The University of Waterloo is welcoming 34 Ukrainian students whose studies were interrupted by the ongoing war in their country thanks to a cross-campus collaboration and generous support from the private sector.

In the past two weeks, the first 15 students arrived to study with Waterloo professors in an Academic Internship, with the others expected to be on campus within the next couple of weeks.

Led by the Waterloo Artificial Intelligence Institute (Waterloo.AI), the internship will include a variety of academic research, hands-on lab tours, and workshops focusing on artificial intelligence (AI). In addition, Renison University College is delivering supplementary classes in English as a second language.

The internship is provided at no cost to the Ukrainian students and funded by numerous on-campus sponsors and external corporate supporters such as Manulife, Blackberry and Bank of Montreal and the Vector Institue for Artificial Intelligence.

Available to students in a variety of disciplines, it also includes in-person academic activities, on-campus accommodation and meals at St. Paul’s University College, and travel costs.

Planning for the Internship began after a couple of Waterloo Engineering professors approached Mary Wells, dean of the Faculty of Engineering, about a similar program they had heard the University of Toronto (U of T) had launched with the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence.

Building on the U of T and Vector program, Waterloo introduced its Ukrainian Academic Internship in mid-April. Dovetailing on U of T’s list of applicants to its initiative, Waterloo sent offers to 42 prospective students – approximately half men and women and half undergraduate and graduate students.

 “I’m thrilled that within weeks we were able to put a plan together and raise funds needed to bring Ukrainian students to Waterloo to continue their undergraduate and graduate studies,” said Mary Wells, dean of the Faculty of Engineering. “I look forward to meeting all of the students and helping them feel at home on our campus.”

For Harold Godwin, the managing director of Waterloo.AI, who has been coordinating the Waterloo Academic Internship, the response from the campus community has been gratifying.

Godwin sent an email requesting support for the Ukrainian students to the 230 Waterloo.AI members, who are professors specializing in AI and data science across all six Waterloo faculties. Within minutes, he received offers to host and mentor students.

“People throughout the university were thinking the same thing – ‘how can I help?’ ‘How can I make a difference?’” Godwin said. “Everyone was on board.” 

Earlier this year, the federal government introduced the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel, a special, accelerated temporary residence program to make it easier for Ukrainians, including post-secondary students, to come to Canada while the war continues. 

Jeff Casello, Waterloo’s associate vice president of graduate and postdoctoral affairs, and his graduate studies team have been responsible for the logistics of bringing the Ukrainian students to campus.

“The University of Waterloo is an exceptional place to study. But more than that, the university places great emphasis on building communities of support,” Casello said. “It’s our honour and privilege to study and learn with these students while providing stability and security for them. I offer my most sincere thanks to all those who are working to make this possible and my heartiest welcome to our Ukrainian colleagues.”

Severyn Balaniuk, a fourth-year computer engineering student who had been attending National Ukrainian Technical University in Kyiv, was delighted to receive his offer to attend Waterloo’s academic internship program.

Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, Balaniuk, his mother and younger brother, fled Kyiv and made their way to Smoky Lake, Alberta, where there is a strong Ukrainian community.

For years, Balaniuk watched YouTube videos featuring Waterloo’s Mike and Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre and said it’s an “unbelievable opportunity” that has brought him to campus.

“I’ve researched a lot of quantum computing institutes in Canada and the United States, and every time I looked, Waterloo’s was the top result,” Balaniuk said. “I had a tour of it the other day and found it amazing.”

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