Dear Faculty of Mathematics colleagues, 

With the fall semester just past the halfway point, I recently had the honour of presiding over convocation for the Faculty of Mathematics. Congratulations to our latest cohort of graduates as they embark on the next stage of their lives, and congratulations to the supervisors and professors with students completing programs! In my remarks at convocation, I tried to touch on the tumultuous past year this cohort had to adapt to, and I am so proud to see the way our students rose to the challenge. 

The impacts of the pandemic have posed challenges for students, just as they have also posed challenges for our faculty members and staff. But together we have accomplished so much, and I want to thank you all for your dedication to the values of education, research and innovation. I also want to thank all our faculty members and staff as they make their way back on campus. It has been heartwarming to see the faces of colleagues in the corridors and to have meetings that are not mediated by the screen. 

As November starts, more faculty and staff are heading back to campus. Our goal is to be 70% back on campus in November, and 100% back in January. We recognize that this is a period of readjustment, and some people may need support to feel comfortable returning to in-person work. Reach out to your manager or department chair, or even reach out to me directly, if you’d like to speak about what kinds of support are available. 

About the return to campus, I have to say that I am pleased at how remarkably well the university has done in recent months. This is incredibly important for our students and research programmes. It speaks to the strength of the vaccine mandate and the vaccines themselves, as well as the willingness of our campus community to maintain sensible health and safety protocols. Once again, thanks to everyone for your dedication and hard work in the service of our students and one another. 


Here are a few of the upcoming events in November for the Faculty of Mathematics that will be of interest to faculty and staff. 

  • There will be a special president’s town hall that will be taking place for the Faculty of Mathematics. President Goel will be joining me for this virtual event, at which we will discuss the return to campus and our overall plans for the coming semester. It will take place on November 24th. More details to follow. 
  • Graduate Studies Information Day for the Faculty of Mathematics will take place November 2 with several sessions throughout the day. Learn more and register at this link
  • The WWIN Webinar Series continues with a talk called “Women and Wealth: How women are changing the economy, wealth management and giving.” This virtual event is scheduled for November 18th, from 7:00 – 7:45 PM, and features mathematics alumni Milica Stojanovic (BMath’11), director of investment management at CI Investments, and Selma Sahin (BMath’77), independent knowledge management consultant. Register at this link
  • November 30th is Giving Tuesday. This year, the Faculty of Mathematics is raising money for the experiential student success fund. The new fund supports students who aspire to take a less conventional path, one that looks beyond traditional co-op opportunities and to working for non-profits, start-ups or launching a new venture on their own. Steven Woods (MMath ’91, PhD ’96), CTO and partner at Inovia Capital, will give $5,000 to the Faculty of Mathematics experiential student success fund when 25 people donate to this challenge. Learn more here
  • The ongoing bi-weekly eCapstone Workshops continues in the Cheriton School of Computer Science. The workshops are an opportunity for students to develop entrepreneurial skills by solving real-world problems they are passionate about. Students participate in a series of workshops that guide them through the entrepreneurial process, including pitching an idea to an audience for the chance to win a cash prize. The next workshop is on November 2nd, focused on “customer discovery” and presented by Ronuk Raval from software company Encircle. Learn more here

In October, there were a few events in the faculty that I want to highlight. 

  • Fall convocation was the big event in October, and congratulations once again to our wonderful graduates. Thanks to our events team for their work to bring it all together. 
  • We hosted the Dean’s Town Hall, which was extremely well attended, where I discussed the strategic plan, our wellness campaign and the return to campus. Thanks to everyone who attended and participated in the Q&A. 
  • October also saw the launch of a new campus-wide institute, the Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Aeronautics (WISA). Thanks to our faculty member Sander Rhebergen from the Department of Applied Mathematics for his research collaboration with WISA, and to the WISA staff for allowing me to try out their flight simulator
  • Cutting ribbons is one of the great perks of being dean, and I recently got to do just that at the opening of the new W Store location in MC
  • I also got to put my culinary skills to good use in a fundraiser, The Deans’ Silent Auction for United Way. Thanks to everyone who bid in the auction for this important cause. 

