Dean's message - December 2021

Dear Faculty of Mathematics colleagues, 

The end of the fall term is upon us and exams are about to start. And it has been a unique and eventful one! Most importantly, this fall has seen the gradual return to campus, leading up to the return of a fully in-person experience in January. 

There have certainly been challenges with readjusting to working on campus. Now, with case counts increasing and a new variant on the rise, the pandemic may have one or two more tricks up its sleeve before we are truly clear and free. I remain optimistic that our evidence-driven and careful approach will allow us to fulfill our primary missions around education and research. 

I want to reassure everyone that as we proceed with reopening the university in January, every precaution will be taken to ensure the safety of our students, faculty and staff. We are also prepared, if needs be, to pivot back to a hybrid model of instruction and work. 

Part of what is needed for a successful reopening will be for everyone to do their part. That means continuing to wear masks as required, to keep scrubbing hands, and to stay home if feeling at all unwell. As it is cold and flu season on top of the pandemic, an abundance of caution remains the most sensible approach. 

From my experience of the return to campus this term, everything has gone better than I could have hoped or planned for. Thank you to everyone for your work and dedication and for the spirit of collegiality in the face of adversity. 

Wellness 

During the fall 2021 term, we provided wellness programming that aligned with three different dimensions of wellness: physical (September), emotional (October) and intellectual (November). We are thrilled to have seen more than 350 students, staff and faculty sign up for our workshops, webinars and events. Our Living Wellness programming will resume in the winter 2022 term with three new dimensions of wellness: spiritual (January), financial (February) and environmental (March). Please keep your eyes open for our monthly wellness email in January. 

Our new Expressions of Wellness initiative will be rolling out over the upcoming terms, as a means of encouraging our students, staff and faculty to express themselves through a creative activity. We are now inviting you to submit an original song, dance, painting, drawing, sculpture, writing or photograph to be a part of our initial launch! Submit a piece of original work to Expressions of Wellness and help us inspire other students, staff and faculty to take on a new creative activity that will positively contribute to their health and well-being. 

Events 

There were a few events of note in November here in the Faculty of Mathematics. Congratulations to the organizers and hosts for these successful events. 

  • On November 2, the Faculty of Mathematics hosted the annual Graduate Studies Information Day. The virtual event gave undergraduate students the opportunity to speak with department representatives and learn about graduate studies in the faculty. 
  • The Waterloo Women’s Impact Network hosted an engaging virtual webinar on November 18, discussing the topic “Women and wealth: How women are changing the economy, wealth management, and giving.” 
  • Students enrolled in the eCapstone attended the fourth workshop on November 17, which focused on proof of concept. Presenter Jay Shah co-founded BufferBox and is currently an entrepreneur in residence with Inovia, a venture capital firm. 

There are also a few upcoming events in December to make note of or to pass on to interested students. 

  • On December 1, 2021 students enrolled in the eCapstone will attend the fifth and final workshop of the series, titled “How to get buy-in for your idea.” The workshop will be presented by Pat Martinson. The fall 2021 eCapstone series culminates on December 14, when participating teams present their pitch to an audience, for the chance to be awarded one of the three cash prizes, worth a total of $5000. More details here
  • December 3 is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The university is hosting a keynote by Chris Downey, an award-winning architect and disability activist. More information and registration details here
  • With the holiday season around the corner, the Faculty of Mathematics is hosting an interactive and fun countdown to the Holly-Days! Each business day in December, from the 1st to the 16th, the Holly-Day elves will host an activity to bring joy and PRIZES to all. Make sure to participate to win and check on December 17 for the Holly-Days awards announcements. 

Faculty awards and accolades 

It is my pleasure, as each month, to recognize some of our faculty members who won awards or made extra-significant contributions. Join me in congratulating the following. 

