the best in her new role at Co-Operative Education.

Join me also in welcoming Robert Bruce, who joined the team as a community engagement coordinator. 

Finally, as you have seen, a number of actions have been taken to address concerns of stress and wellbeing amongst students, staff, and faculty. Classes will be shifted to start one week later, on January 11, 2021. Two additional pauses are scheduled in the academic schedule for March 15-16, 2021.  All employees will also get a well-deserved two additional days off to be used between January and April of next year. Please discuss scheduling with your managers and enjoy.

Mark Giesbrecht

Dean, Faculty of Mathematics, University of Waterloo

Mark Giesbrecht