Tuesday, June 2, 2009

  • Board will review 'priorities' and fees
  • Students' proposal for managing medication
  • Reprise: news from two weeks in May
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs
  • bulletin@uwaterloo.ca

Board will review 'priorities' and fees

The university's board of governors will hold its quarterly meeting this afternoon, and "priorities" will be front and centre, as both the president and the provost report on the main things that will get attention from UW's top officials in 2009-10.

Provost Amit Chakma — who's now less than a month from the end of his time at Waterloo — will brief the board about the priorities for the coming year hammered out by Executive Council at its recent Kempenfelt Bay retreat. His presentation will be given orally, according to the agenda package for today's meeting, so there's no official word yet about what those priorities are. This time last year, there were seven such priorities, including private sector fund-raising, graduate enrolment expansion, and "government funding initiatives".

President David Johnston will report, as he does at this time every year, on his own "specific priorities" for the coming year. That's a dense two-page document indicating the sorts of things he will be working on. Among them: undergraduate education ("strengthen quality by raising admission standards"), research ("strengthen clusters especially around five core research themes"), income diversification, community connections ("identify and respond to academic and administrative support stress points").

The agenda for today's meeting also includes a report from vice-president (external relations) Meg Beckel, telling the board much about the past year's gifts to the university, what's been done with the money and what's being done to attract more gifts and build more relationships.

Here's a key paragraph from Beckel's written report: "In the 2008-09 fiscal year approximately $51 million in cash gifts were received (unaudited). A second transformational gift from the Lazaridis Family Foundation, at $25 million, raises total giving from Mike and Ophelia to the University of Waterloo to $101.5 million. It is significant to note that with this recent new support, Mike and Ophelia now become the third largest donor to a single organization in Canada, after the Chagnon Foundation ($200 million to obesity research through Quebec government partnership), and Michael Degroote ($105 million to McMaster University). Total cash gifts to Campaign Waterloo since May 2000 now stands at $462 million."

Other agenda items include routine matters such as sabbatical leaves, a briefing from the building and properties committee about how UW will handle rush construction projects that depend on federal infrastructure funding, and a number of changes in student fees. The biggest change: the Student Coordinated Plan fee will fall from $46.31 per term to $13.80 as of this fall, because the 1992 expansion of the Student Life Centre and Columbia Icefield have now been fully paid for. The smaller fee continues to pay for the "Phase 2" expansion that began in 2002. Other changes: the Federation of Students fee rises to $37.24 per term from $35.43; the "Feds administered fee", for dental and health plans and the Grand River Transit bus pass, rises to $135.14 (regular) and $208.98 (co-op) from $122.81 and $191.38.

Today's meeting starts at 2:30, and is being held in room 2009 of the year-old Research Advancement Centre, 475 Wes Graham Way on the north campus. I realize I've never been inside the RAC yet, and I suspect most of the 36 board of governors members haven't either.

The meeting will be followed by an invitation-only farewell dinner for Chakma and his wife, Meena, at Chatterbox Farm, the home of UW president Johnston.

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Students' proposal for managing medication

Here’s a story left over from the quiet time between winter and spring terms, when about a dozen people attended a noon-hour event in one of the Davis Centre seminar rooms to hear two students present an idea.

It’s already caught the interest of executives at Agfa HealthCare — one of the world’s leading companies in fields like digital x-rays and health records management — who awarded the duo an “innovation award” this spring and flew them to headquarters in Belgium to explain their proposal.

Its title: “Case-Based Reasoning for Patient Self-Management of Oral Anticoagulant Medications”. Millions of North Americans take such drugs, specifically Coumadin (Warfarin), said one of the two speakers, Pavel Roshanov, a fourth-year health studies and gerontology student.

“The patient becomes very involved in this therapy,” he said. He pointed out that patients vary hugely in their response to Warfarin, partly for genetic reasons, partly because its effect is influenced by other medications, alcohol, even how much celery an individual has been eating lately. At the same time, there’s a narrow distance between too much Warfarin (when blood becomes “thin” and hemorrhages are a risk) and too little (when patients can develop dangerous, even fatal, blood clots).

“Patients are the most knowledgeable about what they’re doing in their everyday life,” said Roshanov’s colleague, Noemi Chanda, a third-year economics student. Accordingly, she said, giving them more power over adjusting their dosage — day by day if necessary — will improve patient satisfaction as well as medical effectiveness.

Blood coagulation is usually measured in a laboratory test, the duo told their audience. Home-based devices for doing an equivalent test do exist, but are “very expensive” and not much used in North America.

