My mathematics degrees have been the bedrock of my professional career.
-Princess Alexander, MMath (Statistics), '78
1. How has attending the University of Waterloo and studying within the Faculty of Mathematics impacted your career?
I was fortunate throughout high school to be taught by educators who where passionate about mathematics and emphasized its importance outside of school and in everyday life. Their passion was better understood and truly “came to life” during my graduate year. The support and choice of coursework provided techniques, understanding and applications that were immediately transferable to support corporate decision-making. As an example, I was recruited as an analyst to join Bell Canada while at Waterloo. Early roles included building forecasting simulation and econometric demand curtailment models. These models impacted multi-million dollars of corporate revenues.
My subsequent multi-faceted career has been greatly enhanced by strong analytical and quantitative skills. It spans analyst to executive, strategist and venture coach in multiple sectors; technology, environmental and education, servicing Fortune 500 companies, hundreds of small and medium enterprises and start-ups. Private sector leadership roles included general manager, Bell Canada, COO/EVP/partner, Orion Communications, and progressive positions with Bell Nexxia, Stentor Resources and Telecom Canada.
Business decision making was enhanced through the ability to analyze data and complex problems, construct arguments, critique reasoning of others, develop mathematical models to structure problem situations, persevere to finding solutions, and to communicate results with clear, precise thinking and language. These skills proved tremendously important in pioneering roles, intrapreneurial/entrepreneurial environments, and multiple functional areas, economic analyses, marketing, sales management and operations.
2. Why did you choose the University of Waterloo for graduate studies?
There were several factors that drove my choice of graduate school.
Pursuing further study came naturally as during my undergraduate mathematics degree, a strong interest was developed in applied statistics and its application to finding real world solutions. Waterloo topped my selection list due to the world class ranking of its mathematics program, the Faculty’s reputation, and an established Department of Statistics. Additionally, the breadth and depth of courses in mathematics, statistics and computer science that were offered provided the opportunity to explore several fields - business analytics, demography, econometrics, epidemiology, survey methods and operations research with the possibility of multiple career choices.
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3. How does your degree support the work you are doing now?
As a business strategist and venture coach, my specialization is enterprise innovation in the areas of business model evolution, voice of the customer, visioning/concept development. A current role is founder and CEO, Jacana Group, a strategy management company that assists organizations to innovate, grow and implement sustainable master plans. Business change initiatives and enterprise models have been developed and implemented within the education sector, environmental, not-for-profit and technology sectors.
This path is consistent with the early career interest in applied statistics, its application to every day life and finding solutions to business problems. Over the years, significant expertise have been developed focused on “model thinking” as my career has progressed through the application of models, tools and methodologies – simulation, econometric, lean six sigma, development of scorecards, business model design all focused on innovation, revenue generation, and business performance improvements. I have often humorously reminded colleagues, “models take the emotion out of business decision making.”
The fundamental discipline and approach to logically and systematically bringing clarity to organizational issues have been extended to volunteer board leadership contributions. Board and community leadership roles include Small Business Agency of Ontario, Governor Sheridan College, Peel Halton Workforce Development Group, Zonta International and past president of Zonta Mississauga, Steering Committee member on the City of Mississauga Summits and a former director, Heritage Mississauga Foundation. My community efforts are focused on seamlessly translating business experiences and best practices to strengthen not-for-profits’ capacity to be innovative, increase efficiencies, program effectiveness, and expanding reach while building sustainable futures.
4. What advice would you give to students who are considering attending the University of Waterloo for graduate studies?
Factors that drove my decision to pursue graduate studies at University of Waterloo, over 30 years ago are equally relevant today. These include the University’s world-class ranking, world re-known faculty, breadth and depth of programming, and alumni accomplishments. I am especially proud of the University’s brand as one of Canada’s top innovative universities and its continued reputation for excellence.
There is no doubt that attending Waterloo will be a life changing year as it not only shaped but made a significant contribution to my career. It is noteworthy, that over the years when asked about my area of study, the overwhelming comment from colleagues have been “I was so happy to get through one statistics course – cannot imagine a master’s degree in statistics”. I believe this is a tremendous testimony of the quality of Waterloo’s programs. I am such an advocate for the University that my daughter also holds a graduate degree from University of Waterloo.
Lastly, Waterloo is one of three Universities that I attended. The culture, bonds and long lasting relationships cannot be duplicated or overemphasized. After graduation, you will definitely want to stay in contact with the faculty and institution.
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5. What advice would you give to current students who are studying at the graduate level and looking to enter the workforce within the next few years?
My first advice would be to network with professionals in your areas of interest prior to graduation. This helps with the preparation to fill gap areas in the marketplace, provides tremendous insight into workforce demands and real world challenges, and better position graduates to make immediate contributions.
For those interested in a career in business, the business landscape and entire global economy have evolved significantly. Change driven by new technology will be constant, one needs to be open to life long learning. Being flexible will be important. If the right job is not immediately available, be positive, continue to work hard and doors will eventually open.
Recognize that “soft skills” are of paramount importance and that quantitative and analytical skills will not be sufficient. Like networking, students need to seize every opportunity to develop excellent communication skills, team leadership, and work habits that provide innovation solutions. Acquisition of these skills is often a stretch beyond the demands of academic programs however, well worth the effort in the long run.
Lastly, fully recognize the strength, breadth and scope of a mathematics degree and to not limit the choice of career. Every industry and sector requires great problem solvers and innovative solutions. A graduate degree in mathematics is excellent preparation to find real world solutions. There will always be a place for innovators, and graduates driven to make a difference in both the workplace and the world.
Be confident, the right role awaits you!
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