Thursday, May 17, 2007

  • Johnston takes staff issues 'seriously'
  • Profile of a CS student on the job
  • Caught in the daily storm of news
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

Link of the day


When and where

Waterloo Public Interest Research Group "wildlife awareness" group, 12 noon, Student Life Centre multi-purpose room.

Education Credit Union presents Stewart Duckworth, "Estate Planning 101", 12:15, Davis Centre room 1302.

International spouses group meet at Columbia Lake Village community centre, walk to historic Brubacher House for tour, children welcome, 12:45 p.m., information e-mail

'Design camp' aimed at local and student digital designers, 2 to 5 p.m., Student Life Centre, information online.

Aging, Health and Well-being lecture: Lewis Lipsitz, Harvard Medical School, "Fainting, Falls and Blood Pressure Regulation in the Elderly", 3:30 p.m., Clarica Auditorium, Lyle Hallman Institute.

Orchestra@UWaterloo first rehearsal for spring season, 7 p.m., Conrad Grebel University College great hall, information online.

Tourplay drama for children: "Charlotte's Web" Friday 10:00, 11:45 and 1:30, Humanities Theatre.

Ladies' car care clinic organized by UW Recreation Committee, scheduled for this Saturday, postponed to June 2.

Bookstore, UW Shop and TechWorx closed Saturday because of holiday weekend.

Victoria Day holiday Monday, classes cancelled, UW offices closed. Columbia Lake Village South Community barbecue.

Winter term grades for undergraduate courses become official on Quest May 22.

MBET (Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology) information session Tuesday 4 p.m., Accelerator Centre room 240, reservations ext. 3-7167.

Safety Awareness Day with sessions on gas cylinder safety, inspecting the workplace, lab safety and other topics, plus exhibits and vendors, Thursday, May 24, details and registration online.

Waterloo Math@40 anniversary celebration, dinner at Federation Hall, remarks by founding chair Ralph Stanton, Friday, May 25, 6:00 p.m., Federation Hall, tickets $67, registration online.

Conrad Grebel University College sleepover for alumni from the first decade, May 25-26, evening reception, then single or shared rooms available, information ext. 2–4381.

You @ Waterloo Day open house for future students Saturday, May 26, details online.

City of Waterloo 150th anniversary parade Sunday, May 27, 1:00 p.m., King Street from William to Central, followed by afternoon picnic in Waterloo Park, details online.

5-km run and family walk raising funds for a new facility for Hildegard Marsden Cooperative Day Nursery, Sunday, June 3, 10:30 a.m., details and registration online, donations welcome.

'Vision' conference, "Tomorrow's Health Leaders Together Today", Saturday, June 16, Davis Centre, details online.

PhD oral defences

Psychology. Lee Jason Markowitz, “Written Emotional Disclosure About Potential Problems.” Supervisor, Christine Purdon. On display in the faculty of arts, HH 317. Oral defence Tuesday, May 29, 1:00 p.m., PAS room 3026.

Systems design engin­eering. Khaled Mahmoud Hammouda, “Distributed Document Clustering and Cluster Summarization in Peer-to-Peer Environments.” Supervisor, Mohamed Kamel. On display in the faculty of engineering, CPH 4305. Oral defence Thursday, May 31, 2:00 p.m., Davis Centre room 2584.

Recreation and leisure studies. John Meldrum, “Understanding Commitment and the Contingent Leisure Service Worker: An Interpretive Approach.” Supervisor, Ron McCarville. On display in the faculty of applied health sciences, BMH 3110. Oral defence Wednesday, June 6, 1:00 p.m., Lyle Hallman Institute room 3701.

Electrical and computer engineering. Dong Yan, “Mechanically Tunable RF/Microwave Filters: from a MEMS Perspective.” Supervisors, Raafat Mansour and Amir Khajepour. On display in the faculty of engineering, CPH 4305. Oral defence Friday, June 125, 10:00 a.m., CEIT room 3142.

Statistics and actuarial science. Kai Chen, “The Valuation and Risk Management of a DB Underpin Pension Plan.” Supervisor, Mary Hardy. On display in the faculty of mathematics, MC 5090. Oral defence Monday, June 18, 10:00 a.m., Math and Computer room 6027.

History. Matthew Bunch, “All Roads Lead to Rome: Canada, the Freedom from Hunger Campaign, and the Rise of NGOs, 1960-1980.” Supervisor, John English. On display in the faculty of arts, HH 317. Oral defence Wednesday, June 20, 2:30 p.m., Humanities room 334.

