Monday, April 13, 2009

  • Top brass speaks on staff workload
  • Magnets move tiny airborne robots
  • Other notes in the height of exam time
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

[Admiring tabletop model of building]

Coming soon, to a north campus near you: The Kitchener-Waterloo YMCA celebrated its “success in building a healthy community” at a reception Thursday at the University Club. More than 75 supporters gathered to recognize “a significant lead gift” from the late Fred Stork and his wife Ruth that will help build a new YMCA branch on UW lands near Fischer-Hallman Road. They also got the first look at new artist’s renderings and a model of the project. The facility will be shared with a district branch of the Waterloo Public Library and is in its detailed design phase. “We’re very excited about moving ahead with the Stork Family YMCA,” said John Haddock, CEO of the YMCAs of Cambridge & Kitchener-Waterloo. “It meets a tremendous need for recreational facilities for families in west Waterloo. This event marked a significant success in our fundraising efforts.” Pictured are John Haddock of the YMCA; Mike Stork, president of the YMCA board of directors; Hennie Stork; and UW president David Johnston.

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Top brass speaks on staff workload

A memo is going across campus this morning from top management — vice-presidents, deans, associate provosts and other executives — acknowledging that “in some areas, the need for a better way to manage workload is necessary.”

It mentions some tools for doing that, starting with flextime, which is available to staff in some UW departments but not all. In addition, it says, departments need to review their priorities, establish standards for service (which may not be as high as they once were), keep communicating, and “Celebrate successes: make time to recognize achievements.”

The memo is going by e-mail today to all non-union staff, and is available online. Managers got a preview in their e-mail Thursday morning.

It begins: “The University of Waterloo is fortunate to have staff who take great pride in achieving a high standard of excellence in the work they do. However, maintaining excellence can create stressors which, if not handled, could become unmanageable, and requires regular and ongoing examination of the ‘way we work’. While the timing of this memo might suggest that workload issues are only a concern during times of stress, workload issues have been identified as a concern for some time now and have been an ongoing item of discussion by the Staff Relations Committee for more than one year.

Executive Council wishes to commend staff and acknowledge that in some areas, the need for a better way to manage workload is necessary. While the financial situation is outside our control, and reducing our drive toward excellence is not an option, there are options that should be examined to assist in managing workload. The options identified below, which are strongly endorsed by Executive Council, are important to keep in mind on a regular basis, but even more so when there is an increase in stressors.

“With a view to offering some assistance in managing workload, the Staff Relations Committee has identified a suite of options for consideration by staff, managers and unit heads. The committee recognizes that not all options will be suitable for all staff or all units, but encourages staff, managers and unit heads to seriously consider them (or modifications of them) in managing workload.”

The memo goes on to describe how flextime works and its advantages and disadvantages. “Members of Executive Council endorse and support flextime,” it says, “as an important tool in managing workload, empowering employees and dealing with work-life balance. Departments should consider implementing this tool wherever possible.”

Other sections of today’s memo: “Taking time from busy schedules to evaluate priorities is a always a good idea yet one that often takes a back seat to other pressing demands. The committee suggests that taking time to do this critical evaluation will more than make up for the time it takes to do. The committee encourages managers to conduct a review of priorities one on one with their staff and with the department as a whole to establish core departmental priorities. With respect to the latter, the Office of Organizational & Human Development is pleased to assist in facilitating such an exercise.

“Electronic communication and information technology have exponentially increased the ability to respond to requests in record time. While this has many advantages, it has created an environment whereby instantaneous responses are expected regardless of the urgency of the issue. The committee suggests that departments/units examine the type of requests they receive on a regular basis and implement service standards where appropriate.

“In times of heavy workloads, communication is often unintentionally neglected. Unfortunately, it is during this time that communication takes on even more importance and can make the difference between an efficient and effective unit or one where it appears that the ‘right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing.’ Find methods of communicating that will work within and outside your unit and make it a priority.”

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Magnets move tiny airborne robots

a news release from UW's media relations office

A UW engineering research team has developed the world's first flying microrobot capable of manipulating objects for microscale applications.

The microrobot invention provides researchers with more control over the microscale environment, allowing them to move and place tiny objects with far greater precision. The microscale deals with tiny objects, at levels that are too small to be manipulated by humans.

Behrad Khamesee, director of UW's Maglev (Magnetically Levitated) Microrobotics Laboratory, heads the team that built the prototype flying MicroElectroMechanical Systems robot. It defies the force of gravity by flying or levitating, powered by a magnetic field. It moves around and dexterously manipulates objects with magnets attached to microgrippers, remotely controlled by a laser-focusing beam.

It can be used for micro-manipulation, a technique that enables precise positioning of micro objects. Applications of micro-manipulation include micro-assembly of mechanical components, handling of biological samples or even microsurgery.

"We have developed a magnetically levitated microrobot, which is a new technology for manipulation using flying microrobots," said Khamesee, a professor of mechanical and mechatronics engineering skilled in developing micro-scale devices using magnetic levitation.

