Helping students overcome health challenges
Support from two Waterloo Math alumni helps students overcome disabilities and serious illness — and pursue their dreams.
Support from two Waterloo Math alumni helps students overcome disabilities and serious illness — and pursue their dreams.By Beth Bohnert Office of Advancement
In April 2020, Helen Feng’s (BMath ’21) dream co-op term in Dubai turned into a nightmare when she contracted COVID-19. “I was alone. I had no medical care. Nobody knew what would happen to me,” she says.
Thankfully, Helen recovered, and she returned to Canada. But her COVID-19 journey was only beginning.
Chronic fatigue left Helen, previously a high-achieving student involved in many extracurricular activities, barely able to function. Stress compounded her symptoms; at one point, she was bedridden. She wasn’t sure she could finish the final term of her program.
Nick Piquard (BMath ’97) knows the challenges that face Waterloo students like Helen, who must overcome life-altering illness or disability as they pursue a degree. Nick, who has cerebral palsy, credits the support of his parents, and his friend and mentor Steve Elgee (BMath ’85), with helping him thrive at Waterloo and then build a successful career.
Nick and Steve met in 1996, when Steve, an executive at a large investment firm, interviewed Nick for a co-op position. Steve initially hesitated in hiring Nick. He worried that the aggressive environment of the trading floor would be too much for someone with a disability. But realizing that Nick was by far the best candidate, Steve offered him the job. The two became friends, and when Nick proposed creating an endowed award to support Waterloo Math students with disabilities, Steve came on board, too.
“I would never have had the career I’ve had if it hadn’t been for Waterloo and the co-op program,” Nick says. “This award will help Math students who have faced serious challenges get to the next stage in their careers.”
HELEN FENG (BMATH '21)
The award was a validation of everything I’d been through. It encouraged me to finish my degree.
With support from the Piquard Family Award, Helen was able to push through her final term. The award helped her pay for the medical treatment that slowly allowed her to regain her strength. And psychologically, she says, “the award was a validation of everything I’d been through. It encouraged me to finish my degree.”
Today, Helen still deals with fatigue but she’s starting full-time work and hopes to earn a Master’s degree; she currently helps to run a global online support community for long-term COVID patients.
“I was so inspired by Nick and Steve,” she says. “One day, I want to establish an award to support other students in need.”
The University of Waterloo acknowledges that much of our work takes place on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee peoples. Our main campus is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land granted to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River. Our active work toward reconciliation takes place across our campuses through research, learning, teaching, and community building, and is centralized within our Indigenous Initiatives Office.