Before going to class, Alfred Menezes purposely discards his lecture notes in order to force himself to know all aspects of the material and to present a highly organized lesson. Spontaneity is also the key to making his classes interesting. “I think students find it more engaging when the lecture is more lively and not just copying from a piece of paper; the material needs to be developed as we speak,” says Alfred. It’s not a matter of ‘winging’ the lecture either. If anything, additional preparatory work is needed so that the instructor doesn’t look like a fool in front of the class and waste everybody’s time. Alfred’s strategy is so effective that, in 2010, he was honoured with the Faculty of Mathematics Award for Distinction in Teaching, along with Serge D’Alessio.
Alfred is currently on sabbatical leave, during which he is undertaking extensive research in applied cryptography. His work is mostly based at University of Waterloo with his graduate students and post-doctoral researchers – including a visiting graduate student from Brazil – but he also takes short trips abroad to work with collaborators from the United States, Mexico, Turkey, and India.
On his return to full-time professorship, Alfred will also begin his duties as the new Department Chair of Combinatorics & Optimization. “It means more administrative work: overseeing the department’s affairs, the graduate and the undergraduate programs, staff members and faculty, salaries, and the department budget,” he explains. He is excited about his new role, although it does take some time away from doing what he loves most – teaching.
Having earned all of his degrees in UWaterloo, Alfred has been teaching here since 1999. He has taught numerous courses ranging from first-year algebra to graduate-level cryptography, but he applies a consistent routine to all of them. The dedicated professor always highly encourages students to approach him during office hours with their course-related problems and delivers every lesson with enthusiasm, even when the task becomes physically exhausting. “If I’m really tired before the class, I have coffee. I don’t normally drink coffee, so after one cup, it really gets me going for the entire day… And then I crash,” Alfred says.
Part of his motivation for working so hard is the fear of disappointing his students by giving a poor lecture. Alfred makes a point of learning students’ names and getting to know them, even in an impossibly large section. “I go to my 10:30 class at 10:20 so I’m always the first in the room. I could set up, and then have a few minutes to chat with the students in the first few rows. They ask me short questions. I also stay after class for ten minutes until the next professor comes in,” he adds. He values these interactions more so than the end-of-term written course evaluations, because they are more personal and allow him to continually improve throughout the semester.
It is evident from his faculty home page that, while Alfred is a down-to-business professor, he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Under his list of hobbies, he writes: “I enjoy fine cultural events such as operas, ballets, and symphonies. I strongly urge you to consider supporting the Canadian Opera Company and help sustain their tradition of operatic excellence, as well as their educational initiatives.” However, his ‘true’ stance on the matter is that “Opera sucks. My all-time favourite TV show is South Park.”
Well played, sir.