However, doing research through Medline (a database available through UW’s library) they found a number of clinical studies of patients who have been able to monitor their own blood and be involved in setting their own Warfarin doses. “If appropriate patients are selected,” said Roshanov, “it’s just as good as practitioner management,” not to mention faster and cheaper. (However, “not everyone is ready to make the adjustment, knowing the risks out there.”)

Chanda reminded the audience that an Ontario government effort dubbed the “Aging at Home Strategy” makes it a good time to suggest new techniques for giving patients more control over their medication.

The heart of what Chanda and Roshanov are suggesting is the application of a theory called “case-based reasoning”, which replaces rules and formulas with exact matches. Suppose the patient is 65 years old, female, with a certain genetic profile and alcohol intake, said Roshanov: “Perhaps there’s someone else inside a repository of cases that looks exactly like this!” Instantly, a computerized system, accessed through the web, could reveal what happened the last time such a patient had a certain blood anticoagulant reading and raised or lowered her Warfarin dose. It would take away the guesswork and calculation, he said.

“If you design your system well,” he went on, “even people who aren’t computer-literate, by some standards, are capable of using it.” Chanda added that in some situations, a patient might not be able to use such a system, but a “formal or informal caregiver” — a nursing home worker or a family member — could handle it and make the right adjustment to the Warfarin dose, far faster than getting the patient in to see a physician.

“Our focus is to develop a prototype,” said Roshanov, noting that the duo will be looking for grant funding to work on the project.

Their presentation, on April 24, was sponsored by the Waterloo Institute for Health Informatics Research, and WIHIR director Dominic Covvey spoke briefly at the end of the talk. He observed that Roshanov and Chanda are practically the poster kids for health informatics as an interdisciplinary field: neither of them is in pharmacy, neither is in computer science, but here they are proposing a creative, computerized way of refining drug dosages, and a major international firm is interested.

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Reprise: news from two weeks in May

So I go away for a few days, and when I get back to the university I have to catch up on the news by reading (of course) the Daily Bulletin. Casting an eye over the past two weeks' products, I learn about research (space, tobacco, batteries), a major appointment at the future UW Stratford Institute, and many another matter of interest. Four that I'd like to remark on in particular:

The H1N1 influenza ("swine flu") is now apparently a been there, done that threat, and all that's missing is the T-shirt. The ban on travel to Mexico has been lifted, public health authorities are reducing their alert level, and precautions are being relaxed. UW's Health Services is still publicizing the key advice, though: "Staff, faculty or students who feel feverish and have a new or worse cough or shortness of breath should go home or stay at home for seven days from the time of onset of symptoms and 24 hours after symptoms have resolved." Latest news on the Waterloo Region scene is that a third case of H1N1 was identified in the community last week. And there's a new disease on the horizon, as public health also notes "the first case of measles reported locally since 1996".

The long-awaited announcement came at the end of last week: UW is receiving its allocation from the federal and provincial "infrastructure" job creation funding. Officials across the country, from university provosts to mayors, had been getting antsy as the construction season moved along and there were no details on the distribution of the money that had been announced in principle this spring. I was in the Ottawa area early last week when the car radio reported that Carleton University had received some of its funding, so I figured a Waterloo announcement might be imminent, and indeed it did come. Governments are providing $50 million for a Faculty of Environment project (that'll be the rebuilding and expanding of Environment II, a cherished dream of ENV dean Deep Saini) and an engineering and math project ("180,000 square feet for work in bio-chemical and bio-processing, tissue engineering, green energy, environmental systems, computational intelligence, health informatics and new media technologies"). I'll be looking forward to hearing exactly where, physically, the latter expansion will take place.

Information systems and technology put out word that "academic support departments will be migrating from admmail to Exchange. The plan is to terminate admmail in January 2010. As well, all UW faculty and staff are encouraged to move to Exchange." I don't think anybody is going to particularly miss admmail, which has been the electronic address for the past several years for staff members on the administrative side of the university. For the record, admmail operates "in a Sun Solaris environment" (there isn't a one-to-one correspondence between server names and physical machines nowadays). We'll look forward to finding out what Exchange is and does.

Staff Sergeant Chris Goss, who was seconded from the Waterloo Regional Police last year to manage UW's police force under the leadership of security director Dan Anderson, will be staying for another year. There wasn't a formal announcement from the UW side, but renewal of Goss's secondment passed the regional Police Services Board the other day. It was Goss who pointed out, during an exam-season announcement about thefts of laptops and other valuables, that "we don't live in Mayberry any more," referring to the little town where Andy Griffith played sheriff in the 1960s. Not a whole lot of serious crime took place there, but Waterloo is now an urban environment, albeit one with, according to one set of statistics, "the 6th lowest crime rate per 100,000 people out of 27 Canadian cities".


