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Thursday, June 15, 2000

  • 'Celebrate talents, gifts and abilities'
  • Grads asked: were you satisfied?
  • The Shads flock like lemmings
  • Stats prof has come a long way

'Celebrate talents, gifts and abilities'

Spring convocation ceremonies continue today and include presentation of degrees to some 863 students from the faculty of arts -- not to mention a speech by Canadian actor Martha Henry, whose intensity on the stage has been called "terrifying".

[Martha Henry closeup]
Photo: Telefilm Canada
Henry (left), a long-time star of the Stratford Festival, will receive an honorary degree from UW, as will Yves-Henri Nouailhat, professor of history at France's Université de Nantes. Nouailhat is a specialist in Canadian studies who will be introductory speaker for a colloquium next month titled "Contribution des femmes émigrantes au Canada". (Robert Ryan of UW's department of French studies will be among the speakers.)

As with other convocation ceremonies, today's will be surrounded by special events -- for example there's the now traditional luncheon for graduating students and their parents and friends, held by the psychology department.

And this morning at 10:30, Renison College will hold a Service of Thanksgiving and Convocation for the Renison-affiliated students who are graduating today. "Today with love and pride," chaplain George Ferris will say early in the service, "we celebrate the talents, gifts and abilities of these graduands; with a sense of thanksgiving we are moved to think of their achievements as well as the endings and beginnings which this Convocation brings to mind."

Jennifer Defoe will give a valedictory address on behalf of Renison graduates, and a number of awards will be presented by the college, including the Renison College Gold Medal for Academic Achievement, to Stephanie Baird.

Among the highlights of this afternoon's session in UW's 80th Convocation:

The convocation ceremony begins at 2 p.m. in the Physical Activities Complex. Convocation continues tomorrow afternoon for science, Saturday morning for mathematics and Saturday afternoon for engineering.

Grads asked: were you satisfied?

A 10-page survey, being sent this week to some 337 people who have finished master's or PhD programs at UW, is a step towards making sure graduate students are protected from mistreatment, says the dean of graduate studies.

"There's a lot of potential for a certain degree of abuse," said the dean, Jake Sivak, explaining a major reason for the new exit survey of graduate students, which will be continued for each new year's graduates and will also be sent to students who drop out before they finish their graduate programs.

Sivak noted that there is "a relatively major imbalance in power between a graduate student and a supervisor . . . this power extends, basically, over a lifetime" because former graduate students keep needing letters of reference and other support from the professors who supervised their work. So the survey that's now being done is carefully anonymous, and asks a number of questions about how the student was treated. Although the individuals can't be identified, a pattern of awkward answers to questions like "Were you satisfied with discussions and decision-making with your supervisor?" might lead to investigation and action, Sivak suggested.

The survey also includes dozens of questions about teaching assistantships, financial support, support from the academic department, housing, plans for the future, even the services of the Graduate Student Association. Although "three or four other universities" have already been surveying their grads, there's been keen interest from other institutions since the word got out that UW had prepared its own survey, Sivak says, and he keeps getting requests for copies of it.

The information produced by the survey should also be useful in the regular reviews of graduate programs and academic departments, the dean said, and might some day itself be the basis for a graduate student's thesis: "I think there's the potential."

He said much of the detail work was done by Penny Pudifin of the graduate studies office, and help has come from the Survey Research Centre, based on the sociology department.

Also happening today

  • GLOW (Gays and Lesbians of Waterloo) will have an information and resource booth in the great hall of the Student Life Centre from 1:00 to 7:00. And from 7 to 10 p.m., there will be a GLOW open house and movie night in the GLOW office and lounge, SLC room 2101. "Best wishes," a memo adds, "for a safe, fun and happy Pride celebration".
  • Sujeet Chaudhuri, dean of engineering, is in the Boston area today and will be the star guest at a reception for UW alumni in the city of beans -- 5 to 7 p.m. at John Harvard's Brew House, Dunster Street, Cambridge.
  • The Shads flock like lemmings

    To mark the 20th anniversary of a national program that turns merely brilliant teenagers into something called Shads, "a conference highlighting best practices in science, technology and innovation" opens today at Wilfrid Laurier University under the title "Shad Summit 2000".