Equity survey 

I am sure that everyone has now seen reminders about Waterloo’s first equity survey. The survey aims to help the university to better understand the makeup of our community, and to identify gaps and support the goal of making the University of Waterloo an equitable place for everyone. 

I’d like to encourage all of you to add your voice to the survey, which takes only five minutes to complete. If you have not yet completed the survey, please search your Waterloo inbox for the subject line “Take Waterloo’s Equity Survey Today” to find an email with a unique link. You can also access the survey in Workday or Learn. All responses are 100% anonymous and your privacy is guaranteed. 

Here in the Faculty of Mathematics, we have identified equity, diversity and inclusion as a key area for improvement, and have recently created a staff position for a math equity officer to ensure we do better. We need as many people as possible to take the equity survey, so we have a better understanding of how to move forward. 

Our participation rates in the Faculty of Math have improved quite a bit since the last update in September, but still only 45% of our faculty members and staff have so far completed the survey. I strongly encourage everyone who has not done so already to go back through your email and complete the survey right now! 


At the recent Dean’s Town Hall, I was happy to provide an update on our wellness campaign and the work of the health and well-being committees. All the initiatives of the committees are so important in the context of the return to campus and with respect to fostering the nine dimensions of wellness

There is still time to register for the last Living Wellness event on emotional wellness. Join in on Friday November 5th from 10:30 - 11:30 AM for a workshop that focuses on concepts of compassion and compassion fatigue, the importance of boundary setting and self-care to prevent burnout and practical strategies to improve your wellbeing at work. Registered social worker and therapist, Laura Dziuba, will facilitate “Compassionate Care: Caring for Self While Caring for Others” and help us explore how we can support students and our colleagues through this complex world of learning and work. The event is free, but space is limited, so register today

Faculty awards and accolades 

I want to recognize some of our stellar faculty members for awards they have received in the past month. I hope you will join me in applauding our colleagues. 

  • Anita Layton, Canada 150 research chair and professor of applied mathematics, computer science, pharmacy and biology and associate dean of research and international, was named as one of the top 100 powerful women in Canada by the Women’s Executive Network. Congratulations, Anita, on this well-deserved recognition! Read more here
  • Stefan Steiner, professor and department chair of the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science was awarded the 2021 Don Owen Award from the American Statistical Association’s San Antonio Chapter. Read more here

Student awards and accolades 

With fall convocation, there were several annual awards to recognize some of our amazing students. There were also some interesting achievements to note. Join me in offering congratulations to the following. 

  • Shihabur R. Chowdhury, a recent PhD graduate from the Cheriton School of Computer Science, received the prestigious 2021 Alumni Gold Medal for outstanding academic performance in a doctoral program. Read more here
  • Jordan Long, a recent graduate who majored in pure mathematics and minored in computer science, was awarded the annual K.D. Fryer Medal, which goes to a math student who is both academically excellent and community oriented. Read more here
  • Victoria Novakovskaya was this year’s fall convocation valedictorian. Victoria is a recent graduate of the math-business double degree program, a top academic performer and an all-around inspiration. Read more here
  • Xipeng Huang, a recent graduate with a major in statistics and actuarial science and a minor in pure mathematics, was featured in a special convocation story for Waterloo News. Xipeng was one of the top performing students in his cohort, graduating with an overall average of 94%. He is a current master’s student in statistics and actuarial science. Read more here
  • Several students from the Faculty of Mathematics were recently involved in the annual Small c Math Contest. Congratulations to top performers Ethan Liu, Jongwoo Shin, Kevin Wan and Jonathan Nitisastro. Honourable mentions go to Star Xie, Harry Jiang, Yueming Cai, Michael Hahn, Boya Yang, Thalia Wahyudi, Keming Ouyang, Rainbow Li, Zev Friedman, Valentio Iverson, Zhi Rong Cai, Kevin Lu, Marcus Chan, Andrew Dong and Ethan Darbournel. Read more here. 
  • Dan Ursu was announced as the Department of Pure Mathematics’ winner of its outstanding teaching by a graduate student award. 
  • The Department of Pure Math also announced the winners of its teaching assistant awards, which went to Nic Banks, Nicole Kitt and Zhihao Zhang. 
  • Applied mathematics master’s student Brian Mao was part of a team involved in racing autonomous Indy cars at a recent event at the storied racetrack. The team also includes computer science undergraduate Ryan Larkin. Read more here
  • The Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science recently announced the winners of the annual Sprott scholarship, which recognizes PhD students who have shown particular promise in research prior to the final approval of their thesis. This year’s winners are Yuyu Chen, Fangya Mao and Kelly Ramsay. 

