Tuesday, June 29, 2010

  • Dean reflects on 'dizzying' years
  • Staff called to 'be engaged' with students
  • Other notes for a summer morning
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs
  • bulletin@uwaterloo.ca

Dean reflects on 'dizzying' years

“It’s been a dizzying experience,” says Deep Saini.

His four and a half years as dean of the faculty of environment have seen new programs, new enrolment, a flurry of faculty hiring, an outpost in Huntsville, the beginning (but not the completion) of a landmark new building, and even a new name for the faculty, which was “environmental studies” when Saini came to Waterloo in 2006.

If he had stayed for a second term as dean, he maintains, he would have consciously slowed the pace of change, helping his colleagues assimilate the new things, fill in the gaps, build up the activities that have been started. In fact that’s his advice as a committee looks for his successor: “Look for somebody who’s going to consolidate and build on the foundations we’ve put together.”

[Saini]In the meantime, Mark Seasons of the school of planning will be interim dean for a year, starting July 1. Saini himself is leaving Waterloo, six months short of the five-year term he was appointed to serve, to take on a new challenge as vice-president of the University of Toronto and principal of U of T at Mississauga.

The prospect is “exciting”, Saini (right) said in an interview last week, but at the same time, “I’m leaving with a great deal of sadness in my heart,” sadness at cutting short “the most enjoyable, and the most productive, four and a half year period of my career”.

Saini came to this university from the Université de Montréal, where he headed the renowned Plant Biology Research Institute. So he arrived, he recalls, as an outsider to Waterloo and a representative of an academic field, biology, that wasn’t part of the ENV faculty. On top of that, he was arriving with an undisguised agenda for change, and taking over a faculty that had been ripped apart by the departure of the architecture school in 2004.

“I had to earn their respect and loyalty,” Saini says about the colleagues he found at  Waterloo. “I persuaded them that change is not as scary as you might think!” By the spring of his first year in town, he had reopened discussions on a long-term plan for ENV, which everybody thought had been finished the previous year. Briefing the university senate, he spoke of “positioning ourselves as an integrative faculty” with close links to the other faculties as well as several new programs within what was still called ES.

“Every idea is worth exploring,” says Saini, adding that “I plan very, very carefully, meticulously,” before moving ahead with any one of those ideas. Apparently it worked. “One never accomplishes everything,” he says now, “but I’m satisfied. The faculty will manage without me just fine. You work hard to make yourself redundant!”

In retrospect, he says, the move of architecture from ES to engineering (and from the Waterloo campus to Cambridge), traumatic as it was, “forced the faculty to rethink itself” and made new creations possible. At the top of the list: the Centre for Knowledge Integration and the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development, two new units that stand beside the existing School of Planning, Department of Geography and Environmental Management, and Department of Environment and Resource Studies.

In addition, ENV has introduced a strong program in geomatics and built up cryospheric research, added an aviation program, acquired rights to a building in Huntsville for research and extension programs, and thrown itself into construction of Environment 3, scheduled to open next year.

“Give it five or ten years,” says Saini. “If we maintain the trajectory we’re on, there is the potential for this university to be known at least as much for environmental work as it is for engineering or mathematics.” He’s particularly enthusiastic about SEED, which has the potential, he insists, to rank with Waterloo’s program in actuarial science, regularly described as “the best in the world” in its discipline. And oh, by the way, he adds: the school of planning is already the top in its field, though “we haven’t advertised that fact.” Yet.

“I would certainly take credit,” says Saini, who’s pushed for growth and improvement and innovation since the day he got here, “but you can’t do it without having the right team around you. You’re not there to get credit — you’re there to get things done.” He’ll leave Waterloo after supervising the hiring of more than 30 new professors, which is a lot in a small faculty, and takes pride in having insisted on top quality every time.

“This faculty can be a world-renowned place,” he repeats.

Saini will take several weeks’ vacation this summer before reporting for his new duties at Mississauga. The job comes with an official residence, an 1885 house surrounded by woodland beside the Credit River on UTM’s “just stunningly beautiful campus”. It also comes with great opportunities in the middle of Canada’s fastest-growing big city. Saini speaks of UTM as not just a branch campus but “a university” in its own right, growing towards more autonomy.

As he takes over there, he’ll apply a few lessons from his experience here, he promises: “One thing that Toronto can learn from Waterloo is speed!”