Johnston takes staff issues 'seriously'

“We certainly take this seriously,” UW’s president said yesterday after a campaign to unionize the university’s staff through the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation apparently didn’t attract enough supporters to move ahead.

“Our understanding is that it’s come up short,” president David Johnston said, “and we’re very pleased that that’s the case. I believe that our collegial style of governance serves us best.”

At the same time, he said, “it’s very important for us to understand what the concerns are in our community — to identify them and to respond to them.” For example, he said, there’s apparently some discontent with the existing staff grievance procedure: “we’d be very prepared to examine that.” Other issues might include pensions, salaries, training, and workload.

Johnston, along with associate provost Catharine Scott, spoke in the president’s office yesterday. They made their comments on the situation knowing that the outcome isn’t definite, since the union has said it will continue to accept membership cards.

Several weeks ago organizers announced that the campaign, which began in January, would end May 15. On Tuesday, the campaign web site confirmed that the campaign is over and OSSTF is closing its local office. “We are at approximately 94% of the target goal (50%) of signed cards received,” the site claimed. “We are extremely close and remain confident that we will reach that target within the next few weeks and be able to make application to the Labour Board.” It would be up to the Ontario Labour Relations Board to assess a union application and decide whether to order a vote on unionization by an employee group.

But Johnston said the university, as employer of 1,800 staff in the USG classifications, is now looking forward to working under existing structures, including the longstanding relationship with the UW Staff Association. “We have to be very ready to listen,” the president said, “and be prepared to work with them in an appropriate and thoughtful way. . . . A good institution like ours is always working very hard at understanding what the concerns and the opportunity needs are for every member of our community.”

Johnston observed that there is a staff voice (as well as a faculty voice) on the “collegial” pension and benefits committee, and a large staff association presence on the committee that sets salary scales. “We always continue to evaluate our compensation systems,” said the president, “to make sure that the University of Waterloo is the most desired place to be in our community.”

He pointed to the Office of Organizational and Human Development, recently set up “in response to the sense that our staff is looking for more substantial training and development opportunities”. (There has been strong demand for training aimed at supervisors, Scott added, and a program to offer that training started this spring.)

On the issue of workload, Johnston observed that UW “is a very engaged place. We function at very high levels of teaching and research, and our people work very hard.” In addition, “we’ve operated in a climate of constrained resources.”

With those pressures, “we simply have to manage our work wisely,” he said, “so that increasing demands don’t just mean more hours.”

Scott announced that some 55 department heads are scheduled to meet on Tuesday afternoon to discuss exactly that issue. “It’s been in the works for a couple of months,” prompted by discussions among the associate provosts, and will be facilitated by psychology professor and former administrator Gary Waller, who manages the training and consultation program for academic department chairs.

The goal of the meeting, said Scott, is some brainstorming on “how to help people find better ways to do the work, and how to get rid of some things.” There’s no magic “pill” to solve workload problems, but at least managers are recognizing the issue, she said.

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Profile of a CS student on the job

by Brielle Vautour, from the Inside Scoop newsletter for co-op students

[Louie]Darren Louie (left), a 3B computer science student, is used to high pressure jobs. After completing terms at both Microsoft and IBM, Darren has dealt one-on-one with cutting edge technology and the stress of working in a fast paced and highly skilled industry.

Louie's most recent work term was spent working at Microsoft as a Program Manager. He acted as a liaison between consumers and developers and helped enhance performance features on Live Spaces (Microsoft's version of MySpace or Facebook) and Live Messenger. "Working on something that you know all of your friends and family are using [is] pretty cool," says Darren. Another rewarding part of the job was "the first time I could come home and tell my dad, hey, I worked on Messenger, and he understood what I was doing."

The daily agenda for a Program Manager includes as many as three meetings a day with various stakeholders where they would "discuss ideas and talk about the pros and cons of the project. Then after the meetings, I'd come back to my office and start writing the [specification] out, designing it and thinking the problem through. After that, I'd schedule more meetings." He also met daily with his development team who would discuss the product with him and give their input. He was then responsible for sharing the ideas produced during one group's meeting with the other group, making the production a collaborative effort. He describes this as his favourite co-op job, because "I learned how to design good software that will run reliably" and because of the increased responsibility he was given as a team leader.