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Procurement 'trade shows' begin

Procurement and Contract Services hosts its annual "trade shows" today and tomorrow "to help the university community discover the resources available to them through our suppliers". The theme of this year’s show is “Go Green”, with suppliers showcasing their greener alternatives. The event runs 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. both days in the Davis Centre lounge.

"Due to the overwhelming success of the Computer/Audio Visual Show in previous years," a memo says, "we’ve invited a number of our suppliers as well as our own Campus TechShop to attend. We believe with the ever- changing technology available in these areas, this show will offer something new every time we hold it." That half of the trade show is today.

Staples Advantage (Corporate Express) "will be back by popular demand" tomorrow, "bringing with them a number of their suppliers. They will be also be joined by the Dean Group Recruitment Specialists."

Link of the day

Head for the woods

When and where

Commuter Challenge 2009 encourages any mode of travel except driving a car alone to work, continuing through June 6. Register as an individual or as part of the university.

Waterloo Engineering Competition registration June 1-12. Details.

Co-op employer interviews (main group) June 1-18.

Career workshops today: “Business Etiquette and Professionalism” 10:30, “Working Effectively in Another Culture” 3:00, both in Tatham Centre room 1208. Details.

IYA lecture series: Brian Schmidt on "The Universe From Beginning to End” 10:30 a.m., Theatre of the Arts, Modern Languages building. Details. Lecture repeated Wednesday 7 p.m. at Waterloo Collegiate Institute, sponsored by Perimeter Institute.

UW Farm Market meetings for all interested in volunteering with the market, Tuesday and Wednesday 2 p.m., Student Life Centre second level, outside WPIRG office.

Guelph-Waterloo Physics Institute Distinguished Lecture: Brian Schmidt, Australian National University, “Observational Evidence for Dark Energy” 4:00, Perimeter Institute.

Moree Dance performance Tuesday and Wednesday 6:30 p.m., Humanities Theatre.

Career workshop: “Career Exploration and Decision Making” Wednesday 10:30, Tatham Centre room 1112. Details.

[Keystone Karnival logo]

Keystone Karnival, annual outdoor event celebrating the Keystone Campaign for faculty, staff and retirees, Wednesday 11:30 to 1:30, Matthews Hall green, with evening event 10 p.m., South Campus Hall.

Wilfrid Laurier University spring convocation ceremonies: June 3, 2:00, WLU athletic complex; June 4, 10:00 and 2:00, athletic complex; June 5, 10:00, Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex; June 10, 10:00, Sanderson Centre for the Performing Arts, Brantford. Details.

Research projects workshop sponsored by Centre for Teaching Excellence, Wednesday 2:00, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library. Details.

UW Biomedical Discussion Group: Roderick Slavcev, pharmacy, “Exploiting Phage and Phage-encoded Systems for the Design of Novel Therapeutics” Wednesday 2:30, Davis Centre room 1302. Details.

Microteaching session for international teaching assistants to practise and get feedback, Thursday 2:30, Flex Lab, Dana Porter Library. Details.

School of Optometry continuing education weekend June 5-7; Woodruff Lecture by Judith West-Mays, McMaster University; Clair Bobier lecture by William Bobier, UW optometry; reunion dinner; optometric assistants’ program; official opening of Optometry building expansion, Friday 11:30 a.m., by invitation. Details.

‘Canada 3.0: Defining Canada’s Digital Future’ conference for industry leaders, policy-makers and researchers, sponsored by UW Stratford Institute, Open Text, and Canadian Digital Media Network, June 8-9, Rotary Complex, Stratford. Details.

Ninety-Eighth Convocation: applied health sciences and environment, and installation of Chancellor, Wednesday, June 10, 10:00; science, Wednesday 2:30; arts, Thursday, June 11, 10:00 and 2:30; mathematics, Friday, June 12, 10:00 and 2:30; engineering, Saturday, June 13, 10:00 and 2:30; all ceremonies in Physical Activities Complex. Details.

One click away

Skating star interviewed about her UW distance courses
Student team takes LaunchPad prize for underwater robot
Huntsville mayor hopes UW building will be 'energy neutral'
Universities 'start to feel the pinch' (Star)
Federal and provincial funds for WLU Brantford building
Customer 'dismay' at Blackboard purchase of Angel
'Course evaluation forms and the spirit of Why Not'
'Will higher education be the next bubble to burst?'
'H1N1 flu and international education' resources
American brains are Canadian universities' gain (Globe)
Record reports on security and police at WLU
Provincial 'e-learn centres' include one in Shelburne
Repaying student loans 'that much harder'
Social scientists to press Ottawa for more funding

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