Virtual Coffee with Andrew Kennings, Director of Mechatronics and Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

July 2020

Part four of a series of coffee chats interviewing MME staff and Faculty.

Andrew Kennings at the cat sanctuary in Hawaii

Andrew is an unpretentious-paradox, he is reticent to boast about his life but he has certainly lived an interesting one. During a Co-op interview, the interviewer asked, “what is your greatest achievement”, Andrew’s unrehearsed response was, “I hope I don’t view my life as a single achievement. I hope there’s more positive than negative.” For someone who thinks they are ordinary, that’s a pretty profound response.  

It isn’t a surprise that the meaning of kenning is steeped in poetry.  Andrew Kennings could be described using a kenning as a wisdom-dispenser. A kenning is an Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse traditional poetic device that replaces the usual name of a person or object for a two-word phrase such as wave-floater instead of ship.

MME’s wisdom-dispenser and Director of Mechatronics, spent his childhood living and breathing math and science while playing sports like hockey, baseball, and lacrosse and being, (his words) a nerd because he liked technical things.  He knew he wanted to be an engineer very young and when asked retrospectively, there was no other career choice for him – he “enjoys greatly” being an engineer and teaching. He worked his undergrad, masters and PhD at University of Waterloo – an 11-year process. He worked a Co-op term in Scandinavia and, upon completion, took the opportunity to backpack through Germany, France, Italy courageously in a different time when there were no cell phones, social media or text messages. After two or three months, he called home.

His Doctorate would take him out west, to California’s Silicon Valley and to Oregon getting industry experience primarily with semi-conductors. He worked at Ryerson as an Assistant Professor. He came back home to be faculty (in the ECE department) at University of Waterloo in 2002, which means he has spent over 29-years in the higher-learning house. Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering fortunately acquired him in January 2020.

He is very proud of Waterloo and this passion is pontificated in a weekly department virtual coffee chat where he literally reaches beside his desk and pulls out his regalia. His best career moment was when a person recognized him, in the street in Toronto, and said he was one of the best Profs he ever had, a decade after he graduated. It wasn’t one of the many awards he has or the fact that he is now the Director of the Mechatronics program – it was making a difference and touching someone’s life.

An influence-peddler, he and a grad student convinced a semi-conductor company to open a location in Kitchener in 2005 and despite economic downturns, the company is still there.

Andrew smiles when he talks about his matrimonial-partner, Gini, whom he met at the University of Waterloo when she worked in Electrical and Computer Engineering. She currently works in Management Sciences and, like her adoring-husband, she has spent more than 20-years on campus. 

He is very grounded metaphorically and physically. His Grandparents owned a large farm near Strathroy, Ontario. The proverbial apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. Kennings is an avid yard-shrubber. And while he doesn’t grow produce, his garden is methodical, neat, and low-maintenance. Like his engineering background, he assessed what was there and then created a detailed plan for improvements. He relaxes contemplatively trimming bushes, planting trees, and digging in the dirt while his pal watches. 

Andrew Kenning’s voice changes dramatically when he talks about his three curious-felines, Bubba, Leroy and his pal, Dlux. His voice is softer, affectionate, and delighted.  Dlux showed-up on his deck one day. It took Kennings a year before he could touch him. He courageously trapped him, had him fixed and vaccinated – for which it took time again for DLux to trust him. If Kennings goes for a walk, outdoor cat DLux walks beside him, unleashed, the entire journey. Leroy is a Manx (tail-less), tuxedo cat who showed-up on his deck as well, but unceremoniously walked into the house right away. He always wants to play – since Covid-19 lockdown, we have all met Leroy as he grabs a pen in the corner of the screen on video calls. Bubba was his 27-year-old’s stepson’s gray cat that he and Gini inherited.

Kennings' Cats

At least once a year, Gini and Kennings go to Hawaii. The first thing the Aloha-lovers do when they get there and the last thing they do before they leave is go to a cat sanctuary. There are 600 cats and they have helped build shelters which are donated through an Amazon Wish List and they bring treats from home.

As the author and poet of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, T.S. Elliot once said, “To do the useful thing, to say the courageous thing, to contemplate the beautiful thing: that is enough for one man’s life.” MME’s unpretentious-paradox, wisdom-dispenser, influence-peddler, yard-shrubber, feline-friend, Aloha-lover, matrimonial-partner, Andrew Kennings might just be Elliot’s Deuteronomy of the University of Waterloo.

Virtual Coffee Chats are a series of chats focused on learning about the people in the MME department and include faculty and staff.

Virtual Coffee with Gordon Stubley

Virtual Coffee with Eugene Li 

Virtual Coffee with Allyson Giannikouris

Andrew Kennings is an Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Director of Mechatronics Engineering. His research interests are Computer Aided Design for ASIC and FPGA technologies.