From transforming peacebuilding with technology to developing AI-powered tools for mental well-being and championing inclusivity in STEM, these innovators illuminate new paths to joy. 

Paul Heidebrecht 

Paul Heidebrecht (BASc ’94) is the inaugural director of the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement at Conrad Grebel University College. The Centre is a collaborative hub for peacebuilding practitioners, researchers, artists and entrepreneurs advancing peace at local and global levels. 

At its heart is the Grebel Peace Incubator, which, as part of Waterloo’s vibrant social innovation ecosystem, has supported 30 startups. For the past five years, it has also facilitated Waterloo’s participation in Map the System, a global research competition organized by Oxford. 

Paul Heidebrecht

Paul Heidebrecht (BASc ’94)


“We are eager to nurture student entrepreneurs. It's through these programs that they find meaningful community, create purpose-driven teams and experience a profound reorientation of their life and educational journey,” Heidebrecht said. “They taste the fulfillment of making a change in the world, no matter how small or modest.” 

Another priority for the Centre is the intersection of peacebuilding and technology. “Waterloo has a key role to play in nurturing talent in the PeaceTech domain,” he said. “We want to grow our capacity to equip students to be adept at understanding technology's societal impact and creative in applying their technical skills to advance peace and justice.” 

Paul speaking with students

Rastin Rassoli 

Rastin Rassoli (BCS in progress) co-founded Colorful Zone, a Velocity company that’s developed an AI-powered app to support well-being and stress management for young adults. The Joyi app presents game-like features and bite-sized psychology lessons to cultivate skills for managing everyday stressors. It tailors content to individual users, offering personalized psychoeducational experiences to boost resilience.  

“We can understand users' vulnerabilities, susceptibilities and needs so that each individual can realize sustainable happiness, whatever that means for them,” Rassoli said. “Each person needs a unique set of skills, and through interactions with the app, we gather information to personalize the psychoeducational content.”

Positioned as a preventative tool, Joyi aims to help people who are vulnerable to mental disorders by reducing short-term stress and fostering long-term improvement in mental health. A research study conducted by Seneca Polytechnic has shown promising results that indicate significant improvements in users’ mood when they use it. 

“Colorful Zone has been able to use all of Velocity's resources, both on campus and in the incubator, as well as connecting with the University's wellness services," Rassoli added. "At Velocity, I've met other students and alumni who are founders or aspiring founders. There's incredible value in connecting with this community.”

Emma Collington and Samantha Fowler 

Emma Collington (BSc ’19, MSc ’22, PhD in progress) and Samantha Fowler (BSc ’19) advocate for inclusivity in STEM. Together, they launched and lead the project STEM with Disabilities, amplifying the visibility of scientists, engineers and others with disabilities in technology and math. Stemming from personal experiences as disabled students and scientists, their initiative began as a visibility campaign but has evolved into a community-building platform. 

“I have been told so many times that I'm the first person they have met who deals with my disability, which is quite physical, and it's also something that's visible. Some disabilities aren’t visible,” Collington said. “The goal is to provide that visibility, role models and address the need for change.” 

The project includes articles and accessible tool lists and focuses on the need for innovative solutions and a wish list for accommodations that may not exist yet. 

The project uses social media, with Collington and Fowler actively reaching out to potential contributors. They confront the stigma surrounding disability representation, encouraging those who resonate with their project to share their stories. Looking ahead, Collington and Fowler envision expanding the project into a comprehensive database searchable by disability, providing a valuable resource for individuals seeking accommodations. 

Emma Collington and Samantha Fowler walking with a dog

Emma Collington (BSc ’19, MSc ’22, PhD in progress) and Samantha Fowler (BSc ’19)