    Among the speakers will be University of Calgary dean Tom Keenan, who will ask, "Why do otherwise intelligent Shads flock like lemmings to the fountain at Canada's Wonderland? Why do they run across six lanes of traffic to hug a stranger in a Shad T-Shirt? Or stay up all night to help someone they have never met create an awesome project?" His answer: "Like the 'zombie computers' used in the recent distributed DOS attacks, each Shad received a high tech implant at Shad Valley."

    Another year's worth of promising high schoolers will get their implant at UW next month, as Waterloo hosts one of several month-long Shad programs planned for this year.

    The organization behind it all is Shad International, which this year will hold its Shad Valley programs on nine Canadian campuses (including UW) and at the University of Strathclyde, Scotland. The program, Shad modestly says, "connects the brightest young minds in high schools with business leaders and top university researchers, plunging students into stimulating, hands-on workshops, lectures and team activities. Over 200 corporations, 10 host universities and hundreds of high schools drive the Shad Valley program, which is used as a model worldwide."

    This week's conference, Shad Summit 2000, is promising "a learning and networking forum for leaders among Canadian high technology companies, business, educators and government, and Shad Valley alumni". More than 200 participants are expected. The opening keynote speaker, Friday morning in WLU's science building, is Laurie Skreslet, the first Canadian to conquer Mount Everest (1982). Other speakers will include Ka-Ping Yee, a Shad himself in the summer of 1992 and more recently a UW computer science student, member of triumphant programming teams, and winner of a Governor-General's Silver Medal in 1998.

    Stats prof has come a long way -- by Barbara Elve -- from yesterday's Gazette

    As chair of the statistics and actuarial science department, Mary Thompson is firmly planted in the academic world. That doesn't mean she's forgotten her Scarborough roots, though, or her high school friends at R.H. King Collegiate.

    Her sense of connection to those people, that time and place, were the reason Thompson agreed to participate in a project by classmate and journalist Maggie Siggins. The result is a series of profiles of women in the class of '61 woven by Siggins into a book, In Her Own Time: A Class Reunion Inspires a Cultural History of Women.

    "Women of the cusp generation: born during the Second World War, subject to the dreams and constrictions of the 1950s", is how Marian Botsford Fraser described them in a recent Globe and Mail review of the work. "These girls did not smoke dope at high school, go to rock concerts, toy with acid and the pill and hippie boyfriends at university or tour Europe with a backpack," adds Fraser. "These girls wore crinolines and girdles, went to The Prom, went to nursing school and teachers' college, rarely university."

    [Thompson]
    The book grew out of a reunion of that class in 1994 -- "when the last of us turned 50," said Thompson (left). "I felt it was very important to participate in this project because of the ties we'd maintained." But having her past publicly dissected -- especially as an anomaly -- wasn't easy for her. "I found it very difficult to talk about my professional life. So often, the academic lifestyle is misinterpreted by people who aren't in it. I felt hesitant to talk about my deepest concerns."

    Thompson's intellectual life set her apart, even in high school "She was so small, so primly dressed, so naively wide-eyed that we used to laugh and say she reminded us of Little Bo-Peep, yet she had the most formidable intellect in the class," writes Siggins of Mary (Beattie) Thompson. "Behind her back they did call her Mary the Super Brainer, but to her face, there was never a disparaging word -- they had that much respect for her."

    "Scarborough culture was not very supportive of ambition -- in girls or boys," Thompson recalls. "I don't think there were many boys whose parents wanted them to go into the professions. With some exceptions, they were expected to do what their parents were doing. We were all, I think, very anxious about the future, just as kids are now. We had far fewer options. If the only appealing one was unaffordable, it was a very difficult situation."

    Thompson's experience was different. Her parents were university educated and "very ambitious for their children". She was encouraged to pursue her dreams, "and there was no attempt to dictate what they would be, either."

    Reading the published text "obviously filled in many gaps in my knowledge of other people's experience," says Thompson. "Many of the stories were new to me, and for some people, life has been very hard, harder than I realized. But there are many real success stories in the book. Those successes are there because of the courage and persistence of the people involved. The author (Siggins) is a good example of someone who pushed on in spite of all the obstacles that meet someone starting out in journalism, which was certainly male dominated then. Staying in there long enough to be taken seriously was quite an achievement."

    What the book reinforces for Thompson is the value of the community of women she grew up with -- and the sense of identity and context that comes from having those links. While some of her colleagues take a dim view of a work that doesn't focus on her professional career, "that's for another time," says Thompson. "I was happy when my mother, having read the book, phoned to say she thought it was all right."

    CAR


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