University COVID-19 update

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Dean's message - March 2021

Last March, COVID-19 forced the math community off campus, requiring us to radically rethink the way we work. It has been a difficult year and I want to express my profound gratitude for your resilience, sacrifice, and dedication in the face of these challenges. I think we should be proud of our resourcefulness in adapting the Faculty’s research and educational activities to the online environment without sacrificing quality or compromising our core values. 

Now, a year later, there is reason for cautious optimism. A mass vaccination program is underway in Canada and scheduled to ramp-up as we head into Spring. While many challenges remain in our battle against this terrible disease, I hope you take some comfort in this sign of progress. 

Please note that the Region of Waterloo is now in the Red – Control zone of the province’s COVID-19 framework and the University of Waterloo has resumed some campus operations. Limited in-person course activity resumed on February 22 and some campus services and operations have returned to pre-holiday break levels. 

We are again able to access MC, M3 and DC for any essential trips to the office. If you wish to visit your building, please follow your departmental procedure and consult this page for open hours. 

I am excited to announce that our new Math 4 building — tentatively the Data Innovation Hub — has been approved by the UW Board of Governors. This 5-floor, 13000 m2, building will be situated where the bridge between MC, DC and M3 currently is, and will be the home to Math research, teaching and collaboration space. 

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

  • University Professor Ming Li, who received the 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award from CS-Can|Info-Can for his major contributions to the creation of a modern information theory (Kolmogorov complexity) and in shaping the field of Computational Biology.
  • Faculty of Mathematics Professor William Slofstra, who received a 2021 Sloan Research Fellowship. Professor Slofstra’s research looks at the mathematical foundations of quantum information theory and especially the mathematics concerning the Tsirelson conjectures and the reformulation of the Connes Embedding Problem in terms of joint conditional probability densities.

The University of Waterloo and the Faculty of Mathematics will hold a virtual open house on March 20th for prospective students and their parents. The event will feature presentations on a range of topics, including programs, co-op, student life, financing education, and housing. 

CEMC held the Canadian Computing Contest (CCC) online in February and approximately 7,900 participants registered from around the world—a new record. In March, the Pascal, Cayley and Fermat contests will run, with over 40,000 students from across the globe set to participate. 

The Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science will host DataFest on April 30. Registration is now open. 

The Waterloo Women’s Impact Network’s webinar series continues this month with a fireside chat between two inspiring leaders – Joanne McKinley (BMath ’00, MMath ’02), Waterloo’s 2020 J.W. Graham Medal in Computing and Innovation recipient and Director of Software Development at Google, and Sandra Banks, Vice-President, University Relations at Waterloo. “Creating Your Own Path: Opportunities, Sustainability and Lessons Through COVID-19” will cover topics such as overcoming personal resistance to taking on leadership roles, why it’s important to be intentional in your growth, overcoming the fear of missing out, and how to make your work and home life more sustainable so you’re not just surviving but thriving. 

With Pi Day fast approaching, Faculty of Mathematics alumni and friends in Hong Kong will be invited to participate in a virtual Dean's Lecture on March 14th. The event will feature: 

  • “Data challenges laid bare by COVID-19” a brief talk by Vivek Goel, CM, Professor, Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, and President Designate, University of Waterloo; 
  • “Harnessing Mathematical Programming to Solve Problems Ranging from Worldwide Transport to Healthcare,” a lecture by Professor Jochen Koenemann, Chair, Department of Combinatorics and Optimization; and 
  • Exclusive fireside update and conversation with Dean Mark Giesbrecht. 

A special introduction to the Faculty’s Pi Day tradition will be provided by representatives of the University of Waterloo Chinese Student Association. 

I am also pleased to announce the following gifts: 

  • In addition to the incredible support shown by donors in response to the Student Emergency Fund, two friends of the Faculty, Jim Mitchell (BSc ’66) and Rick Blau, stepped forward to provide critical student support in the form of two additional lecturers to assist students negatively impacted by the current pandemic and whose Fall performance or early Winter performance were deemed “at risk”. 
  • Two alumni, Francis Lee (BMath ’78) and Bill Reeves (BMath ’74), are the inaugural donors to the newly created, Faculty of Mathematics Co-op Fund. This Fund aims to provide meaningful experiential learning opportunities to Faculty of Mathematics students who experience challenges securing a placement and/or are interested in entrepreneurial or social entrepreneurship opportunities. Allocation of funding will be overseen by the Associate Dean of Co-op. 

The Faculty of Mathematics Office of Advancement is delighted to issue the first quarterly Advancement Performance Indicators Report, which highlights advancement outreach, engagement, communications activities, and development results. Of note, significant work continues to go into readying the Faculty of Mathematics for the upcoming university-wide campaign, including refining the Faculty priorities identified through interviews and focus groups with staff and faculty members. It is promising to note that despite the existing economic uncertainty, current Faculty of Mathematics development revenues show an 36% increase ($1,579,299) despite a 17% decrease in donors participating compared to last year. A more fulsome report will be provided at year end. 

Finally, please join me in wishing the following people the very best as they take on new roles: 

  • Troy Vasiga has agreed to be renewed as Associate Dean, Admissions & Outreach (July 1, 2021 – June 30, 2024). 
  • Diana Skrzydlo has agreed to become our next Teaching Fellow (July 1, 2021 – June 30, 2024), taking over from Brian Forrest. 
  • Bertrand Guenin has agreed to become our next Associate Dean, Graduate Studies (July 1st – June 30, 2024), taking over from Adam Kolkiewicz. 
  • Anar Jahangirli will join Math as Director of Communications, starting March 8, 2021, replacing Jodi Szimanski. 
  • Heather Steinmetz, who used to be the CFM Program Manager, is going on secondment in the Faculty of Mathematics as an Undergraduate Recruitment and Admissions officer. 
  • Chérisse Mike has left Applied Mathematics for a secondment opportunity as International Student Experience Coordinator in the Student Success Office. She is expected to return on December 31, 2021. 
  • Lisa Kabesh is joining CEMC as Integrated Communications Specialist. 
  • Josh McDonald is joining CEMC as an Outreach Activities Administrator, supporting customer service. 

Mark Giesbrecht

Dean, Faculty of Mathematics, University of Waterloo

Mark Giesbrecht