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Our history

A brief history of the Faculty of Mathematics

The Faculty of Mathematics was founded at the University of Waterloo in 1967. Its roots can be traced to Waterloo College, a Lutheran liberal arts college affiliated with the University of Western Ontario. By the mid-1950s, College leaders wished to develop new programs, but lacked the financial resources to fund any expansion. In 1956, Professor Ralph Stanton was recruited from the University of Toronto to head a Department of Mathematics.

A year later, the College established the Associate Faculties to offer programs in engineering and science. The plan was to petition for a charter to give the Associate Faculties university status and degree-granting power, so that they could qualify for provincial funding (not available to colleges with religious affiliation). Property was purchased about a mile down the road from the College to provide more space, and the Engineering and Science faculties moved to the new location along with the Department of Mathematics. In 1959, the university charter was received and the Associate Faculties became the University of Waterloo. Its first president was J. Gerald Hagey, formerly an executive with B.F. Goodrich Co. The original plan for Waterloo College (with its Faculty of Arts) to affiliate with the new university was not realized, however, and the two institutions went their separate ways. (By 1973 the College too had developed into a provincially funded institution - Wilfrid Laurier University.)

A Faculty of Arts was established at the University of Waterloo in 1960, with Mathematics as its largest department. Under the expert leadership of its chairman Ralph Stanton, Mathematics developed as an innovative and vibrant department. Stanton developed a graduate program, and recruited influential professors. Among the latter were Professor William Tutte, the founder of graph theory, and statistician Dr. David Sprott.

Another of the new faculty appointments was Dr. Ken Fryer, who along with Stanton, developed an intensive and close liaison network with the high schools. Because of this relationship, from the outset Waterloo was able to attract many of the province's best mathematics students. The importance of computers and computer science was also recognized early. Wes Graham was recruited from IBM to develop computing services, and from the beginning, UWaterloo students had direct access to state-of-the art computing. Four senior students developed the original WATFOR compiler in the summer of 1965, and two young faculty members developed the next version (WATFIV) soon afterward. These successful products put Waterloo on the map, and established the strong tradition for innovation in the development of computer software which continues today.

Stanton's dream and goal from the beginning was to make Mathematics a separate faculty. In his view, Mathematics belonged neither in Arts nor in Science; it was a distinct discipline, and had grown sufficiently to become a faculty on its own. The struggle with Arts and Science faculties to release the Department of Mathematics was difficult by all accounts. Yet by January 1, 1967, UWaterloo became the first university in North America to have a separate Faculty for Mathematics. The Faculty's first Dean was Dr. David Sprott. The Mathematics & Computing Building (MC), built to house the new Faculty, was officially opened in May 1968. On that occasion, students draped a huge pink tie over the six-storey building, to commemorate the gaudy ties for which Ralph Stanton was famous. To this day, the pink tie remains the symbol of the Faculty of Mathematics for its students and graduates.

The new Faculty included five departments: Applied Analysis and Computer Science (one of the earliest in Canada - now the Cheriton School of Computer Science), Applied Mathematics, Combinatorics and Optimization, Pure Mathematics, and Statistics (the first in the country - now the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science). It grew at a rapid rate over the next few years and stabilized around 1980. The Faculty is now one of the largest at Waterloo with 7,204 undergraduates, 616 master's students, 316 PhD students, 240 full-time faculty, and 135 staff. The Co-operative Education program was introduced in Mathematics in 1964, and now includes about 70% of the Faculty's undergraduate students.  Over 31,000 Waterloo Mathematics alumni are living and working in 102 countries.


The Faculty of Mathematics is committed to making important contributions to undergraduate and graduate teaching, research and innovation across the full range of our academic departments (Applied Mathematics, Combinatorics and Optimization, Pure Mathematics, and Statistics and Actuarial Science) and the Cheriton School of Computer Science. Outstanding students are drawn to our Faculty from across Canada and around the world, with international students forming more than 30% of the undergraduate student body. Our undergraduate teams regularly place high in the North American Putnam Mathematics Competition, and in the worldwide ACM computer programming competition.

In addition to department/school-based specializations, the Faculty offers undergraduate programs in chartered accountancy, business, teaching, financial analysis and risk management, IT management, inter-departmental honours programs in computational mathematics, mathematical sciences, computing and financial management (shared with the Faculty of Arts), software engineering (shared with the Faculty of Engineering), and two double degree programs in collaboration with Wilfrid Laurier University: mathematics and business administration, and computer science and business administration.

In addition to more traditional graduate programs, The Faculty of Mathematics offers professional master's programs in quantitative finance and actuarial science. A Master of Mathematics for Teachers program is also offered fully online.

The Faculty remains very active in outreach and enrichment programs to promote mathematics and computer science in elementary and secondary schools in Canada and around the world. Coordinated through the Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing, this outreach includes contests, workshops, school visits, and online resources for students and teachers.  More than 200,000 school children now write these contests each year.