July marked one year since I assumed the role of dean for the Faculty of Mathematics, and what a year it has been. It was punctuated by many challenges, not the least of which was the pandemic. I cannot overstate the value of the team effort in getting through this, and the incredible personal support and engagement I have seen from so many of you across our faculty. Thankfully, the pandemic seems to be diminishing in Canada, thanks largely to effective social distancing and preventative behaviour, and broad vaccine uptake, even as new variants continue to pose challenges worldwide. In the past month, we received further clarification from the university’s administration and the provincial government about plans for re-opening in the fall (more on this below).

Along with the challenges associated with the pandemic, the past year has also been gratifying. I am so proud of the achievements of our students, faculty and staff. The standard of excellence and the dedication of our people in the face of adversity is truly remarkable. The Faculty of Mathematics has done more than live up to its reputation as a dedicated and innovative force in education and research. You have consistently gone beyond all expectations in pursuing our mandate. Thank you, everyone, for all you do in support of our fine institution.

Events in July

The first week of July featured events to welcome and orient new students. On July 6, I participated in Waterloo Ready activities and events. I was pleased to have an opportunity to speak to incoming first-year math students.

The Employee Health and Well-being Committee hosted a series of community assemblies in July. These meetings created a space for open dialogue about the different facets of well-being and identified areas for improvement to inform the committee’s ongoing work. Thanks to the committee for organizing these critical meetings. Thanks to all the staff and faculty members who took part.

The Everyone Meeting took place July 24 for the Faculty’s Orientation Teams. Orientation Teams are made up of second to fourth-year student leaders who meet with and mentor incoming first-year students. The Everyone Meeting included sessions around engaging leaders, equity conversations with Jazz Fitzgerald (equity specialist in the Student Success Office) and a discussion with Meaghan Ross (sexual violence response coordinator in the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office) around consent and responding to virtual disclosures.

Faculty awards and accolades

I am pleased, as always, to recognize some of our fantastic faculty members. They received awards and accolades in the past month. Please join me in celebrating the success and achievements of our colleagues.

  • Sophie Spirkl from Combinatorics and Optimization and Eduardo Martin-Martinez from Applied Mathematics were the 2021 winners of the Math Golden Jubilee Research Award. The award is presented annually by the Faculty of Mathematics and recognizes early and mid-career academic excellence. Read more here.
  • Eric Blais from Computer Science was the recipient of the Early Researcher Award from the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities. Read more here.
  • Peter Forsyth from Computer Science, along with his co-researchers, received the 2021 Brockett–Shapiro Actuarial Journal Award from the American Risk and Insurance Association. Read more here.
  • Kevin Purbhoo from Combinatorics and Optimization published a major result related to the Shapiro-Shapiro conjecture in Inventiones Mathematicae. Read more here.

Faculty appointments

At the beginning of July, and now at the beginning of August, we have the honour of welcoming several new faculty members to our ranks. Starting a new academic position is exciting, but it can also leave one feeling a little unmoored especially in the virtual pandemic world, so please join me in extending a warm Faculty of Mathematics welcome to our new colleagues.

  • Michael Brannan (Queen’s U, ‘12) joined the Department of Pure Mathematics at the rank of associate professor on July 1.
  • David Del Rey Fernández (U of Toronto, ‘15) joined the Department of Applied Mathematics at the rank of assistant professor on July 1.
  • Mohammad Hajiabadi (U of Victoria, ‘16) joined the Cheriton School of Computer Science at the rank of assistant professor on July 1.
  • Elana Kalashnikov (Imperial College of London, ‘19) joined the Department of Pure Mathematics at the rank of assistant professor on July 1.
  • Olga Kanj (WLU, ‘20) joined the Mathematics Business and Accounting Programs at the rank of definite term lecturer on August 1.
  • Comfort Mintah (U of Guelph, ‘21) joined the Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing at the rank of definite term lecturer on August 1.
  • Alex Stringer (U of Toronto, ‘21) joined the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science at the rank of assistant professor on July 1.
  • Kateryn Tatarko (U of Alberta, ‘20) joined the Department of Pure Mathematics at the rank of assistant professor on July 1.