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Staff called to 'be engaged' with students

As “student engagement” gets to be a Waterloo buzzword, there’s a new website aimed at promoting it through the university’s staff. It starts from four principles, the organizers say:

  • Every student deserves to be engaged
  • Everyone on campus plays a vital role in engaging our students
  • Every individual on campus has the ability to engage our students
  • In order to ‘engage’ we must ‘be engaged’

“This is an initiative started by myself, Alex Piticco and Chris Read of Housing and Residences,” says Heather Westmorland, director of the student life office, who worked in housing herself until a few months ago and who knows more than a little about what makes students feel connected at their university.

Be Engaged,” say the trio, “is a website created to bring together committed staff and faculty from across campus who share a passion for student engagement and are committed to providing every waterloo student with an outstanding experience. We believe the first step to engaging our students is to participate in rich dialogue and meaningful conversations about the student experience. We want our community to come together and share ideas, resources and strategies to engage our students in an enriching and fulfilling student experience.”

They made a presentation along those lines at the staff conference in April; the website is the second step; and there will be a series of face-to-face events, starting with a lunch-and-learn session next Wednesday, July 7.

Westmorland recalls that when she and her colleagues presented “A Focus on Meaningful Student Interactions” at the staff conference a few weeks ago, “attendees were asked to share ideas on how they could enhance student engagement through their day to day interactions. Staff wrote down their commitments and will receive these ‘promises’ in on campus mail as a friendly reminder sometime in the coming weeks, along with additional buttons designed to promote our initiative that they can share with colleagues on campus.

“Community readings, roundtable discussions, an online forum and a link to resources on engagement are a few ways we’re hoping to keep staff connected.  We’ve also posted video of a small discussion group we hosted last term – you can hear first-hand what students think about student engagement at Waterloo.”

To get involved, she says, staff and faculty can attend the first community roundtable on Monday July 19, join an online forum, “or spread the word by wearing a be engaged button!”

The session next week — Wednesday 7th at 12 noon in Arts Lecture Hall room 208 — will include a replaying of the April presentation, followed by group discussion, Westmorland said.

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[Group shot in Perimeter lobby]

'Since you're already pointing out more connections between Perimeter Institute and UW," writes Spiro Karigiannis of the pure mathematics department, "let me add one more: two faculty members from the Pure Mathematics department have co-organized a 'Connections in Geometry and Physics' conference at PI for two consecutive years now (this is intended to become an annual event)." The two are Karigiannis himself and colleague Ruxandra Moraru — who, he adds, "also regularly get several of Perimeter's graduate students to attend their graduate-level courses on geometry, a subject which is inextricably linked to theoretical physics." Participants in the last "Connections in Geometry and Physics", held May 7-9, are seen posing in the great hall at Perimeter.

Other notes for a summer morning

This year's month-long Shad Valley program started on Sunday with the arrival of 48 high school students, says Kim Boucher of the Centre for Knowledge Integration, where Shad Waterloo is based. “This year’s group is made up of students from all across Canada,” she says, “including one all the way from the Yukon, and two international: one from the UAE, one from Hong Kong.” Says KI director Ed Jernigan, marking his 25th year with  Shad Valley: "Waterloo was the first university campus to host this award-winning program in 1983 and remains the flagship program for the now 10 host university campuses across Canada.” Shad Valley is an enrichment program for teenagers with strong interests and potential in sciences, technology, engineering and entrepreneurship, and involves as many as 600 high school students each summer across Canada. The Waterloo contingent will hold a public open house to show off their achievements on Thursday afternoon, July 22, in the Great Hall at Conrad Grebel University College, where they’re staying for the month.

Lapse and relapse… it’s not always easy to stop smoking. The Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, where much of Waterloo’s smoking research is based, hosts a talk today by Saul Shiffman of the University of Pittsburgh, who will explore such issues under the title “How Smoking Lapses Progress to Relapse: A Micro-Analysis”. Background: “Many smokers try to quit smoking, and most relapse. This process begins with a limited lapse, but almost inevitably progresses to complete relapse. The dominant explanation for this process focuses on psychological reactions of guilt, distress, and demoralization in response to the lapse (the ‘Abstinence Violation Effect’), but this explanation has not been adequately tested. Analyses using the intensive data collection methods of Ecological Momentary Assessment (near-real-time assessment in real-world settings) to track smokers’ experiences as they lapse and relapse validates some aspects of the theory and contradicts others. The data have implications for clinical practice as well as theory.”  The talk by Shiffman, who is author of more than 300 scientific papers about nicotine dependence and withdrawal, is scheduled for 3:00 today in Matthews Hall room 3119.