"We are the first in the world to make such a floating robot equipped with microgrippers. It can enter virtually any space and can be operated in a sealed enclosure by a person outside, which makes it useful for handling biohazardous materials or working in vacuum chambers and clean rooms."

Magnetic levitation is used to position the microrobot in a three-dimensional space, employing an external magnetic drive mechanism. The mechanism controls that magnetic field by using feedback from position sensors in order to position the microrobot.

Since the power is supplied externally, the microrobot does not carry a power source or a controller, which enhances its maneuverability.

Thanks to magnetic levitation, the microrobot positions itself easily on complex surfaces — a key advantage over crawling or walking robots. As well, because it can fly, the microrobot avoids friction and adhesion forces.

It has high maneuverability because it works without such mechanical components as connection arms or wires. Dust-free motion and operability in closed environments are other key features of the microrobot.

Khamesee, along with a graduate student, Caglar Elbuken, and a colleague Mustafa Yavuz, have submitted a paper explaining the discovery to the Focused Section on Mechatronics for MEMS and NEMS (NanoElectroMechanical Systems), published jointly by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) and ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers).

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Other notes in the height of exam time

The university’s board of governors isn’t necessarily a “rubber-stamp” body, but at last week’s meeting it did approve the major proposals that were put before it, some coming from its own committees and some from the UW administration. For example: the 2009-10 budget, with a 3 per cent “expenditure reduction” across most departmental spending: approved. A May 1 increase in the premiums paid into the pension fund, both by staff and faculty member and by the university itself: approved. An agreement with a private developer to put up “Phase II” of the Research Advancement Centre on Wes Graham Way on the north campus: approved. And creation of a School of Environment, Enterprise and Development as the fourth academic unit in the faculty of environment: approved. The board also heard the usual “environmental scan” from UW president David Johnston, who talked about the federal and provincial budgets, the state of co-op student employment, and the recent vote by St. Jerome’s University faculty to unionize (“a setback for collegial governance principles”).

The April issue of the staff association’s newsletter includes a sizeable article by Gail Spencer, executive manager of the association, about an already well known staff member, Scott Murie of the distance and continuing education department. She describes his interest in volunteer work and his founding of Can-Teach International, which sends volunteer teachers to El Salvador and has been able to expand his work with the help of a Staff Enhancement Grant from UW. “The SEG,” she notes, “was the vision of Bruce Lumsden, who retired as Director of Cooperative Education in June 2005. It was established to ‘help cover costs associated with courses (excluding tuition) or pursuit of other experiences undertaken for individual personal and professional development’ of UW staff members. The Staff Association donated $5,000 at that time and it was Bruce’s hope that UW employees would continue contributions with an aim that staff would support each other’s opportunities for development. The Staff Association reviews applications and approves the grants on behalf of the University of Waterloo. The amount of each Staff Enhancement Grant is up to $500. To date, a total of five staff members, including Scott, have received a grant and they have involved a wide variety of activities.”

“Reduce the stress, ease the transition, and increase the joy of your next sabbatical!” That’s the promise as the UW Recreation Committee holds an event tomorrow aimed at faculty members (and family members) who may soon be travelling. The speaker is Nancy Matthews, well known as coordinator of the UW International Spouses group. She’s the author of the recently published Sabbaticals 101: A Practical Guide for Academics and Their Families, and says she will be “reading a chapter from my book plus answering questions, offering advice and telling tales”. She'll look at issues such as finding housing, the “trailing spouse”, the settling-in blues, and re-entry. “I hope that fellow sabbatical veterans will also share their stories,” she adds. “Last month I led a similar seminar at WLU, and it was great fun!” Copies of the book will be available for purchase. Matthews is a veteran of five overseas sabbaticals and exchanges with her husband, David Matthews of statistics and actuarial science, and their two sons. Tomorrow’s event starts at noon (well, 12:05) in Dana Porter Library room 329.

An e-mail memo went out last week to 148 UW students who come from the United States, asking them to answer an online survey about “student mobility” between Canada and the US. “Exchanges involving international students enable the flow of both individuals and ideas between higher education institutions and between countries,” the memo from Waterloo International observes. “The purpose of the study is . . . to provide a series of preliminary policy observations and recommendations that will assist universities in growing their mobility programs and providing more international opportunities to students like you. The study is being undertaken by the Foundation for Educational Exchange Between Canada and the United States (the Canada-U.S. Fulbright Program) in partnership with the U.S. Department of State.”


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Online voting opens in four elections

A notice from the university secretariat: Online voting begins today to fill the following positions on Senate and the Board of Governors.

Senate: one undergraduate student to be elected by and from full-time Arts undergraduate students. Candidates are Raynold Wonder Alorse (Economics), Reemah Khalid (Economics), Nilani Logeswaran (Political Science), Alicia Mah (Liberal Studies).