Faculty retirement

Kathryn Hare, professor emerita in the Department of Pure Mathematics, retired this month. Kathryn started as an assistant professor in 1988 and has an extensive research portfolio on harmonic analysis and fractal geometry. She supervised dozens of postdoctoral, PhD and master’s projects, including a Morgan Prize winner, an AIM Fellowship winner and multiple winners of department, faculty and university prizes for research excellence. On top of all that, she was awarded the Faculty of Mathematics Award for Distinction in Teaching. Kathryn is a Fellow of the Canadian Mathematical Society, a recipient of an honorary doctorate from Chalmers University, and the first female professor (and first female retiree) in the Pure Math department. Kathryn tirelessly served the university and the academy more broadly, notably as department chair for Pure Mathematics and on dozens of faculty and university committees. Many thanks and congratulations, Kathryn.

Student awards and accolades

Along with the accomplishments of our faculty members, it gives me immense pleasure to also recognize awards that our students received in the past month. The future of the Faculty of Mathematics looks ever brighter considering the achievements of our rising stars.

  • Yuyu Chen, a PhD student in Statistics and Actuarial Science, won the Maplesoft Best Student Paper Award at the International Congress on Insurance: Mathematics and Economics. Read more here.
  • Wenyuan Li, Yechao Meng and Qiuqi Wang, three of our PhD students in Statistics and Actuarial Science, were recognized as 2021-2022 James C. Hickman Scholars. Read more here.
  • Yuhao Dong, a PhD student in the Cheriton School of Computer Science, has secured $1.5 million in seed funding from Polychain Capital for his startup, Themelio Labs. Read more here.
  • The student-led team WATonomous, which features dozens of students with links to the Faculty of Mathematics, finished second in the AutoDrive Challenge. Congratulations to the students involved for embracing the spirit of innovation so central to the University of Waterloo.
  • Several teams with students from the Faculty of Mathematics advanced to the semi-final stage of the Concept $5K startup challenge. Please read about our teams in the first and second semi-final events. Two of these math-affiliated teams advanced to the final. We wish to recognize double degree students Miraal Kabir, Alex Shehdula, Daria Margarit and Martin Turuta from team SAFI, and Matthew Jiao, a Computer Science student with team House AI.

Staff and administrative appointments/retirees

Without the dedication of our staff and administrators, the Faculty of Mathematics would not function. I want to thank all the staff and administrators for your tireless work and commitment to excellence. Join me in welcoming new employees, recognizing our administrators and wishing all the best to our retirees.

  • Margaret Feeney, who started at the University of Waterloo in September 1984, retired this month as research program coordinator – finance, in Statistics and Actuarial Science. Congratulations, Margaret.
  • Divya Lala has moved from a contract basis to an ongoing role as an instructional support coordinator in Statistics and Actuarial Science.
  • Alexandra Kraushaar joined Computer Science as a financial coordinator on July 12.
  • Nick Di Benedetto joined the Dean’s office as a communications officer effective July 26. Nick is joining the Faculty from Concept by Velocity.
  • Zoe Tipper will be joining Computer Science as a recruitment coordinator to cover Monique Bevan’s maternity leave on August 3.
  • Samantha St. Amand will be joining the Dean of Mathematics office as a data scientist on August 3.
  • Mohammad Mahmoud will be joining the Math Undergraduate Office as an instructional support coordinator on August 3.
  • Eric Bembenek will be joining the Math Undergraduate Office as an instructional support coordinator on August 3.
  • Bertrand Guenin, a professor in Combinatorics and Optimization, assumed the role of Associate Dean, Graduate Studies.
  • Troy Vasiga, a professor in the Cheriton School of Computer Science, has been reappointed as Associate Dean, Admissions and Outreach.
  • Ian VanderBurgh, a professor with CEMC, has been reappointed as Director of the Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing.

Faculty of Mathematics media and outreach

I want to highlight just a few of the media items and outreach stories that communicated the impact of our faculty members, students and staff in the past month. Telling our stories and showing the enormous value we bring to our community and our country is a priority for the Faculty of Mathematics. I hope you will join me in recognizing these outreach efforts.