With the closing of UW Graphics as a department, the former front office in the Commissary building, along the ring road at the northeast edge of campus, has now closed. The Creative Services branch of the department — now organizationally part of the Communications and Public Affairs office — remains in COM, a tweet reminded us late last week. “Enter through the side door. Other services are available in other locations. Not sure where to find the service you’re looking for? See online.”

Now some words from Lesley Nevills of the organizational and human development office: “Developing the skills to maintain a state of high performance was the order of the day on June 21 as over 150 Waterloo staff participated in a unique opportunity for development held in the Humanities Theatre. They came out to hear internationally experienced coach and consultant Garry Watanabe speak about the mental fitness skills required to achieve personal high performance under pressure. Watanabe demonstrated how we can all learn some of the versatile skills used by elite athletes as well as corporate high achievers to change our reactions in high pressure situations and generate better results. A very engaged staff group got to practice skills and techniques they could take back and apply right away. The keynote was followed by a wine and cheese reception to thank staff for supporting this kickoff to the OHD speaker series, sponsored through the joint funding and collaboration of Organizational & Human Development and the Staff Excellence Fund. Watch for news early this fall about the next speaker in the series, taking place in October. OHD has a copies of Watanabe’s The Inside Edge book and audio program for staff to borrow. Contact ext. 38259 or lnevills@ uwaterloo.ca to borrow either resource. The bookstore is also carrying these products for a limited time for staff to purchase.”


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Link of the day

A web site called June 29

When and where

‘Celebrate Canada’ luncheon, University Club, June 28-30, 11:30 to 2:00, reservations ext. 33801.

Centre for Teaching Excellence workshop: “Dealing with Classroom Disruptions” 12:00, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library. Details.

‘Romance of Medicine’ audiovisual presentation on the history of medicine by Prakash K. Pispati, Mumbai, India, 12:00, Renison UC chapel lounge, reservations ext. 28657.

Centre for Teaching Excellence workshop: “19 Technologies in 89 Minutes” 2:30, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library. Details.

‘Ideas for Sustainable African Development’ update on Project Imani, 7:15, St. Paul’s U College. Details.

Centre for Teaching Excellence workshop: “Classroom Communication Strategies”, Wednesday 10:00, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library. Details.

Mashable Meetup for social media users, sponsored by Stratford campus, Wednesday 5:30 p.m., Parlour Hotel, Stratford. Details.

Bombshelter pub, Student Life Centre, Canada Day celebration Wednesday from 9 p.m., “Canadian burger” and poutine specials.

Canada Day holiday Thursday, July 1; UW additional holiday Friday, July 2; offices and most services closed, classes not held.

[Canadian flag waving]

Canada Day celebrations on the north campus, children’s activities, music, arts and crafts fair, fireworks, 2 to 11 p.m. Details.

Ottawa and Montréal long weekend, July 1-4, bus and accommodation $199, tickets at Federation of Students office.

Engineering Science Quest (details) and Arts Computer Experience summer day camps begin sessions July 5, continuing through August 27.

Women’s volleyball “all skills development camp” for girls 12-17, July 5-9, Physical Activities Complex. Details.

Canadian Undergraduate Mathematics Conference hosted by Waterloo July 6-10. Details.

Swing2Cure charity golf tournament sponsored by Centre for Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology, July 7, 10:00, Rebel Creek Golf Club. Details.

The Impact of Canada’s Oil Sands, forum with Marcel Coutu, Waterloo graduate, president of Canadian Oil Sands Limited, sponsored by faculties of engineering and science, July 8, 4:00, CEIT room 1015. Details.

Class enrolment on Quest for fall term courses: students enrolling for the first time, July 12-25; open enrolment begins July 26.

Communitech Tech Leadership Conference 2010, July 14, Bingemans Conference Centre, Kitchener. Details.

Research and Technology Park charity golf tournament (4th annual) July 15, Conestoga Golf Club. Details.

Blood donor clinic July 15 (10:00 to 4:00) and July 16 (9:00 to 3:00), Student Life Centre, call 1-888-236-6283 for appointment.

Postdoctoral fellows social gathering in Waterloo Park, July 16, 5:00 to 7:00, vegetarian and halal hot dogs at 5:30, other food welcome. Details.

Student Life 101 open house day for students entering in September, Saturday, July 24. Details.

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