Dear Faculty of Mathematics colleagues,  

As 2021 ends and a new year begins, we are once again in a situation that is far from ideal. Sometimes optimism can be cruel, such as when we laid our plans for this winter 2022 academic term with the belief that by now the pandemic would be receding for good. The virus, it seems, had its own plans.  

Still, I remain a dyed-in-the-wool optimist. It may come across as sentimental, but I find so much to be hopeful about. We have great vaccines, and the booster rollout is picking up speed. We have an array of new treatments and other innovations to combat COVID-19, some of which our UW researchers had a hand in creating. And we know a lot more about effective health policy and how to safely work and research.  

That is not to say it is an easy situation or that somehow optimism makes everything okay. Pandemic fatigue is very real, and many of our students are justifiably frustrated with yet another disruption to their plans for study and living arrangements this term.  

But with all of this, I still find optimism. I find hope in the people around me, in the many ways they stand fast. I find cheer in their humour, the way they laugh at the absurdity of that which they cannot control. I find solace in their quiet words of encouragement when things are difficult, saying we can do this. I am optimistic, and that optimism is thanks to all of you, my colleagues, in the Faculty of Mathematics.  

2022 is certainly going to have its share of challenges, but I know that together we will rise to any challenge and then overcome. Here’s to optimism for the new year!  


Continuing with our Living Wellness Campaign programming, in January our health and well-being committees will be hosting activities focused on spiritual wellness. Practicing spiritual wellness means striving for consistency of values and beliefs, and establishing peace and harmony in everyday life. We will be adding our spiritual wellness offerings to the Math Wellness website in early January.  

In December, we held one of the staff/faculty prize draws as part of the Have your say initiative. Three winners received a $50.00 W-Store gift card. Thanks to all the students, staff and faculty who participated for the thoughtfulness and care in their submissions. You can make a submission for ways the Faculty of Mathematics can improve the health and well-being of our staff, faculty and students and be entered into our next draw, which will be held early April.  

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 creative activities. We are now inviting you to submit an original song, dance, painting, drawing, sculpture, writing or photograph to be a part of the 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.  


I was honoured to give the keynote address at the annual WatITis conference. I spoke on the topic of challenges and promises of post-pandemic IT for the new university. Thanks to the conference organizers, and special thanks for sharing ideas and perspectives to Diana Skrzydlo, the Faculty of Mathematics teaching fellow, Martin Lysy, the outgoing Associate Dean for Computing, and Lawrence Folland, the Technical Manager for Research and Special Projects in the Computer Science Computing Facility. Read more here.   

In December, our events staff organized a wonderful series of Holly-Days celebrations. The Holly-Day elves wrapped presents and announced winners during the grand finale on December 17. A Nespresso machine, a Keurig machine, and UW hoodies/toques were among the prizes awarded. A big congratulations to all the winners and participants, and thanks especially to Heather, Marie, Brittany and Ketyusha for organizing.  

On December 16, Kevin Hare’s work for the Faculty of Mathematics as Associate Dean for Operations and Academic (aka “the Vice Dean”) was acknowledged during a surprise virtual event. Colleagues shared laughs, memories, appreciation and best wishes. Thanks again, Kevin, for your true leadership in the Faculty of Mathematics through an incredibly tumultuous time!  

Faculty awards and accolades  

Join me in congratulating our colleagues who received awards, major funding or were recognized for their scholarly contributions in the past month.  

  • Distinguished Professor Emerita Mary Thompson and Professor Changbao Wu from the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science are part of a research team that received $10 million USD for a project on how policies impact smoking, vaping and the use of other nicotine products. Read more here.  
  • Three Faculty of Mathematics researchers were among a number of Waterloo recipients of funding from the National Research Council. Congratulations to Edward Lank, Professor and Cheriton Faculty Fellow in the Cheriton School of Computer Science, Michele Mosca, Professor in the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization, and Daniel Vogel, Associate Professor and Cheriton Faculty Fellow in the Cheriton School for Computer Science. Read more here.  
  • Douglas Stebila, an Associate Professor from the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization, gave a keynote address at the International Conference on Cryptology and Network Security (CANS) in December. Read more here.   
  • Oliver Pechenik, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization, published an article entitled “Gröbner geometry of Schubert polynomials through ice” with Zachary Hamaker (Florida) and Anna Weigandt (MIT) in the prestigious journal Advances in Mathematics.  

Student awards and accolades  

Along with recognizing the achievements of our faculty members, I am always impressed by the work that our students, current and former, are doing to distinguish themselves. Please join me in congratulating the following.  

  • Former computer science student Vitalik Buterin named in Forbes ’30 under 30 hall of fame.’ Read more here.  
  • Anthony Ilersich, a fourth-year computing and financial management student, is part of a team that developed a game to help kids overcome fears and anxiety about getting needles for vaccines. Read more here.  
  • Richard Xie, an undergraduate student in the Cheriton School of Computer Science, has created an artificial intelligence that has helped people buy and sell more than $100 million of real estate. Read more here.  
  • The Department of Statistics and Actuarial Sciences announced the winners from their recent student conference. The winners in alphabetic order are Lisa Gao (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Jason Hou-Liu (University of Waterloo), Lihua Lei (Stanford University) and Zhimei Ren (University of Chicago). Honourable mentions go to Florian Puchhammer (University of Waterloo) and Qiong Zhang (University of British Columbia).   