Earlier, during his last term at IBM, he worked on developing The Canadian RFID Centre, Canada's full-scale RFID demonstration centre. An RFID is a Radio Frequency Identification Chip which works like a wireless barcode and can be inserted onto a product as a substitute for an actual barcode. The advantages to RFIDs are numerous — there would be no need to unpack crates that you've been shipped until you actually need to use them; airlines would never "misplace" your luggage; and you would always be able to find your favourite brand and size of pants at the Gap without searching through every rack. How it works: an RFID chip is imbedded somewhere on the package (like on a price tag of a shirt or the destination sticker on a piece of luggage), and is scanned using sensors. These sensors can then tally up how many of each item there are and where exactly they are. RFIDs completely eliminate the need for laser scanners, so you no longer have to scan each item separately, a huge time saver.

Working on new technology is always monumental, but Louie says the most intense experience occurred when his boss handed him some RFID chips for safekeeping and said to him "Darren, don't lose these because there are only four of them in Canada and you have all four!"

After working at Microsoft and IBM for most of his work terms, Louie decided to take a different approach for his final term, accepting a position as an associate consultant at Inc. "The one thing I wanted to do was try something different. Next term will be my last term to see another company. This way I can compare and see where I want to be when I graduate."

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Caught in the daily storm of news

Central stores, which among other things has the job of storing or getting rid of the furnishings and equipment that UW owns and no longer needs, has scheduled more than the usual number of surplus sales this season. There were two sales in April, and the stores web site says a sale is scheduled for today and another for May 31, always from 12:30 to 2:00 at East Campus Hall. These sales are something of a UW tradition, and it's not unusual to see a student staggering away down Phillip Street under the weight of a $10 desk, or bearing an armload of keyboards off in triumph. "We are now able to accept WatCard for payment," adds a note from Carmen Jaray, administrative assistant in central stores.

Brochures will be going across campus, today or very shortly, with extensive details on this year's Special Recognition Award Program for UW staff, which was somewhat revised over the winter following a review by the staff compensation committee. "The nomination period is compressed this year," Trenny Canning of the university secretariat reminds us, explaining that the revisions delayed things. For that reason, the nomination deadline (which isn't actually mentioned in the brochure) has been set back to July 31. The awards, leading to a one-time $1,500 bonus for each of 150 individuals (plus a possible four "team awards"), are to recognize "staff members' dedication, hard work and continued commitment to excellence in the performance of their jobs". There's much more information, "including tips for nominators", on the web, and I'll be saying more about the recognition program in the Daily Bulletin some time next week.

The duo of engineering students who are bicycling across Canada are expected in Winnipeg today for a visit to St. John's-Ravenscourt School. • "Critical Mass", the Christian rock band fronted by David Wang of UW's electrical and computer engineering department, will be playing in Québec City this weekend at the International Eucharistic Congress. • Here's a reminder that access to the Dana Porter Library will be through a temporary door on the east side of the building, facing the Graduate House, tomorrow while carpet replacement work is done at the main entrance.

The engineering faculty's e-newsletter advises that the offices of the associate dean (graduate studies) and staff members for that function have moved from the fourth floor of Carl Pollock Hall to the third floor of the Physics building — not hitherto used for engineering, as far as I know, but close to the engineering computing department in the new "Sharcnet" link. Peter Douglas became engineering's associate dean (graduate studies and international agreements) at the beginning of May, and continues to serve also as associate dean (computing).

An item of interest from the staff association's latest newsletter: "The Staff Enhancement Fund was established by the University of Waterloo, to allow staff to take courses, travel or pursue other experiences not directly related to job duties. The fund was established at the suggestion of, and on the retirement of, Bruce Lumsden, formerly the Director of Cooperative Education. It was Bruce's hope that over time, others will contribute to keep the fund growing, so it can continue to be a source of ongoing support from one group of UW employees to another. The Staff Association reviews applications and awards the Grant on behalf of the University of Waterloo. The Staff Association recently granted its first Staff Enhancement Grant to a full-time UW staff member who requested the grant to cover some of the incidental costs associated with a field trip that he will be participating in as part of his pursuit of a University degree. Recognizing the value of this trip to the staff member's personal and professional growth, the SA felt that providing the grant money for this purpose was consistent with Bruce Lumsden's original vision for the Grant. Information on the Staff Enhancement Grant can be found on the Staff Association website."

Jean Goodwin, who worked in UW's counselling services from 1984 to 1989, died May 11. • Susan Hyde, who had taught psychology at UW and was the widow of Renison College faculty member Michael Bird, died March 31. • Edmund Vaz, professor of sociology from 1965 to his retirement in 1988, died January 22.


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