Senate: two graduate students to be elected by and from full-time and part-time graduate students. Candidates are Mohamed Abdel Razek (Electrical & Computer Engineering), Seanna Davidson (Geography), Shannon Freeman (Health Studies and Gerontology), Mike Makahnouk (Earth Sciences).

Senate: one faculty member to be elected by and from regular Arts faculty. Candidates are Fraser Easton (English Language and Literature), Bruce Muirhead (History), Robert Park (Anthropology).

Board of Governors: two staff members to be elected by and from the regular and non-regular full-time staff. Candidates for one position, term to April 30, 2011, are Drew Knight (Office of Research), Pat Mihm (Plant Operations), Joe Szalai (Library). Candidates for the other position, term to April 30, 2012, are Tobi Day-Hamilton (Faculty of Arts), Walter McCutchan (Information Systems & Technology).

Link of the day

Sikhs mark Vaisakhi

When and where

Winter term examinations continue through April 24. Unofficial winter term grades appear in Quest beginning April 27. Grades become official May 25.

Senate long-range planning committee 3:00, Needles Hall room 3004.

Vietnam: If Kennedy Had Lived, new book discussed by its authors, sponsored by Balsillie School and other groups, wine and cheese reception, 4:00, CIGI, 57 Erb Street West.

Davenport Showcase dance performance 6:30 p.m., Humanities Theatre.

St. Jerome’s University lecture “Jesus of Hollywood” by Adele Reinhartz, delivered in January 2007, rebroadcast on CBC radio “Ideas”, 9 p.m.

Inventory clearance book sale outside UW bookstore, South Campus Hall, Tuesday-Wednesday 9:30 to 4:30.

Senate undergraduate council Tuesday 12:00 noon, Needles Hall room 3004.

Arts faculty council Tuesday 3:30, PAS building room 2438.

Bridging the Gap pre-retirement workshops. Six weekly sessions Tuesdays, tomorrow through May 19, 7 to 9 p.m., Rockway Centre, 1405 King Street East, Kitchener. $60 plus GST. Details.

UW Book Club. Coraline by Neil Gaiman, Wednesday 12:05 p.m., Dana Porter Library room 407. Details on UWRC webpage.

UW-ACE instructor user group Thursday, April 16, 1:30, Flex lab, Dana Porter Library. Details.

Pension and benefits committee Friday, April 17, 8:30 a.m., Needles Hall room 3004.

Pharmacy building community open house Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., 10 Victoria Street South, all welcome. (Official opening ceremony, by invitation, Friday.)

Warrior rugby clinic for boys and girls grades 9 to 12, Saturday 10:00 to 3:00, Columbia fields, cost $45. Details.

Friends of the Library Lecture by Prem Watsa, chancellor-designate of the university, April 20, 12:00 noon, Theatre of the Arts.

UW Senate meets April 20, 4:30 p.m., Needles Hall room 3001.

UW Retirees Association spring luncheon April 22, 11:30 a.m., Luther Village, speaker Mike Sharratt (department of kinesiology) on “Optimal Aging for Older Adults”, tickets $25, information 519-885-4758.

‘Your American Income Taxes’ new faculty lunch-and-learn session with Ken Klasen and Stan Laiken, school of accounting and finance, for US citizens on the UW faculty, April 22, 11:45 a.m., Needles Hall room 3004. Details.

Alumni in Windsor: reception for engineering alumni, with leaders of the Waterloo Centre for Automotive Research (WatCAR) and student Alternative Fuels Team, April 22, 6:00, The Keg Riverside, Windsor, Ontario.

St. Jerome’s University presents “Beyond the Barriers: A Community Forum on Healthcare in a Multicultural City”, April 22, 7:00 p.m., St. Mary’s Hospital.

Public forum on the Middle East April 22, 7:30 p.m., Conrad Grebel UC great hall.

Used book sale sponsored by local chapter of Canadian Federation of University Women, April 24 (9:00 to 9:000 and 25 (9:00 to 1:00), First United Church, King and William Streets; drop off books at the church April 22 or 23, or call 519-740-5249.

Chinese competition: Ontario University Students Chinese Proficiency Competition, hosted by Renison University College, April 24, 1:30 p.m. Details.

Guelph-Waterloo Centre for Graduate Work in Chemistry and Biochemistry, annual general meeting, April 24, 1:00 p.m., University of Guelph Thornborough building room 1200; seminar, Tong Leung of UW, “Surface Science of Some Nano Stuff”, 3:00; graduate student poster session and awards presentation follow, Peter Clark Hall, U of G.

Graduate Student Research Conference April 27-30, Davis Centre. Details.

Fee payment deadline for the spring term: April 27 (cheque, money order or fee arrangements), April 30 (bank transfer). Details.

UW-ACE system will be down April 28, 6:30 a.m., to April 29, 12:00 noon.

K-W Symphony “Fearless Piano”, soloist Eve Egoyan, April 30, 7:30 p.m., Humanities Theatre.

Thursday's Daily Bulletin