Dean's message - January 2021

As we embark on a new year, I want to thank the Math community for the remarkable resilience and ingenuity shown to get us through 2020. The past year presented several unique challenges, but thanks to our students, faculty and staff who went above and beyond, the Faculty thrived amidst adversity.

December saw the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science stage the David Sprott Distinguished Lecture Series. The series, which at its peak had a total of 434 attendees for the virtual event, has been held since 2013 in recognition of Professor David Sprott. He was the first Chair (1967-1975) of the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science and the first Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics (1967-1972). 

Forbes 30 Under 30 for 2021 includes four alumni and former students. Each year, the Forbes 30 Under 30 list highlights some of North America’s most innovative minds working in 20 fields, including energy, health, and entertainment. 

The four standouts with connections to the Faculty of Mathematics are:

  • Jeremy Wang (BMath ’15)
  • Artem Pasyechnyk (BSE ’14)
  • Andrei Serban (BCS ’18)
  • Everest Munro-Zeisberger (CS - incomplete)

We also congratulate the following students: 

  • Computer science students were featured on the roster of all three winning teams at the Sportsnet Hockey Hack.This virtual hackathon challenged Waterloo students to design applications using 5G technology to deepen and enrich fan engagement.
    • David Radke, PhD candidate, and Rachel Li, 2A, were on the first-place team. They developed a new way to play fantasy hockey and gamble on in-game events.
    • Omar Naman and Basil Alkhatib, both Master’s candidates, formed part of the second-place team. They created FanFortune, a micro-betting platform that exploits 5G networks’ speed to allow users to place bets on in-game events, like scoring goals, losing possession, or passing the puck.
    • Joseph Green, 3B, was on the team, The Great Ones, that placed third with a Zoom-like platform enabling friends to watch the game together in real-time.
  • Our students also took the top two places in the Concept Grad Fund Fall competition
    • Jeremy Hartman, a PhD candidate in Computer Science, was first for his research in the asymmetries currently present in videogame live streaming and how the spectator experience can be enhanced through the application of novel immersive technologies such as VR headsets.
    • Ilia Sucholutsky, a PhD candidate in Statistics, was second for his research, which focuses on enabling deep learning with small data. 

We are also pleased that Professor Luke Postle has been renewed as a Canada Research Chair in recognition of his contributions in graph theory. 

Congratulations are also in order for Professor Tamer Öszu who was named a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Tsinghua University.

As we prepare for the New Year and the new term, we have reflected on this past year’s many successes. I want to share some of the highlights:

  • Maclean’s 2021 university rankings placed mathematics and computer science at the University of Waterloo first in Canada.
  • The Faculty is now the first Faculty of Mathematics to hold Sponsoring Institutional Membership of the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM). 
  • The Faculty spearheaded Waterloo’s partnership with several stakeholders to launch a new platform in Singapore to help address a cybersecurity workforce skills gap in the region.
  • The Centre for Education and Mathematics and Computing (CEMC) launched a new online tool called CEMC at Home to help children continue their math and computer science education at home while schools were closed. 
  • Richard Cook was named University Professor in recognition of his outstanding research contributions in the field of Biostatistics. Waterloo’s designation of University Professor acknowledges exceptional scholarly achievement and international pre-eminence.

Some impressive numbers from the fall term show that we have:

  • 8,395 undergraduate students 
  • 1,153 graduate students
  • 41,011 alumni around the world (2019) 
  • Total research funding of $29,938,959

Faculty of Mathematics had many news mentions throughout December. Most notably, Professor Chris Bauch was featured in The New York Times for his research in using game theory to model ways of prioritizing vaccinations, to see which saves more lives.

Edith Law and her graduate student, Sangho Suh, received coverage in ACM TechNews for their use of comic strips to teach coding to novice learners.

Natasha Rozario, a third-year undergraduate student, has found that AI models can optimize health care delivery to help offset the backlog of elective surgeries caused by COVID-19. The Record featured Rozario’s research.

Please join me in wishing the following people all the very best as they take on new roles

  • Stephen Vavasis will be the next Director of Data Science (Graduate) from January 1, 2021 – August 31, 2021, replacing Yuying Li.
  • Martin Lysy will be the next Associate Dean, Computing – January 1, 2021 – June 30, 2024, and the new director of the Math Faculty Computing Facility. 
  • Dana Hociung joined the Dean of Mathematics Office as the Executive Assistant to the Dean, effective December 7, 2020. Dana had been on secondment in this role since October 2019. 
  • We also welcome onboard Olya Mandelshtam, Assistant Professor, Combinatorics & Optimization and Seda Albayrak, Lecturer, Office of the Dean (Math Undergraduate Group). 
  • Amelia Burton accepted a seconded position with the Student Success Office (SSO) as the Manager, International Student Experience for 12 months. Her first day with the SSO will be January 13, 2021, and her return date will be late January 2022.

Congrats to Bernice Ma who will welcome a new addition to the family in February. Christine Ko will handle the graduate recruitment and engagement portfolio from January 4 to April 30 in Bernice’s absence.

We are saddened by the passing of Professor Emeritus Bruce Simpson, who was both a professor in computer science and a chair back when the School was a Department of Computer Science. He passed away on December 11 at age 80. Our thoughts are with his family. 

I hope you all had a restful, safe and happy holiday and wish everyone a healthy and successful 2021. 

Mark Giesbrecht

Dean, Faculty of Mathematics, University of Waterloo

Mark Giesbrecht