Stephanie Whitney joined the Faculty of Mathematics this summer as the Director of Research and Innovation Partnerships. She works closely with Professor Charlie Clarke, the Faculty of Math’s Associate Dean of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, to raise research profiles, initiate and develop industry and government relationships, and secure funding to support student entrepreneurship.
She is a professional engineer with more than 15 years of multi-sectoral experience through employment in small and large consulting firms (AET Group, AMEC-Geomatrix, GHD, Deloitte), and a research background including administration at Wilfrid Laurier University and affiliation with the Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Energy, and Waterloo’s School of Environment, Enterprise and Development. Over her career, Stephanie has forged and maintained strong relationships with representatives from federal, provincial and municipal governments as well as with private- and public-sector stakeholders in applied research projects.
Stephanie has a PhD in Social and Ecological Sustainability (2018), a Master’s degree in Environment and Business (2013), and a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Environmental Engineering with an Option in Management Science (2004).
The following is a lightly edited transcript of a Q&A interview with Joe Petrik, the Cheriton School of Computer Science’s communications officer.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a first-generation born Canadian who grew up in the Greater Toronto Area. I moved to Waterloo when I started my undergrad degree in engineering and have been here since. When starting my studies, initially I was torn between focusing on math and accounting or on science and engineering. But after taking science courses at the Ontario Science Centre Science School, the scale was tipped towards science and engineering.
I’m an avid runner. I also like to cook and love to try different types of cuisine. My husband is a doctoral candidate in Mechanical Engineering at Waterloo. We have two elementary school–age kids who are currently in the Engineering Science Quest summer program that Waterloo runs. It would be great to see a Math camp, one day!
What attracted you to the Faculty of Math’s Innovation Office?
This Directorship role blends several exciting initiatives. As part of the Faculty of Math’s strategic plan, the Math Innovation Office has funding to lead a Math and Computing Research Discovery Days event and to run the eCapstone, an entrepreneurial project piloted at the School of Computer Science that will now be implemented Faculty wide.
I will also get to support student entrepreneurship by working with the Faculty of Math’s Advancement team to facilitate targeted gifts. More broadly, my mandate includes identifying and facilitating large partnerships around strategic opportunities for the Faculty of Math, including interdisciplinary initiatives that may involve institutional collaborators such as the university’s various Research Institutes.
Another project that interests me is the capital project for a new Math building — Math 4. Specifically, I’d like to use my experience and PhD training to work at the intersection between human behaviour and high-performance buildings in a way that serves the Faculty of Math during this capital campaign.
Over the past 15 years, you’ve collaborated with many partners in the private and public sectors. How will you apply your expertise in partnership building, research advocacy and research translation to seed and expand entrepreneurial opportunities for researchers in the Faculty of Mathematics?
Waterloo’s Faculty of Mathematics is home to many world-class researchers who have made outstanding research contributions, both theoretical and applied. Individually and through clusters in Institutes, some of these researchers have already built robust relationships, but other partnerships may be less developed or in need of facilitation. I’m excited by this opportunity and my aim is to get to know the researchers and facilitate and expand partnerships.
One of my strengths is identifying shared interests and outcomes for everyone in a partnership, whether they are faculty, students or external partners within industry or the public sector. I also love working across the institution, with Government Relations, Advancement, and other teams that can support research dissemination. These are two areas where I can contribute significantly, increasing Math’s profile within the institution and strengthening Math’s relationships with government partners at various scales.
A lot of the research that Faculty of Math professors conduct can be commercialized, but it also has great potential for positive societal impacts. I’m hoping to foster both. Partnerships have all kinds of formats and outcomes, and they don’t have to be immediate. Pure research, for example, can become applied over time. We don’t always see that potential, and even if pure research is not immediately applicable it provides the foundation for future applied research and new opportunities.
Which career accomplishments are you most proud of?
Before I joined the Faculty of Math, I was the Manager of Research Partnerships within Laurier’s Office of Research Services. I led the governance of their Centres and Institutes. Laurier has a policy around establishing, operating and reviewing Centres that was put in place in 2019. When I began in 2020, my role was to bring that policy to life and into operation.
I supported the Centres and Institutes as well as Laurier’s broader research partnerships, the largest of which was with the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT). The shared commitment between Laurier and the GNWT was to expand the partnership in both depth and breadth. It started with a focus on environment and natural sciences, but there was interest in social sciences — for example, education and social work — and business, areas in which the government wants to build capacity and in which Laurier has established strengths.
In May 2021 I supported the launch of CLRiE — the Centre for Leading Research in Education. Membership in CLRiE spanned all Faculties at Laurier. Just before I left Laurier, CLRiE was successful in securing an SSHRC Partnership Engage Grant with the School of Community Government within the GNWT. This facilitated relationship is a milestone on which to build even larger partnerships to support education within the Territory. It was nice to see my efforts lead to a tangible outcome.
In general, partners and colleagues have recognized me for having a high degree of customer service orientation. I have a passion and aptitude for research administration and partnership support.
What’s one thing you’d like researchers in the Faculty of Mathematics to know about you?
My door is always open. Whether researchers have established partnerships or they’re not sure where to start, I’m happy to have a conversation to begin and facilitate the process. Partnerships can take many formats and have many sorts of outcomes. I would like to connect with faculty, students and partners who want to learn more and see where a collaborative relationship can take them.
Who has inspired you most in your professional life?
I’ve been fortunate to have many wonderful mentors and role models throughout my career.
First, I’d like to acknowledge my mom. As a child, I saw her being the partnership development and engagement person in the community even before I knew what those terms meant. She was a stay-at-home mom, but she was deeply involved in the community. She started and grew a successful Boy Scout troop in our area. She is the kind of person who sees the benefit of getting everyone involved and excited about a project. I watched her network and engage with people from an early age.
Pearl Sullivan, the first woman Dean of Engineering at Waterloo, showed me what’s possible when passion meets talent.
During my transition from being a PhD candidate to a research administrator, Shari Graydon, the founder and catalyst of Informed Opinions, helped me find and amplify my voice, and taught me that my opinion is valuable and should be shared. After taking some of her courses and meeting and chatting with her at conferences, I published two opinion pieces about various points in my professional journey in University Affairs. One of the op-eds, titled Reflections on being a woman in engineering, was the most read article in that year.
Amelia Clarke, who was the Director of the Master of Environment and Business program when I was a grad student there and who is currently the Associate Dean of Research in the Faculty of Environment at Waterloo, has been a wonderful mentor, role model and cheerleader for me.
Kathy Hogarth, the current Dean of Laurier’s Faculty of Social Work, is an amazing and strong trailblazer. She is a wonderful leader and travel companion, as we went to Yellowknife to work on partnership engagement with the Government of the Northwest Territories.