Media and outreach 

Communicating the impact of research and innovation is a priority for the Faculty of Mathematics. Thank you to our researchers who made the effort to help get the word out in the following media items. 

  • The Cheriton School of Computer Science was once again ranked as the number one computer science program in Canada in the annual Mclean’s rankings. The University of Waterloo was also named the most innovative university in Canada. Read more here
  • Mohamed Kohandel, Amirhossein Darooneh and Michelle Przedborski from the Department of Applied Mathematics were featured in a widely syndicated media release for their research on AI and virus mutations. Read more here
  • Mark Penney from the Department of Applied Mathematics was featured in a media release for his work on targeted vaccine strategies using innovations for the COVID alert app. Read more here
  • Antony Albert Raj Irudayaraj, Nikhita Joshi and Daniel Vogel from the Cheriton School of Computer Science were featured in a media release for their work on a new through-fabric display called PocketView. Read more here
  • Anita Layton from the Faculty of Mathematics was the special guest in a recent edition of the Beyond the Bulletin podcast. Listen in here
  • Maura Grossman from the Cheriton School of Computer Science was featured in a special Q&A feature article in Waterloo News, discussing the ethical implications of AI. Read more here
  • Fatema Tuz Zohora from the Cheriton School of Computer Science was featured in a media release for her work on deep learning networks to identify biomarkers of disease. Read more here

Faculty hires and retirements 

Christiane Lemieux will be taking over for Kevin Hare on January 1 as associate dean of operations and academics. I want to extend my special thanks to Kevin for the amazing job he did as associate dean and for the support he provided with the day-to-day running of the Faculty of Mathematics. 

Kenneth Davidson from pure math retired on September 30 after a 43-year-long career at Waterloo. He was one of the most distinguished researchers in the history of the pure mathematics department. He has won so many prizes that it’s simpler just to give a list of greatest hits: the FWR Steacie fellowship, the Killam research fellowship, fellow of the Academy of Science of the Royal Society, a Fields Institute fellow, and an inaugural fellow of the Canadian Mathematical Society. He’s also a university professor and a winner of the award for excellence in graduate supervision. Add to that his excellent teaching and wise and sensible service record, not to mention his sharp sense of humour! Ken is a wonderful colleague that the pure math department will miss terribly. 

Staff hires 

Please join me in welcoming new staff members and returning staff members to the Faculty of Mathematics. 

  • Welcome to Jeremy Steffler, who joined the Faculty of Mathematics as the new math faculty equity officer on October 26. The faculty equity officer is an important new staff position, and will provide leadership within the faculty to articulate and effect change in matters related to equity and anti-racism through policies, programs and practices. This position was advocated and developed with the Math Racial Equity Committee. Jeremy will be known to many of you as our faculty relations manager from co-operative education. 
  • Welcome to Lilin Li who joined computer science, on a two-year secondment, as financial coordinator on October 12. 
  • Congratulations to Pavak Vyas, who will be continuing as the recruitment officer for India on an ongoing basis with the undergraduate admissions & outreach team. 

Community announcements 

Congratulations to Brittany Reiche on the birth of her daughter, Hannah, who was born on September 28, 2021. Everyone is happy and healthy. Welcome, Hannah! 

Looking forward to November 

Now the leaves are falling fast, and before we know it the semester will be ending. And then another semester will start! November and December are always busy months, with so much to do for the end of the year. But I hope you will also make time for the simple things in life and the quiet enjoyment of everything we have to be grateful for. Thanks again to everyone for all the amazing work you do in the service of our students, our community and each other. 

Yours truly, 

Mark Giesbrecht

Dean, Faculty of Mathematics, University of Waterloo

Mark Giesbrecht