  • Ihab Ilyas from the Cheriton School of Computer Science has been named a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) for his contributions to data integration, data cleaning and rank-aware query processing. Read more here
  • Anita Layton, Canada 150 research chair and professor of applied mathematics, computer science, pharmacy and biology and associate dean of research and international, is a co-principal investigator on a new $2M CIHR-Kidney Foundation-funded diabetes research project. Read more here
  • Jimmy Lin, from the Cheriton School of Computer Science, along with Waterloo computer science postdoctoral researcher Rodrigo Nogueira and Andrew Yates, a professor at the University of Amsterdam, published a new book, Pretrained Transformers for Text Ranking: BERT and Beyond. Learn more here
  • Alfred Yu, a cross-appointed professor in applied mathematics, won the prestigious Steacie fellowship from NSERC for his research in ultrasound technology. Read more here

Student awards and accolades 

Two Faculty of Mathematics teams participating in the current 5th Edition of the prestigious McGill International Portfolio Challenge (MIPC) reached the semi-finals round, earning a place among the top 25 teams. This year’s semi-finalists were Cindy Jiang, Ethan McTavish, Teresa Tan and Marjorie Wan of the ZLB Capital; and Laura Chen, Abdullah Saif, Khalisa Valani and Aliana Versi of the KAAL Capital. Congratulations on your strong performance in the competition! 

Innovation and Entrepreneurship 

Encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship is a strategic priority of the Faculty of Mathematics, and also a huge part of our history (and future!). Here are a few news items about faculty members or alumni who are carrying the torch of innovation. 

  • Float, a company co-founded by former computer science students Griffin Keglevich and Ruslan Nikolaev, attracted $37 million in an initial financing round, with analysts saying the company is set to become the next Canadian ‘unicorn.’ Read more here
  • Snapcommerce, a company founded by Faculty of Mathematics graduates Hussein Fazal and Henry Shi, has been ranked top of the Canada Technology Fast 50 by Deloitte. Read more here
  • Larry Smith from the Problem Lab was featured in a news article and called on math students to seek entrepreneurial opportunities. He provocatively began by saying “the problem is that math students get jobs.” Read more here
  • Two Faculty of Mathematics-linked teams advanced to the final of the Concept 5K Challenge. Read more here. One of these teams, SethSquash, which was created by computer science PhD student Cameron Seth, was featured in a recent article in Waterloo News. 

Research 

Research is our bread and butter here in the Faculty of Mathematics. I would like to draw your attention to items of interest for our researchers and their students. 

  • The Indigenous and Black Engineering and Technology (IBET) PhD project, which aims to support and build a network for Indigenous and Black graduate students, is open to prospective PhD students in math. IBET is for students considering a PhD, who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents and who identify as Indigenous or Black. The fellowship application deadline is February 1, 2022. Learn more about IBET and details on applying through the fellowship webpage
  • Looking for award and grant information? Pivot-RP is a searchable database of research funding opportunities for Waterloo researchers. Training videos can be found on the Pivot-RP YouTube channel. Faculty members are encouraged to set up an account (claim your profile) and begin using this new system. 

Advancement  

The Faculty of Mathematics advancement team is excited to announce two new gifts and the launch of a new award. 

  • Namrata, Juhie, Trisha and Aditya Shivam Kothari (BCS ’20) are creating the Barji and Gulab Scholarship for Women in Computer Science to honour their grandmothers, Barji and Gulab. Both women were pioneers in their time for encouraging higher education for their granddaughters in India. One scholarship, valued at $15,000, will be awarded to a full-time female undergraduate student, currently living in India, entering year one of a computer science program in the David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science (excluding software engineering). 
  • Jay Biskupski (BMath ’81), Catherine Imrie and their family have made a generous gift of $251,327.40 to launch the 4KPi Award for Black and Indigenous Students in Mathematics. Two awards, valued at $12,566.37 each, will be provided annually for ten years to deserving Black or Indigenous students entering year one of any co-op undergraduate degree program within the Faculty of Mathematics (excluding software engineering) in full-time studies. 
  • The Faculty of Mathematics has created the Graduate Research Excellence Award. The new award will promote excellence and innovation by recognizing outstanding graduate student research papers. Interested donors can contribute to the award here

Outreach and media 

Connecting with the community and communicating the impact of our research is a key means through which the Faculty of Mathematics builds its portfolio and creates the next generation of researchers. Check out a few of the faculty’s outreach and media efforts this past month. 

