The past year has presented many new challenges at home and around the globe — prompting us all to be ever agile and resilient. As we close out 2021, we can all be proud of the many contributions made by our Waterloo community to combat the coronavirus and to sustain high levels of education and research excellence. This list of stories — inspired by our quest to develop talent for a complex future, advance research, and strengthen sustainable and diverse communities — is by no means exhaustive, but is a sampling of the tremendous impact of our students, faculty and staff.

Developing talent for a complex future

78,000+ vaccine doses
Tears of joy and smiles behind the masks of clinic volunteers

A woman in a mask smiling

Back in the summer of 2021, with the third wave of the COVID-19 taking its toll on the world, the University of Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy in downtown Kitchener became a beacon of hope. The clinic, led by the Centre for Family Medicine Family Health Team and made up of Waterloo faculty, students, and alumni, administered thousands of doses to the public.

Velocity companies surpass $2 billion in funding
Investments in software and services, deep-tech drive dramatic growth

During that tumultuous third wave we got some much-needed good news courtesy of Velocity and its student entrepreneurs. In early August, the University’s flagship entrepreneurial incubator announced its companies surpassed $2.4 billion — less than two years after the program announced it had reached the $1 billion mark over the previous decade. And the growth keeps coming as recent large funding rounds like Faire’s $400M raise and Embark’s IPO have now brought this number closer to $4 billion.

Velocity garage


Advancing research for global impact

Strengthening actions to end tobacco use
Waterloo’s ITC Project honoured with 2021 Governor General’s Innovation Award

a cigarette

Interdisciplinary collaboration is at the heart of the International Tobacco Control (ITC) Project at the University of Waterloo. Smoking kills more than 8 million people globally and the ITC project aims to improve health outcomes by measuring the impact of tobacco control policies. For 20 years, ITC researchers, including Faculty of Arts’ Geoffrey Fong Math’s Mary Thompson and Health’s David Hammond, have conducted more than 180 surveys, involving more than 300,000 people and built a global data set of 150 million data points The project won  one of six Governor General’s Innovation Awards for 2021.

Some of the world’s oldest rubies linked to early life
Carbon residue that was once ancient life found encased in a 2.5 billion-year-old ruby

While analyzing some of the world’s oldest coloured gemstones, researchers from the University of Waterloo discovered carbon residue that was once ancient life, encased in a 2.5 billion-year-old ruby. The team from Earth and Environmental Sciences at Waterloo concluded that the carbon atoms were once ancient life, most likely dead microorganisms such as cyanobacteria from a time on the planet when oxygen was not abundant in the atmosphere, and life existed only in microorganisms and algae films.

ancient ruby


Strengthening sustainable and diverse communities

New Black Studies programs to begin in 2022
Waterloo prioritizing equity and anti-racism and new and future academic offerings

a profile shot of DR Vay

In June of 2020, Waterloo launched the President’s Anti-Racism Taskforce (PART). From that came a series of activations, including a Black Studies implementation team in the faculty of Arts. November 2021 saw an important step forward with the launch of “Black Studies” and “Fundamentals of Anti-Racist Communication” programs offered as diplomas and open to degree students from all faculties, as well as non-degree and post-degree students.  “In general, Black Studies isn't well developed across Canada, and I am looking forward to Waterloo becoming a leader in this discipline,” said Vershawn Young (dr. vay) a professor of English Language and Literature and Communication Arts as well as the Lead of the Black Studies Implementation Team.

Water ethics
Recognizing the inherent rights of water for global sustainability with Kelsey Leonard

It wasn’t long after joining the Faculty of Environment that Kelsey Leonard, of Shinnecock Indian Nation, became its newest Canada Research Chair. An expert in Indigenous law, Leonard is working with communities and governments around the world towards the legal recognition of the rights of water as a living being. It’s a concept long understood by Indigenous communities, yet through centuries of colonization has been purposefully removed from decision-making and disastrously forfeited in the pursuit of profit.


Flying the environmentally friendly skies
Researcher Suzanne Kearns pioneers the Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Aeronautics 

In that same spirit of interdisciplinary collaboration, Waterloo launched Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Aeronautics (WISA), making Waterloo, and Canada, a pioneer in reforming an industry currently accounting for more than two per cent of global carbon emissions. With unprecedented support from all six faculties, WISA aims to leverage Waterloo’s excellence AI, big data, fuel cells, psychology, vision science and more to make aviation socially, environmentally and economically sustainable.


Campus events and new developments

President Goel's Installation Address
Vivek Goel was installed as the University of Waterloo's seventh President and Vice Chancellor on November 8, 2021

It was an all-hands-on-deck affair for stakeholders across campus as we rolled out the (literal) red carpet to officially install Vivek Goel as Waterloo’s seventh president and vice-chancellor.  Described as a public health visionary the distinguished scholar with extensive achievements in research, teaching and leadership across both public and private sectors could not have come at a better time. As mentioned in his speech, “as we look to build back after so much disruption, universities are and will continue to play an important role in economic recovery and ensuring society is more resilient in the future.”

SLC/PAC expansion opens to students
After more than five years of plans, renderings, construction and many hurdles, the expansion you have been waiting for is ready

The project, brought together groups from across campus, comes with the common goal to improve student study, social and recreational spaces. The expansion features a brand new, 11,000 square foot Fitness Centre, climbing wall, a bright and spacious studio, new food vendors and dining spaces, bookable study spaces, social and multi-faith spaces, a Graduate Student Association (GSA) lounge, a link to the Math and Computers building and much more.

2021 Canada’s most powerful women
Waterloo celebrates six recipients on this year’s Women’s Executive Network list

Six women from the University of Waterloo were named among the top 100 most powerful women in Canada in the annual rankings released by the Women’s Executive Network (WXN). They include a coach, a pilot, a pharmacist mathematician, a nano researcher, a carpenter and the late Pearl Sullivan who, as dean of Engineering, reimagined engineering education and research with revolutionary spaces and transformative programs that will ensure Waterloo remains a leader in engineering well into the future. 

a collage of the women mentioned in the story