Media and outreach  

Communicating the impact of our research is a strategic priority for the Faculty of Mathematics. There is so much amazing work happening, so please join me in thanking the following researchers for their efforts to share with the world some of what we are doing.   

  • Mohammad Kohandel, Associate Professor in the Department of Applied Mathematics was featured in a widely syndicated media release for his work on new testing technology for SARS-CoV-2 using quantum sensors. Read more here.  
  • Douglas Stebila, Associate Professor in the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization was featured in an article in the Toronto Star on the topic of credit cards and holiday shopping. Read more here.  
  • Martin Lysy, Professor of Statistics and Actuarial Science, was featured in a widely syndicated media release for his work on AI-powered computer models for predicting disease progression during aging. Read more here.  

Faculty hires, retirements, and news  

I would like to draw your attention to our hiring program in the Faculty of Mathematics for Indigenous and Black faculty members. As part of the university-wide initiative to address systemic underrepresentation of Indigenous and Black faculty and to ensure equity, diversity and inclusivity for all, the Faculty of Mathematics is hiring tenure-track/tenured academic appointments to increase representation of academics who self-identify as Indigenous and who self-identify as Black. Read more here.   

Professor Vern Paulsen retired from the Department of Pure Mathematics effective December 1, and we are sure to miss him. Since arriving here from the University of Houston in 2015, Vern has been a exceptional colleague, stellar researcher, superior teacher and actively participant in service to the university. More than that, Vern has been a friendly and cheerful colleague who makes his colleagues laugh out loud at least once a day. Retirement is well-deserved by Vern, but all his colleagues in Pure Math and the entire Faculty say it is bittersweet to see him go. Best of luck, Vern, in everything you do!  

Join me in welcoming new faculty members who take up their appointments January 1, 2022:  

  • Richard Peng joins the Cheriton School of Computer Science as a tenured Associate Professor. 
  • Lan Wen joins the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science as an Assistant Professor.  
  • Diogo Barradas joins the Cheriton School of Computer Science as an Assistant Professor.  
  • Hongyang Zhang joins the Cheriton School of Computer Science as an Assistant Professor.  
  • Anila Yadavalli joins the Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing as a Definite Term Lecturer.  

Staff hires and departures  

In the past month and in the new year, new staff members are joining our ranks and some current Faculty of Mathematics staff members are transitioning to permanent roles. Welcome and congratulations to the following.  

  • Enis Cahit joined the Math Undergraduate Office on contract as an Undergraduate Coordinator on December 6.  
  • Tucker Seabrook takes up a new contract role within the Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing as Assistant to the Director, Graduate Coordinator on January 1.  
  • Sylvie Davies from Computer Science moves into an on-going role as Instructional Support Coordinator beginning on January 1.  
  • Janessa Zheng joins the Math Undergraduate Office as an Academic Advisor, International beginning on January 4.  
  • Anthony Brennan transitions to a new contract role within the Computer Science Computing Facility as an Information Technology Specialist beginning on January 1.  
  • Robert Bruce with the Dean of Math’s Office transitions to an on-going role of Community Well-being and Engagement Officer on January 4.  
  • Alex Rideout will be continuing with CEMC on an on-going basis as the Outreach Activities Administrator beginning on January 4.  
  • Hillary Matt will be joining Computer Science on a contract basis as the Outreach Coordinator, WICS beginning on January 10.  

Join me in also wishing all the best to staff members who are moving on to other roles.  

  • Cherisse Mike from Applied Math has moved on to a new ongoing role in the Student Success Office.  
  • Jennifer Crane from Computer Science will be beginning a two-year secondment with the Registrar’s Office effective January 17.  
  • Jacque Bailey from CEMC has begun a secondment in Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs until October 14, 2022.  
  • Kate Dal Castel from the Dean of Math’s Office will be remaining in Co-op and Experiential Education on an ongoing basis.  
  • Sara O’Donnell from the Math Undergraduate Office has moved to a new ongoing role in Electrical and Computer Engineering.  
  • Ahmed Hajyasien from Computer Science is moving on to a new opportunity outside of the University of Waterloo.  

Looking forward to 2022  

Thanks so much again to everyone here in the Faculty of Mathematics for all you do. As we begin 2022 and a new academic term, we will have to continue to find ways to adapt to what seems like ever-changing circumstances. Please know that help is here if you need it and there is always a shoulder to lean on. Please also be that shoulder for your colleagues and continue to check how others are doing. Times are tough, for sure. But we are all in this together and I know that as long as we support one another that we will get through this and see better days soon.   

I wish you all a very happy, safe, and restorative holiday break. Happy new year and best wishes for a great 2022!    

Yours truly, 

Mark Giesbrecht

Dean, Faculty of Mathematics, University of Waterloo

Mark Giesbrecht