  • The Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing (CEMC) is excited to share that a record number of students participated in the Beaver Computing Challenge in November, with more than 30,000 students involved. Designed for students in Grades 5 to 10 with little to no experience in computer science, the challenge fosters excitement about the field and helps young learners discover the strong connections between problem-solving in math and computing. 
  • The Canadian Senior and Intermediate Mathematics Contests saw near-record participation this year. Students in Grades 9 to 12 wrote the contests in November, and volunteers will be marking the contests — nearly 22,000 of them — remotely over just two days in December. 
  • Researchers from the Cheriton School of Computer Science, including Jimmy Lin and his master’s student Kelechi Ogueji, were featured in a widely syndicated media release on their natural language processing system, called AfriBERTa. Read more here
  • David Gosset, from combinatorics and optimization and the Institute for Quantum Computing, was featured in an interview in Popular Science on IBM’s new 127-qubit quantum computing chip. Read more here
  • Maura R. Grossman from the Cheriton School of Computer Science was featured in an article in Canadian Lawyer on records, text and documentation. Read more here. Grossman was also featured in a separate article on AI and law practice. Read more here

Faculty hires, retirements and news 

There are no hires or retirements to note this month, but a couple items on faculty appointments and a special word on a golden jubilee. 

  • Marek Stastna will be replacing Martin Lysy as associate dean for computing as of January 1. Please join me in thanking Martin for his tireless work to keep our IT infrastructure working throughout the pandemic, which has undoubtedly been the biggest challenge that any associate dean of computing could ever face. Thank you, Martin. 
  • Special congratulations to Ian Munro, who is celebrating 50 years in computer science at Waterloo! There is a wonderful write-up and interview with Ian on the computer science website, which I invite everyone to read here

Staff hires and retirements 

Please join me in welcoming new staff members to the Faculty of Mathematics, and bidding adieu and best wishes to recent retirees. 

  • Welcome to Sara Mota who joined computer science as a graduate coordinator, on contract, on November 15, 2021.  
  • Congratulations to Joshua McDonald on beginning a new role within CEMC as events and communications coordinator on November 11, 2021. 
  • Congratulations to Brandon Yong on transitioning to the call centre manager role for the Survey Research Centre, on a contract basis, on November 1, 2021. 
  • The CEMC congratulates Jacquelene Bailey, assistant to the director and graduate coordinator of the Master of Mathematics for Teachers program, who has begun a secondment as graduate admissions specialist in Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs. 
  • Carolyn Sedore from the Undergraduate Admissions Office has announced her retirement as of December 31, after more than 35 years of service. 
  • Rebecca Graper from the communications team with the Office of the Dean will be leaving in early December to pursue other career opportunities. Thanks for everything and best wishes, Rebecca! 

In memory 

On a somber note, join me in remembering two of our colleagues who have recently passed away. 

  • Michael Best from the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization passed away on November 10. He earned his BMath and MMath degrees at Waterloo in 1967 and 1968, followed by an MSc and PhD at UC Berkeley in 1970 and 1971. He was the second-ever recipient of a BMath degree at Waterloo. He joined the C&O faculty after his PhD, where he remained until his retirement in 2010. Read more here
  • Farhad Mavaddat from the Cheriton School of Computer Science passed away on November 3. He received a BS in electrical engineering in 1963 from Tehran University, a diploma of graduate studies in 1964 from Philips International Institute of Technological Studies in Eindhoven, Netherlands, and his DIC and PhD degrees in computing in 1968 from the Imperial College of Science and Technology in London. Read more here

Community announcement 

Congratulations to Maura R. Grossman and Gordon V. Cormack, both from the Cheriton School of Computer Science, who were married on November 15. They met at a conference some years ago and have collaborated ever since on projects bringing AI to law, specifically technology-assisted review in eDiscovery. 

Looking forward to December 

As we move into December and the holiday season, I hope everyone will take some time to enjoy the simple things in life and to celebrate with family and friends. Thanks once again for everything you do to make the Faculty of Mathematics the supportive and collegial place that it is. 

2021 is a year that has been challenging for so many reasons, and 2022 will surely have its share of challenges as well. But together we have shown such resilience and grace under pressure. Here’s to closing out December on a high note and to the best for a new year! 

Yours truly, 

Mark Giesbrecht

Dean, Faculty of Mathematics, University of Waterloo

Mark Giesbrecht