  • Mei Nagappan, professor in the Cheriton School of Computer Science, was featured in numerous media outlets around the world for his work examining racism in online open-source platforms. Read more here.
  • Anita Layton, professor in Applied Mathematics and Canada 150 Research Chair, and Mehrshad Sadria, an Applied Mathematics PhD student, were featured in numerous media outlets for their work on COVID-19 modelling and in-silico trials. Read more here.
  • Glenn Cooke, a Faculty of Mathematics alumni, was featured in a Waterloo Magazine human interest story, “Graduating from university — 36 years after I started.”
  • Rae Samuel, an outreach coordinator with the Cheriton School of Computer Science, was featured in an article on Technovation Girls Waterloo, an initiative supported by Women in Computer Science (WiCS).

European Girls’ Olympiad of Informatics and International Olympiad of Informatics

Eight Canadian high school students excelled in prestigious international computing competitions over the summer with faculty and staff support from the Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing.

Cindy Zhu, Lu Chen, Sophie Xuan, and Nicole Han represented Canada at the inaugural European Girls’ Olympiad in Informatics (EGOI). It brought together 157 high school students from 43 different countries to challenge their algorithmic problem-solving and computer programming skills. Led by the CEMC’s Sarah Chan and second-year student Ava Pun, who is double-majoring in computer science and combinatorics and optimization at Waterloo, each of the four young women brought home a bronze medal.

At this year’s International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI), an annual competition for high school students in algorithmic problem-solving and computer programming, Canada’s Zixiang Zhou earned his third gold medal with a 9th place finish, Allen Pei and Christopher Trevisan brought home silver medals. Thomas Guo earned a bronze, his second IOI medal. Troy Vasiga, Associate Dean, Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach, and J.P. Pretti, Director of the CEMC’s Master of Mathematics for Teachers program, were the leader and deputy leader, respectively, for Canada at IOI 2021.

Call to participate in research survey

The Faculty of Mathematics is currently supporting a research survey to engage stakeholders in providing stakeholder feedback on their draft Co-operative Education Learning Outcomes and all Math Faculty staff and faculty are invited to participate!

Lori Case (Associate Dean, Co-operative Education) and Jeremy Steffler (Faculty Relations Manager) are the lead investigators on the study, which has been reviewed and received ethics clearance through a University of Waterloo Research Ethics Board.

Please visit https://uwaterloo.ca/math/coop-survey-2021 for more information about the study and how to participate. Survey submissions must be received before September 30, 2021.

Community announcements

Congratulations to Jen Arsenault and her husband Dom on the arrival of their daughter, Sophie Elizabeth Arseneault, on Saturday, June 26, 2021, at 7:42 pm at Groves Memorial Hospital. She weighed in at 8lbs 5oz and is 21 inches long. Welcome Sophie!

Ashley Congi from the Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing, along with her husband, Franco, and daughter, Miah, welcomed Eliana Antonia Congi on July 1. Ashley says Eliana is the perfect baby, and they are all so in love with her.


Many of you have seen my recent message from July 30, about planning for the Fall 2021 and Winter 2022 terms. We are proceeding with Fall 2021 term at 50% capacity as planned, and are fully committed to being 100% back on campus for the Winter term, with an expectation of having the Math core courses available online as well. Should health conditions require, we will maintain the ability to pivot to online delivery.

The University is working with the province and local health authorities to make sure our plans for the Fall continue to protect the physical and mental health of our students and employees, while ensuring that we can provide a good on-campus experience for everyone. We will continue to rely on our planning principle to deliver academic experiences that ensure all our students can meet the requirements for their programs, wherever they are.

Beyond in-person instruction, the University is now looking at potential changes to in-person experiences such as office hours as well as in libraries, athletics and recreation, student services and clubs, public spaces and more. If trends continue in the right direction, we can expect more activities and experiences returning over the coming months.

Looking forward to August

August is set to be a busy month for the Faculty of Mathematics as we prepare for a new semester starting in September. There is much work to do. But I encourage our faculty members, staff and students to find time to focus on well-being and enjoy the simple pleasures of summer. Thank you all once again.

Mark Giesbrecht
Dean, Faculty of Mathematics, University of Waterloo

Mark Giesbrecht